Relationship Mechanics: How Can I Avoid Using People?

Hello, I am an avid reader of your websites. An idea jumped at me after I read a few articles in a row, particularly after reading these: “Some kinds of trauma cause us to feel a strong need to constantly change who we sleep with, and in these cases, we feel totally incapable of staying faithful to a single partner ” [from Christians Say That If I Don’t Desire Marriage for Primarily Spiritual Reasons, I’m Doing It Wrong. Is This Really True?]
and the other idea that when the subconscious is fixated on certain qualities of a person we can ignore other parts of them which may be not pleasing and we want to get what the subconscious wants to get out of that person [from Is It True That We Try To Marry Our Parents?]. It sounds to me as if we would use the person.
Would you be able to please elaborate on this topic, how do we know we are using somebody or just following our subconscious normal desires and wants? How to ensure we are not using somebody and we treat them rightly despite liking strongly certain things more than others in them. Lastly, if we find that not one person can satisfy the most important of our needs, is it wrong to source them from two different people or are there certain needs which should all come from one person uniquely (not the obvious one which is sexual intimacy but more like other emotional, psychological needs). I do not want to use anyone but it strikes me that because I do not know exactly how that looks how will I know.

Good questions! The first thing to realize is that your soul is the one talking here, not your mind. Notice how you are concerned about acting like a morally bad person in the future. Your soul has a strong need to be able to view you as a morally good person according to its own moral code. The tricky part here is that your soul’s moral code is not a fixed thing. Instead, as you gather new life experiences and make various choices, your soul will constantly revise its moral code.

Your soul needs to feel that its current moral code is accurate. Perhaps you start off believing that all alcoholics are jerks who could easily keep their drinking under control, but they choose not to because they don’t care about how their actions affect others. Once your soul forms this belief, you judge all alcoholics very harshly and have no sympathy for any of them. You feel very justified in being merciless towards alcoholics until your best friend becomes one. After watching her slow descent into an addiction to alcohol, your view of alcoholism drastically changes. Your soul now decides that its previous belief that alcoholism is always a conscious choice was quite wrong. After watching what happened to your friend, you now believe that many alcoholics develop their drinking problem against their own will. Despite the fact that they hate the way they behave when they are drunk, and despite all of the problems alcohol causes in their ability to function and maintain relationships, it’s as if some internal force that is beyond their control is forcing them to keep drinking to excess. Your soul wants to feel that it’s current moral code is correct. Now that it has gained new information about alcoholism, it feels a need to correct the way it views this issue in order to keep its moral code up to date. After watching your friend battle with her addiction, your soul forms a much more compassionate view of alcoholics. You stop viewing them all as jerks and you start seeing them as being controlled by a force inside themselves that they don’t understand. This dramatic change in your soul’s moral code affects how you view your past actions. Today when you think back to some of the merciless things you’ve said about alcoholics (back when you felt it was justified to do so), you feel ashamed. You feel like you were a bad person to talk like that and you feel guilty about the pain your words might have caused.

There are a couple of key points that I want you to glean from this example. First, your soul is constantly revising its moral code. Second, every time your soul changes your moral code, you will change how you view your past behavior. The end result is that it is impossible to go through life never feeling like you did anything wrong. If you are spiritually maturing (which is a very good thing), your soul won’t just make small revisions to its moral code; it will make huge changes to it over time. If you mature quite a lot in your lifetime (which is the ideal goal), then the moral code you’re using at the end of your life will probably have very little in common with the one you used at the beginning. This is a good thing, but if you don’t have a good grasp on how Divine judgment works, you can end up viewing your excellent progress like a shameful failure. To avoid this pitfall, let’s talk about some essential principles of how moral codes develop and how we should react to the changes our souls make as they mature.

Moral Code Development

When you are born, your soul relies heavily on your subconscious to help it form a moral code. When you are born, your subconscious is already fully functioning and actively trying to protect you from harm. When something happens to you that your subconscious doesn’t like, it gets angry. When your soul observes your subconscious getting upset, your soul decides that whatever just happened must be morally bad. This is why you don’t need anyone to explain to you that it’s bad for someone to hit you when you’re a child. Because your subconscious is focused on protecting you, and being physically hit can cause injury to the body, your subconscious gets angry when someone hits you, and your soul immediately sides with your subconscious by declaring that person to be bad for hitting you.

Then your parents get involved (or whoever is functioning as your primary caregivers). These adults start pressuring you to conform to their own moral codes. When young Johnny throws sand in your face while you’re playing together at a local park, your subconscious gets mad and wants to attack him back. At first, your soul entirely supports what your subconscious wants to do: it labels Johnny’s behavior as bad and your desire for revenge as good. This kind of “double standard” is common in children, and it is a result of their souls aligning with their subconscious’ view of things. But as you grab a handful of sand to chuck into bad Johnny’s face, your mother yells at you from a nearby bench and demands that you cease and desist. When you hesitate to put the sand down, your mother responds by verbally threatening you. “If you don’t stop it right now, you won’t get any dessert tonight!” Hm. Mom is now injecting her own moral code into the mix, and this changes things.

Mom is a very powerful figure to your subconscious, because she controls the resources that you need to survive on a daily basis. Because you depend on Mom for so many things, your subconscious feels it is important to please her, and right now that means letting stupid Johnny get away with throwing sand at you. After quickly assessing what the consequences might be of sanding Johnny versus obeying Mom, your subconscious decides to obey Mom, so you drop the sand and just glare at Johnny, who is snickering victoriously. After observing what just happened, your soul finds itself in a new dilemma. It thought revenge was a good thing, but now Mom has labelled it as bad. How should your soul resolve this contradiction? On the way home from the park, Mom lectures you about why it’s always wrong to hurt other kids, even when those kids are being mean. As your soul listens to her logical argument, it also takes into consideration how powerful Mom is. Your soul agrees with your subconscious that Mom should be obeyed or great harm could come to you. So your soul decides to modify its moral code to match Mom’s on the issue of physically attacking other kids.

As you continue to grow, many other powerful figures enter your life, each with their own moral codes. Teachers. Preachers. Supervisors. Law enforcement officers. Peers whose approval is very important to you. As these individuals share their moral beliefs with you, your soul often revises its own moral code to match the beliefs of the people it cares about pleasing. By the time you reach adulthood, your soul’s moral code has changed quite a bit from what it was when you were a young child. As an adult, you now view many of your natural instincts and desires as bad, and this is causing a lot of tension between your soul and your subconscious.

Then the day comes when you suddenly meet the non-human Being who created you. You soon realize that this Being is infinitely more powerful than all of the other humans you have met, and that inspires your soul to move God to the top of its list of beings that it should try to please. So what is God’s moral code? Your soul wants to learn about how God views things so that it can adjust its own moral code to match. But here’s where things get a bit tricky, because when your soul asks God for His opinion on various matters, He doesn’t always give you a clear answer. Often He refuses to answer your question at all, which leaves your soul feeling ignorant about what God wants. This causes your soul to be very distressed, so it turns to other humans to help it learn more about God. When a pastor teaches that God hates a certain behavior that you do quite often, your soul becomes very distressed. Your soul worries that God might be harbouring anger towards you for doing something He doesn’t like, even though you honestly didn’t know He cared. By now your soul has pleaded with God many times to tell you if you’re doing anything that He considers bad, but He never makes a specific complaint. Meanwhile, every time you go to church, you’re learning about a new bad thing you’re doing that makes God angry. This pattern is really stressing out your soul, but when you ask God to help you stop doing some of the things that your pastor says are really bad, God keeps saying, “Don’t worry about that right now.” What’s happening here? Is God trying to trick you into wrecking your relationship with Him by refusing to tell you when you’re doing something He doesn’t like?

Understanding Divine Judgment

When you do something that another human considers to be very bad, that other human will instantly react with intense anger. Since this is how humans behave, we naturally assume that God behaves the same way. And yet God is not a human, and He behaves very differently than we expect Him to in many areas.

Now your soul is obviously very threatened by the idea of you mistreating other humans by using them. Why is your soul threatened by this idea? There are two possibilities here. One is that your soul doesn’t want to feel personally uncomfortable by you violating its own moral code. But a second possibility is that your soul is afraid of being punished by someone else if you upset that someone else with your behavior. Which of these possibilities is true in your case? Do you want to avoid mistreating others just to make yourself feel better, or are you also trying to avoid being punished by someone who is more powerful than you?

As the most powerful Being in existence, God is capable of doing horrific things to us if He felt motivated to do so. Once we understand this, our souls are supposed to respond by revering God. Reverence is a sober respect for God which is fuelled by a fear of Him severely harming us if He should become angry with us. Reverence inspires our souls to submit to God, which means treating His preferences as more important than our own. Once our souls our embracing an attitude of reverential submission towards God, we become very concerned about His opinion on things because we really want to avoid doing anything that might anger Him. While this general logic is good, it can cause major problems unless we also understand how God judges us. Unlike humans, God doesn’t expect us to read His mind and automatically understand what He does and doesn’t like. Unlike humans, God doesn’t treat accidental mistakes and intentional defiance as the same thing. Unlike humans, God always considers our motivations before judging us. Unlike humans, God always has a complete understanding of all of the factors involved in any situation that He is judging. Unlike humans, God is not in a flaming hurry for us to grow up and conform to His idea of “perfect”. In fact, perfection is simply not one of God’s goals for us. He did not design us with the capacity to be perfect, nor is this something He considers to be a desirable trait in His creatures. God likes the way He designed us, and He designed us to be very complex and full of contradictions. God also designed us with the capacity to mature, and He very much enjoys nurturing us along in that area. But helping us to develop is a process which God designed to take time.

Once we understand that God doesn’t get mad at us for not knowing something that He never taught us, we can understand that there’s no need to live in a constant state of fear that He’s going to suddenly lash out at us. God is a very kind and encouraging Creator, and when He sees that we sincerely care about doing right, He is very pleased with our soul attitudes. When we do something wrong–either accidentally or on purpose–God always talks to us before punishing us. When God convicts you about something, He communicates directly to your soul, and clearly identifies what you did that was wrong and why it was wrong. Sometimes He might also give you clear, specific instructions about some way that He wants you to make amends for what you did. For example, if you steal office supplies from the company you work for, God might tell you to return the items that you took. If you say something cruel to someone in a moment of anger, God might tell you to apologize to that person. But here’s a vital point to understand: just because God convicts you about something does not mean He will also give you a specific command.

It is impossible to live your life without ever hurting another human being. We all wound each other, but we are quite unaware of most of the damage we do because we can’t see inside other people and understand how our behaviours are affecting them. When we do become aware that we’ve hurt someone–either accidentally or on purpose–it isn’t always possible to fix the damage we’ve caused. In fact, the more severely we’ve wounded someone, the less possible it is for us to fix it. A classic scenario here is parents who severely abuse their children emotionally and physically. That kind of damage can’t be reversed with a sincere apology later on. In fact, when you are the one who has wounded someone deeply, the very fact that you were the cause of their pain often makes your efforts to help them the least effective. The reasons for this are too complicated for me to get into here, but it’s very important for you to understand the processes of wounding others and trying to help others heal from wounds are far more complicated than people realize. As the One who created these processes, God understands how complicated things are, and He understands that often there is nothing you can do to reverse a negative effect that you’ve had on someone else. Since God is the only One who has an accurate understanding of these things, it is vital that you don’t start trying to fix things without talking to Him first. When we allow our own guilt to guide us about when and how we should try to make amends for bad things we’ve done, we often end up making things even worse. When we wait for God to provide us with clear, specific instructions before we rush in to fix things, we end up avoiding a whole mess of pain.

Now the reason I’m discussing all of this is because people like you who have a strong concern about doing right are very vulnerable to demons getting you bogged down in guilt and shame over things you can’t do anything about. While your desire to do right is fabulous, you need to be guarded against setting unreasonable expectations for yourself. You are going to mistreat people in life. It’s certainly not something you want to try to do, but it’s not something you can entirely avoid, either.

When you realize that you’ve mistreated someone, you need to ask God for help and wait for Him to clearly convict you before you just rush in and start trying to fix things yourself.   Souls who care very deeply about doing right are prone to falling into abusive patterns with the people they wound.  This is because people like you can often be conned into feeling morally obligated to grovel, serve, and perpetually submit to a person who you have severely hurt.  In these situations, the person who started off as your victim quickly becomes your abuser by making unreasonable demands from you and constantly playing the card of “You owe me this because of what you did to me in the past.”  Bull.  This kind of tit-for-tat system always ends up turning abusive, which is why we need to submit to God’s judgment when we create messes and restrict ourselves to doing what He tells us to do about it.  Often God will tell us not to do something that our victim is demanding, and in those cases, we need to obey God, not let our own guilt lead us into making an even bigger mess.  To get a better idea of how this plays out, download all the charts I’ve posted in Recognizing God’s Conviction (Charts).  Read through that information and pay special attention to the examples I give of God convicting people about their past actions.  Notice how in the last chart (Educational vs. Corrective #2) God does not always want people to try to fix things they’ve done in the past, even when those things seem really bad.

While your desire to do right by others is a very good thing, it can make it difficult for you to respond well to God’s educational convictions. These are times when God provides you with new information that will cause you to view some of your past behaviours in a negative light.  When God convicts you like this, it is a positive thing, because He is providing you with an opportunity to grow closer to Him by gaining a better understanding of the moral code He wants you to live by.  Because God intentionally takes His time in educating you this way, you will often be surprised and even shocked by the new insights He gives you.  The more souls care about pleasing God, the more likely they are to feel ashamed and sad when He helps them see some of their past behaviours in a negative light.  Yet if we are going to mature in life, we need to be teachable, not resistant to learning new information by wallowing in guilt and treating God like He’s angry with us when He’s really not (to avoid this problem, also read Understanding Repentance).  God is extremely easy to succeed with, and when He educates us, He’s not punishing us, He’s helping us grow by deepening our understanding.

Understanding Addiction

Let’s now look at some of the specific topics you mentioned in your question, such as this statement:

“Some kinds of trauma cause us to feel a strong need to constantly change who we sleep with, and in these cases, we feel totally incapable of staying faithful to a single partner “

I was referring to a specific type of sex addict here. Addictions to sexual activities come in different forms, but once something is an addiction, it can feel impossible to resist engaging in the behaviour. When you hear addiction think of the term obsession, because that’s what’s happening internally for the addicted person. The obsession is being fuelled by the soul, subconscious, or both feeling extremely distressed by an unresolved problem.

When humans judge addicts, they focus on the addictive behaviours. If those behaviours are causing harm (which many do), the addict is shunned as a bad person. When God judges addicts, He focuses on the internal distress that is fuelling those behaviours. He then responds with compassion for the suffering person.

When humans treat addictions, they often start by focusing on reducing the addictive behaviours. When God deals with addictions, He focuses on reducing the core distress. These are two very different approaches, and God’s method is the only one that can fully resolve the addiction. Focusing on reducing behaviours will never solve the root issue, but it can create a temporary illusion that the person has been “cured” if the behaviours cease. Yet as long as the core stress remains, it will either cause a relapse, or the surfacing of a new addiction.

When humans are suffering internally, trying to reduce their suffering automatically becomes their top priority. Just as a drowning man becomes entirely focused on his own need for air as he flails in the water, a human who is in severe psychological, spiritual, or physical pain becomes so consumed with their own needs that they lose their ability to focus on doing right by others. This is why suffering and usury so often occur together. Given this principle, if you say “I never want to use anyone,” I’d say, “You won’t always have that option in life.” When you’re not desperate or hurting, treating others well seems very doable. But when your own well-being suddenly plummets, treating others well will likely become your last priority. I’m explaining this to help you form realistic expectations. We all mess up in life. We all act like jerks at times. Being perfect isn’t the right goal to focus on. Pleasing God is, because when we focus on that goal, God will teach us how to not get stuck in the past, and how to be compassionate towards ourselves and others when we mess up.

Defining Usury

You asked:

How do we know we are using somebody or just following our subconscious normal desires and wants?

We need to be clear about how you’re defining using. You’re talking about that term in a moral sense, not a practical one.  Practically speaking, we use each other all the time.  Just as you are using your kitchen faucet when you turn it on to get a glass of water, you are using your friend to get a meal when she offers to cook for you.  From your subconscious’ point of view, using someone simply means interacting with them in a way that will help you attain what you want.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  When two friends embrace each other, they are each using the other person’s body to gain a comforting sense of touch.  When spouses divide up chores between each other, they are both using each other to reduce their personal workloads. Using someone isn’t automatically a bad thing, but precisely defining what negative forms of usury look like is harder than it sounds because…

There are different definitions of the kind of usury you’re talking about.  There’s you intentionally trying to take advantage of someone when you know you shouldn’t.  Then there’s someone else feeling like you’re trying to use them when that’s not your conscious intention.  Then there’s God’s perspective on when you’re treating someone inappropriately. 

After six months of consistently rotating who washes the dishes after meals, Rhonda suddenly complains that she feels her husband Wes is using her.  Since he’s been doing 50% of the dishes, Wes finds this accusation insulting.  Rhonda says, “It’s not fair that you expect me to do half of the dishes when I do all of the laundry.  I do most of the housework around here, so I think you should have to do more than just 50% of the dishes.”

This example illustrates how in real life, humans can suddenly change where their personal boundaries are.  Initially Rhonda was fine rotating with the dish duties.  Now she has decided that it feels unfair.  Meanwhile Wes was not trying to take advantage of her, so he resents Rhonda’s accusation.  When this kind of thing happens to you in your own relationships (which it will), what should you do?  You should encourage your relationship partner (friend, co-worker, spouse, etc.) to explain why they suddenly feel like you’re treating them unfairly.  Then ask them how they want you to change your behaviour.  If their suggestions sound reasonable to you, then the problem can be easily solved by you adjusting your behaviour to match their change in boundaries.  But if their suggestions sound unreasonable to you, then the two of you will have to work together to come up with adjustments that will work for both of you.  Usually when people shift like this, you can’t just keep things as they are or your partner will become bitter.  Verbal communication is also essential here.  You need to understand why your partner feels you’re mistreating them before you can identify the best way to resolve their distress.

Realize that it is not possible for you to avoid this kind of problem.  Because you can’t control where your relationship partners draw their personal lines, and because you can’t control their sensitivities, surprises are inevitable.  One minute everything seems fine to you, the next minute someone you care about is accusing you of trying to mistreat them.  When you know that you weren’t trying to do so, you’ll have the best chance of resolving the issue by staying calm and listening to the logic your partner is using. 

Being falsely accused is part of the package when you pursue relationships with humans.  Sometimes you’ll be the one being accused, other times you’ll be the one making the accusations.  The goal is not to avoid ever upsetting each other, because that’s utterly impossible.  The goal is to learn how to respond productively when problems arise.  Listening and communicating are two essential tools in these situations.  While you’re listening to your partner, you also need to be listening for God talking to you internally in case He wants to weigh in on the situation. God can help us understand other people’s perspectives better than we can on our own, and that kind of help is invaluable when you really care about being reasonable and doing right by your partner.

There are three main ways that you will be alerted that you’re using someone. One is when you do it on purpose. Your friend Amira is so nice and so generous that you find yourself taking advantage of her generosity by “borrowing” things from her that you never return. You know that Amira avoids conflict at all cost, and so she’ll never stand up to you and demand her stuff back. In this situation, you are using Amira’s lack of boundaries to your advantage. Instead of helping your friend hold her fair share of power in her relationship with you, you are hogging more power than you should have by frequently doing things that you know Amira doesn’t like (taking her stuff and lying about how you’ll return it soon).

A second way that you will become aware that you’re using someone is when that other person accuses you of doing so. As we’ve discussed, these accusations aren’t always valid, but sometimes they are. When they are, it’s often a case of you accidentally slipping into inappropriate behaviours because it felt so convenient and easy to do so. Your subconscious is always looking for the most efficient way to get your needs met, and some people come across as being very easy to take advantage of. When your subconscious senses this in someone, it can be more likely to push you to take advantage of that person. One of the qualities that makes someone easy to mistreat is how slow they are to protest. People who are very secretive or who are intentionally misrepresenting themselves are also very easy to accidentally mistreat because they aren’t letting you know where their boundaries are. By the time such people finally protest your treatment of them, they are often very upset, and this can cause you to feel very bad when you realize how long they feel you’ve been treating them badly. The blame in these cases often belongs to both people: the victim for not speaking up sooner, and you for not being more considerate. But there are also cases in which all of the blame belongs to the accuser for expecting you to know things about them that they never told you.

The third way you can find out you’ve been mistreating someone is when God convicts you directly. He will often do this before your partner says anything. When God convicts you like this, He will make it clear to you why your behaviour is wrong. He will also give you specific, doable instructions regarding what you should do about it. He might tell you to apologize, or He might tell you to start treating the person differently (and He will be clear about what that looks like).

Sometimes God will convict you that you are treating someone badly when neither you nor your partner feel that way. To recognize when someone is mistreating you, you must first understand how they ought to treat you. Many people in the world today honestly don’t know what it feels like to be treated with kindness and respect, so they often don’t recognize when they are being mistreated by their partners. In such cases, God will often step in and help the relationship become healthier for everyone involved by convicting you both that you’re treating each other inappropriately. It’s great when He intervenes like this because both partners gain a better understanding of how a healthy relationship is supposed to look and feel.

So what’s the bottom line here? There isn’t a simple answer to your question because people have a wide range of personalities, sensitivities, and issues. Learning to treat other humans well requires ongoing education. It also requires being receptive to anything God wants to teach you on the subject. If you really want to learn more about this subject, I suggest you read my book What’s Wrong With My Relationships?. The book will introduce you to many vital principles about how human relationships function, and what makes them veer off course. Focusing on those principles is more helpful than focusing on avoiding a single problem, because if you get the main principles right, most problems will be avoided and/or easily resolved. But it’s also good to bear in mind that clashes are an inevitable part of human relationships. The more intimacy there is, the more intense the conflicts can be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be swiftly resolved. Instead of trying to avoid trouble, focus on learning how to resolve problems effectively in both your relationships with humans and your relationship with God. The better you get at resolving conflict, the less threatened you’ll feel by conflict occurring.

Sourcing Your Needs

If we find that not one person can satisfy the most important of our needs, is it wrong to source them from two different people or are there certain needs which should all come from one person uniquely (not the obvious one which is sexual intimacy but more like other emotional, psychological needs).

This is an excellent question, and to answer it, we need to start by understanding that there are different kinds of relationships. If we measure the level of intimacy or “degree of access” that is appropriate for each kind of relationship, we end up with a list like this:

Unsafe relationships are ones that you actively try to avoid because they are highly abusive. Unknown relationships can either become Unsafe or start climbing up the chart as they develop into more intimate relationships. Professional relationships are usually focused on you either giving or receiving a specific type of service (such as a dental examine or a car repair).

The question you asked is really focused on Intimate, Safe, and Casual relationships. Is it alright to have all of these relationships at the same time? Yes, and it’s also very practical. Suppose your spouse hates sports, but you love football. Should you never try to satisfy your desire to play the game because your intimate partner isn’t interested? No. In this situation, you should seek out other partners (which will usually be Casual) that you can kick a ball around with. There’s nothing inappropriate about this. In fact, all of your relationships will remain more healthy if you diversify like this because no single partner can hope to meet all of your needs.

Mandy loves sobbing over a chick flick but her husband Ron wants to watch violent thrillers. Rather than constantly argue over this issue, Mandy should get together with her girlfriends (who will be Safe or Casual partners) for a movie night. Ron should do the same with his guy friends (who will also be Safe or Casual).

Different kinds of relationships serve different kinds of purposes, and they all have value. But all relationships have limitations as well, and if you disrespect those boundaries, that’s when trouble happens. You already understand that sexual activities are only appropriate with your Intimate partner. Every relationship has rules defining what is appropriate touch. Violating those rules (by allowing a partner to touch you more intimately than they should) can cause major problems. But since it sounds like you’ve got a good grasp of the physical side of it, let’s focus on the primary threat to relationships, and that is mismanaging information.

Guarding Intimacy

Intimacy in relationships is formed by a mutual exchange of sensitive information. Note that it has to be mutual. If one partner shares more than the other, the relationship becomes imbalanced and awkward.

Now you are an extremely complex topic, and you could fill a book with information about who you are, what you like, what kinds of life experiences you’ve had, what your preferences are in food, entertainment, music, and clothing…the list goes on and on. You are a very deep subject–far more so than you realize when you’re just going through life. As the retainer of all of your memories, your subconscious is very aware of how complex you are, and in order to keep you safe, your subconscious assigns a level of sensitivity to every fact about you. But what exactly is sensitivity?

