In recent months I’ve been having the same conversation over and over with people who are involved in personal development, building emotional integrity and improving the quality of their relationships: there is a hole at the heart of their most significant relationship, their marriage.

It’s the hole where we hide our truest selves from the one we love the most—because we’re afraid they would reject us if they saw what was inside.

So, what’s in this hole?

Our deepest and darkest emotional and sexual truths… the stuff we hardly dare think let alone speak. Things about our partner—or perhaps our in-laws—that trigger us but we never dare mention for fear of rocking the boat. Desires for sexual experimentation that flit through our mind while we engage in the same dull, disengaged sex we always have.

Agreed Zone of Non-negotiation

A friend of mine calls this hole the Agreed Zone of Non-negotiation. It’s an unconscious agreement between two people in a committed relationship not to question or challenge each other’s core emotional and sexual wounds. Which, of course, ensures these wounds—and the dysfunctions they manifest in—remain unresolved and are perpetuated through the couple’s children.

At the moment, few people seem to be aware of this hole. Yet I suspect it exists in most relationships. Many people seem blissfully ignorant of its presence; others battle its malign influence but lack the emotional vocabulary to call it out. Only those with a high level of emotional sensitivity can articulate its presence.

This invisible hole stems from our collective shame of the emotional and sexual aspects of our lives. I’ve written extensively about this unconscious shame and its origins in the rise of patriarchy, when masculine qualities (strength, intelligence) became paramount and feminine qualities (emotions, sexuality) were denigrated in the fight for the survival of the fittest.

We like to think we now live in an egalitarian society where the imbalances of the distant past have been corrected. The reality is that revealing the aspects of ourselves that were punished for thousands of years—often severely—is so frightening that we unconsciously repress them.

Tackling the hole

Tackling this hole is no easy task. It takes two partners, both committed to full emotional honesty. It’s not something one partner can tackle alone. Tackling the hole is risky—who knows what might come out and destabilise—or even end—a relationship? This is scary stuff. But we all reach a point on our journey towards emotional sovereignty when tackling the hole is no longer an option.

Here kindness, compassion and the long-term view are the tools to reach for. The toxic material in the hole goes back at least to our childhoods, perhaps including issues inherited from the unresolved traumas of previous generations.

Underlying this toxic debris lie ancestral traumas, buried deep in our psyche, going back to the dawn of patriarchy and the brutal suppression of emotions and sexuality that occurred back then—and created the hole.

Whether you’re ready to tackle the hole or not, the first thing is to understand its existence and its origins. This isn’t about one or other partner in a relationship being right; it’s about cleaning up unresolved traumas to create an emotionally healthier world for the future.

Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash