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Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

We hear it over and over — honesty is the best policy. But we also have seen a lot of lying in our families, from friends, in the media, in our communities etc. Sometimes these are rationalized as thoughtful lies designed to spare the other “pain.” As adults, honesty is a high priority value for most partners. But how do we know when to hold back or what to say, how, and when?

Kinds of Lies

According to Tell Me No Lies by Bader and Pearson, there are four kinds of lies:

Loving lies: These are usually well-intentioned to build up a partner’s self-esteem and are generally harmless.

Conflict avoiding lies: When we skirt around the truth to avoid conflict and tension with the hopes that the truth will be swept under the rug.

Passive aggressive lies: Someone agrees to do something while knowing that they won’t, such as pretending that they will pay off a bill.

Felony lies: These lies have a grave impact on a partner, such as having unprotected sex with another or gaslighting, which is not only about hiding the lie but challenging the sanity of the partner which can leave them feeling crazy.

“I don’t want to hurt you”

Fear plays a big part in choosing to lie. Whether we fear the consequences such as losing the relationship, feel badly about a mistake made, or simply dislike conflict, we are really protecting ourselves when we say that we don’t want to hurt someone. It's best in the long run to face those vulnerabilities and fears. When you resist telling your partner that you have lost interest in sex, for example, are you protecting your partner from feeling hurt or avoiding the challenging conversation that might create tension in your relationship?

Keep It Healthy!

Emotional stress takes a toll on your health — if you feel hurt, guilty, disappointed, or sad, it is not wise to hold in your emotions. Even low-level emotional stress takes a large amount of energy to hold together. And those emotions sit right under the surface and can erupt in a vengeful manner at the smallest trigger. If your partner makes a sexual request, you might blurt out an angry response that you have been “faking orgasms for years” which may not be the best way to initiate that conversation. Those moments often hurt the other in ways you were trying to avoid for all of those days, months or more that you were holding it in. It is better to deal with the truth up front than mix it up with other issues when angry or hurt or frustrated.  

What Should I Disclose?

The first question is to consider your motives: does telling the truth serve the relationship? If it is only about your own self-indulgence or getting it off your chest, perhaps telling someone else is a better idea. If you find others attractive outside of your relationship boundaries for example, your partner does not need to know every thought, unless they find that kind of discussion exciting. If you have a distracting crush on someone else then seek help from a friend or therapist to help you address it and to avoid feeding the attraction in a destructive manner.  

What about past behaviours? If you led a wild life before your current relationship, don’t recount all of the details if your partner might feel insecure about matching your history. If you had a past addiction that could resurface, discuss the triggers so that your partner is aware. But if there is something you wish to keep private and is truly in the past and does not impact you or your current situation, then you can choose to let them remain there. Again consider what information is important in making your relationship the best it can be and what you would want to know if the shoe were on the other foot. 

Finally, reflect on your partner and their strengths, weak spots, and preferences. If they are generally insecure and excitedly waltz in the room sporting a new outfit asking “How do I look?” then you might choose to compliment them. If they are generally confident in their appearance, and want a genuine opinion, be honest, even if it's just to say, “It's a different look than my other favourites, but it's an interesting new style.”

How to Say It?

Be sensitive and considerate. Write it down and read it to your partner if you want to make sure you get the words right. Be thoughtful in your timing. If you need to say that you are not getting your sexual needs met, don’t disclose when you are both vulnerable and sweaty after a romp. Give it 24 hours to settle down. Find a time when you both have the opportunity to put other tasks aside. Ask if it is a good time to bring something up. Think about what is essential to say rather than every detail. Take responsibility for your own part of the challenging scenario you wish to discuss. A short message might be enough to open a conversation. And you may need to wait to finish it when your partner has had time to process the information and is ready to discuss it further.  

All of these hard conversations will be easier for your partner to take when you receive their honesty with grace. If you listen to them without defensiveness and ask questions without judgment, you create a climate where honesty is welcome. And honesty is not always about the “bad” things. Make sure you also notice and express all of the positive things. We often assume that the other already knows our thoughts. But it always feels great to hear it again that “you are so sexy” or “thanks for picking up the kids all week” (even if that is what happens every week). There are so many positives that can build up goodwill in the relationship that make the harder conversations easier to fall onto open ears.

Is It Really Worth It?

Aside from emotional peace of mind, the right kind of honesty builds intimacy. It fosters a stronger relationship where your partner is actually into you and knows you, warts and all, not the person you want them to think you are. Many people feel lonely in relationships where they are not honest and are not true to themselves. In addition, if your partner can trust you to say what is hard, then they can trust your compliments as well, creating a strong foundation in your relationship. Ultimately, strength and truth to yourselves and each other are awesome goals to aim for!