You can measure how sensitive a certain fact about you is by noting your emotional reaction to it. The more sensitive you consider some fact about you to be, the more emotionally upset you feel when you share that fact with another person. Sharing mildly sensitive information will typically cause you to feel a bit tense and nervous. Sharing more sensitive information will cause you to feel notably anxious and self-conscious. Sharing highly sensitive information will make you feel very tense and guarded–rather like how you’d feel trying to walk close to the edge of a very high cliff. Sharing extremely sensitive information can easily trigger an extreme shift in your mood and behaviour, perhaps causing you to start crying, get flushed in the face, stammer, tremble, avoid eye contact, feel nauseous, and/or struggle to talk around a burning lump in your throat.

The reason sensitive information affects you this way is because both your subconscious and soul strongly associate sharing sensitive information with making you more vulnerable to being hurt. Often the main fear is that your partner will reject you if they find out certain things about you. But in other cases, there are additional fears that you’ll gain a very negative social reputation (and all of the rotten things that come with that), or perhaps that you’ll get into legal trouble (if you’re confessing to a past crime).

Earlier I said that intimacy is formed by the mutual sharing of sensitive information. Exchanging only non-sensitive (or neutral) information will not form any sense of intimacy between you and another person. You must move out of the neutral category and start sharing things that are a bit more sensitive before any intimacy can form. But your partner must reciprocate for this process to work. If they only share neutral information while you’re sharing sensitive stuff, the relationship will become imbalanced (this is assuming you’re going for a friendship, in which there must be even sharing on both sides).

Once you understand that intimacy is formed by sharing sensitive information, you can see why you will automatically feel closer to someone who you share more sensitive stuff with. You can also see that, according to this chart, there are significant differences in the kinds of information you should be sharing with Casual, Safe, and Intimate partners.

It is only with your best friends that you should be sharing very sensitive information with. But it is only with your spouse that you should be sharing extremely sensitive information with. With Casual partners, it’s simply not appropriate to share very sensitive stuff, so in those kinds of relationships you should mostly stick to sharing information about yourself that you’d be comfortable with most of the world knowing.

In human relationships, trust is earned by partners demonstrating to each other that they will not allow sensitive information to be leaked to others without explicit permission. Since you can’t prove you are trustworthy until you have an opportunity to blab to others, earning trust takes time. This is why trying to rush a new relationship from Unknown to Casual to Safe is a bad idea. If you don’t linger in each stage long enough for your partner to earn more of your trust, you will end up calling an Unsafe person your “best friend” and then end up shocked and devastated when they betray you by sharing some of your very sensitive information to others.

Information is very powerful. Lives, families, marriages, reputations and careers can be destroyed by information being mismanaged, so if you are smart, you will allow time for your relationships to be properly cultivated. You won’t allow a Casual partner to graduate to being a Safe partner until they have had plenty of opportunities to prove that they are trustworthy.

Now what does all of this have to do with your original question? You are concerned with accidentally using someone. One of the fastest ways you can hurt someone and permanently damage trust is to share sensitive information about them without their permission. Suppose you love nature walks but your spouse really does not. No problem; you simply join a local hiking group so you can satisfy this interest. When you first join the hiking group, everyone in it is Unknown to you. As you chat with each other on your hikes, you all graduate into being Casual partners. If you especially like one person in the group, the two of you might graduate on to being Safe partners. But as you’re socializing with these people, what kind of information are you sharing? When you are socializing with humans, it’s natural to talk about your other relationship partners, and here is where you can make some major mistakes.

Wendy’s husband Ed has a deep love of trains. He spends hours in the basement of their home, building very elaborate train tracks that have lots of natural scenery and very rugged terrain. Wendy is very impressed by her husband’s artistic talent and feels he could make a lot of money selling his creations online. But to Ed, his obsession with trains is highly sensitive information which he doesn’t want anyone to know about.  This frustrates Wendy, because she knows that other people think she married a rather boring guy with no remarkable qualities.  When she gets together with her girlfriends and they all start bragging about their husband’s promotions, salaries, and talents, Wendy is dying to brag about her Ed.  For years, she struggles to stay silent, but one day she can’t stand it anymore and finally tells three of her closest friends about how artistic and brilliant her husband is.  After waxing on and on about Ed’s amazing creations, she swears her friends to secrecy.  A week later, a furious Ed comes storming into the house after work and accuses Wendy of telling others about his train hobby.  It turns out Wendy’s friends told their husbands, and one of those men was a co-worker of Ed’s, so now all of his co-workers are asking him about his secret train hobby and wanting to see pictures of his work. Wendy is exasperated by Ed acting like other people taking such an interest in his work is some kind of crisis.  She sees this as the perfect time for Ed to launch a business doing what he loves.  But all Ed sees is that his wife deeply betrayed him by sharing his closely guarded secret with the world. 

This story illustrates a very important principle:  you will categorize your partner’s information differently than they do, but if you don’t respect their categorization, you can end up permanently losing their trust.  For Wendy, her own hobbies are neutral information.  She couldn’t care less who knows about the fact that she enjoys knitting and painting with watercolours.  Because this is how she views her own information, she really struggles to see her husband’s categorization as valid.  She honestly thinks that Ed is being ridiculous to act like his love of trains should be treated like highly classified information.  But here’s the key principle: You don’t get to decide for someone else what their sensitivities should be.

A very common way that people accidentally destroy relationships they care about is by not respecting their partner’s information categories. They share information that should not be shared, and in doing so, they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Minor violations of trust can be often be recovered from, but violating trust by sharing highly sensitive information is often considered unforgivable.  This means that whenever you’re socializing with others, you need to be respecting all of your relationship partners, including the ones that aren’t present at the moment.  So while it’s a healthy thing to have a variety of relationships in order to get your various needs met, you need to be very careful about not mismanaging all of the information your various partners share with you.  Nothing makes a person feel more used and gross than finding out you blabbed some of their sensitive information to others just to get attention or show off or have a laugh at their expense.  Today when you hear people get together and joke about the anatomy of their Intimate partners, or share details about their sex lives, or describe their partners having embarrassing things happen to them, such people are advertising how untrustworthy they are by sharing things that should not be shared.  No man wants to think his wife is discussing his private parts with her co-workers.  No woman wants to think her husband is telling his buddies about how she behaves during sex, or about how much make-up she puts on in the morning.  Whenever you are talking about someone else, a good question to ask is: If my partner could hear how I’m talking about them right now, would they be alright with it?  Or would they be upset?  If you imagine that your partner can hear what you’re saying, you’ll find it easier to avoid saying something inappropriate. 

When we’re only thinking about theoretical situations, not violating trust can sound very easy to do.  But gossip is extremely alluring to humans, and in the heat of the moment, you can find yourself feeling very tempted to violate trust in order to reap some personal benefits.  You’ll do the best at resisting these temptations by having some guiding principles clearly in mind beforehand.

Intimate Relationships

While you can have multiple Safe and Casual partners, to maintain a healthy intimate relationship, you can only have one intimate partner at a time.  Simply using labels like husband and wife does not create intimacy.  A true Intimate partner is one that you have shared highly sensitive information with—information that you don’t share with anyone else.  If you then go out and share that special category of information with other people, your Intimate partner will be very upset.

A very common complaint among Intimate partners is that they feel there is a lack of intimacy between them.  Real intimacy can only be created by both partners feeling confident that they are being allowed a level of access that no other human gets. As soon as your spouse feels like your best friend knows as much about you as your spouse does, your spouse will no longer feel like he/she is being given an extra level of access.  To humans, information is far more valuable than physical access. You will feel much more intimate with someone who you share sensitive information with than you will with someone who barely knows you yet you let them sleep with you.  It’s the information that really counts, and humans instinctively know this, which is why you need to intentionally reserve some information about yourself to share with only your spouse.  If you act like an open book, telling everyone everything about you, there’s no way for a person to feel truly intimate with you.  Instead, they’ll feel like they’re just one more member of your fan club, and you can’t form a healthy Intimate relationship like that.

I’m focusing a lot on Intimate partners because they are the most sensitive about you maintaining other relationships in your life.  When you’re single and you don’t have an Intimate partner yet, things are a lot more relaxed. You can socialize with many different friends, and as long as you’re not gossiping inappropriately, your friends will usually be alright knowing that they’re not the only person you care about.  Of course there are rules to maintaining healthy friendships, such as giving your friend your full attention when you’re with them, not spending the whole time making them watch you socialize on your phone with other people.  To keep your friends calm and happy, you need to help them each feel valued by you.  It’s when you start treating close friends like casual acquaintances or vice versa that jealousies get triggered.  So be honest with yourself about how you view your various partners. 

Humans use titles to cue each other about what to expect in their relationships.  You’re having lunch with your friend Adam when Bess comes in.  You wave Bess over and say, “Adam, this is Bess, my best friend.  Bess, this is my friend Adam.”  The way you just used these titles tells Adam that he is outranked by Bess in your mind.  If Adam has his own best friend, he won’t feel threatened by this.  If he thought he was your best friend, he’ll feel very hurt by this introduction.  So while you’re honest with yourself about how your friends rank in your mind, you should be clear with them as well, and be cautious in situations where someone seems to be ranking you higher than you rank them. 

Once you acquire an Intimate partner, you can’t continue functioning the way that you did when you were single.  Having an Intimate partner changes things.  For starters, your Intimate partner now outranks all of your existing friends, and some of your closer friends will probably have a hard time accepting this.  It always hurts to be demoted, and Intimate partners always demote best friends.  When this happens, you can either be classy and help your best friends understand that you still value them very much, or you can be insensitive to their pain and end up permanently losing them. 

The Gender Issue

Gender is a detail that suddenly becomes a major issue once you gain an Intimate partner.  As a general rule, it is a very bad idea to maintain close friendships with people who are of the same gender as your spouse.  It’s also a bad idea to spend alone time with Casual partners who are the same gender as your spouse.  The reasons for this are too complicated to fully explain here, but there are very valid reasons why your spouse will automatically feel threatened by you hanging out alone with a person who could conceivably become a romantic partner. 

If you’re a heterosexual female, other females simply aren’t going to spark romantic interest for you, and that eliminates a lot of potential problems.  Remember that your Intimate partner must be the only romantic partner in your life, and to maintain trust in your marriage, your spouse needs to feel confident that their special sexual access to you is not being threatened.  There are two ways your spouse becomes threatened in this area.  One is if they feel they can’t trust you not become romantically attracted to someone else.  The second way is if they feel they can’t trust that someone else not to try to romantically pursue you. 

Tanya is married to Ethan.  Before getting married, Tanya’s best friend was a man named Rick.  Rick is a good-looking guy, but more importantly, he knows a lot of sensitive information about Tanya.  Rick’s high level of access to Tanya plus the fact that he’s male automatically makes Ethan feel threatened by Rick.  Best friends are just one rung beneath Intimate partners.  Rick has known Tanya for 20 years, while Ethan has only known her for 2.  After marrying Tanya, Ethan feels very uncomfortable with Tanya hanging out with Rick alone.  Tanya is not about to dump her childhood friend, plus she points out that Rick is engaged so “what’s the big deal”?  Well, the big deal is that affairs happen all the time, and Rick already has a major advantage over Ethan due to his longer history with Tanya.  If she wants her marriage to succeed, Tanya is going to have make some adjustments here.  One solution is to give Ethan and Rick a chance to develop their own friendship by hanging out together.  At the same time, Rick can be invited to socialize with Tanya and Ethan as a couple  instead of spending time with Tanya by herself.  When you are not the one feeling threatened, adjustments like this can feel unreasonable.  Yet it is not unreasonable for your spouse to feel threatened by you spending a lot of private time sharing sensitive information with someone who could potentially stir up romantic feelings in you. 

There are certain realities about males and females which make the possibility of romantic interest impossible to entirely rule out when a male and female spend a lot of time alone together.  Rather than take that risk, it’s wiser to avoid it altogether by not spending alone time with peers of the opposite gender after you are married.  As I said before, Intimate partners always demote best friends, and when those best friends are the wrong gender, they will often need to be pushed back even further to protect the marriage.  Again, this causes hurt feelings, and that needs to be respected.  It’s also good to try to find ways to keep including your best friend in your life, but your spouse needs to be involved.  It just won’t work for your husband for you to announce, “I’m going to spend all day alone with another man.  See you later!” 

Now all of that said, there are some cases where spouses decide they are comfortable with your opposite sex friends.  But even in those cases you have to consider your friends’ perspectives.  Everyone goes through tough, lonely seasons.  A friend who would normally never look at you with romantic interest can suddenly start feeling that way towards you when they are going through a difficult time in their own lives.  By reducing how close you allow opposite sex peers to be to you after you are married, and by avoiding hanging out alone with them, you eliminate so many problems. 

I mentioned the gender issue because it’s an important thing to bear in mind when you are looking for new partners to fill certain needs in your life.  To satisfy her love of reading and discussing what she’s read with others, Georgia joins a book club.  It’s a mixed gender club.  Fine.  This kind of setting is not an appropriate place to share sensitive information in, so as long as Georgia keeps things casual, she shouldn’t have problems.  As the months go by, two individuals in the club start expressing an interest in getting to know Georgia better. One is a man, the other is a woman.  Since Georgia is married, she would be wise to only pursue the relationship with the woman.  It’s just not a smart move for her to meet a male peer for coffee, when such meetings are pretty much guaranteed to involve the exchange of new information.  By politely turning down the man’s invitation to try to advance their Casual relationship, Georgia avoids a lot of problems.  She also protects the man’s feelings by turning him down now before his interest in her grows stronger through the exchanging of information.

Conclusion

In a healthy Intimate relationship, you feel much closer to your Intimate partner than you do any other human. There is more sharing and more trust, and that gives your partner the ability to help you in ways that your friends cannot. That said, there are times when outside help is needed to help with highly sensitive issues. Talking to a counsellor about highly sensitive issues is often a smart move when your spouse is unable to deal with that information. Counsellors who know what they’re doing can help spouses respond to upsetting revelations about each other in a way that will strengthen the marriage instead of break it. A counsellor is a Professional partner, and in healthy Professional relationships, there is no mutual exchange of sensitive information, and therefore no opportunity for mutual feelings of intimacy to develop. A counsellor who is behaving appropriately will not be a threat to the marriage, even though they are given access to highly sensitive information (the kind that would not be appropriate to share with Safe or Casual partners). My point here is that Professional partners can be a very useful option when outside help is needed in a marriage but you don’t want to damage trust by mismanaging information. When you’re not dealing with subjects that your Intimate partner has exclusive rights to, then Casual and Safe partners can often be good resources for things that your Intimate partner can’t or won’t supply. A good safety check is to discuss your plans with your Intimate partner beforehand and give them a chance to express any concerns they have about you socializing with someone else. In a healthy Intimate relationship, spouses want their partners to get their needs met, and are glad to support their efforts to do so.

This post was written in response to a request.