A wise person somewhere once advised, “don’t ask the question if you don’t really want to know the answer.”
Being truthful sometimes feels like a setup.
If you value honesty and truth, and try to live by those values, it can be a difficult path to walk. Especially when you are being honest with others about sensitive subjects.
Is it okay to omit information or even tell an outright lie in the interest of preserving a relationship?
That is a good question with an ambiguous answer. The reality of this conundrum is that no one else can make this ethical decision for another person. Each of us sits with our own set of ethical and moral guidelines. Some people have a hard and fast rule about honesty and hold that standard above all others, whether it hurts people or not. Others can’t tell the truth if their lives depended on it.
Most of us live somewhere in the middle. We tell the truth most of the time and tell “white lies” as needed to protect others from painful realities. This negotiated variety of honesty could be considered a conditional one.
Most of us will say we want others to be completely honest with us, but when the tables are turned, we use our own version of honesty.
Are you honest only when it is convenient? Intimate relationships are often the most trying places to be completely honest.
When your partner asks you a question that you don’t really want to answer, how do you respond? The options are to lie, be completely honest, tell a partial truth or plead the 5th amendment.
Each of these options come with their own set of consequences. When a relationship has been affected by dishonesty, it becomes a toxin that can lead to the destruction of trust and the eventual demise of the relationship.
When honesty at all costs is the style, it can lead to pain and discord, particularly if the subject matter is sensitive.
When partial truths become the norm, that establishes a slippery quality to the relationship in which a partner doesn’t know when to believe you and is unsure of the terrain.
Partial truths may feel less damaging than the other options, but in reality, they cast a long shadow over a relationship, too. Pleading the fifth automatically makes you look guilty but may preserve a sense of unspoken truth within the relationship that may buy you some time to work your way toward honesty. Refusing to answer is only a placeholder, though.
You can’t stay in that limbo with a partner for long, since most people will begin to feel disrespected and this may erode the relationship quickly.
Preparing For The Inevitable
Difficult conversations will happen. Whether you are in a new relationship or have been in a committed relationship for many years, it is a good idea to have the honesty talk. Set some ground rules that both of you can agree upon when it comes to truth-telling.
It may even be wise to establish a list of sensitive subjects that are carefully approached. This will require a lot of vulnerability for each of you, which demands a certain amount of trust.
If there are subjects that need to be “off limits” for one reason or another, be sure to include that in the discussion so that each of you feel your boundaries are being respected.
Recognize Your Own Bias
Relationships can bring out the best and worst in us. Sometime when you are alone, step back from your emotions and honestly observe yourself within your relationship.
- What are my honesty biases?
- What do I struggle being honest about in my own life?
- What are the fears I have about my partner’s honesty; are there questions I need to ask that will make or break this relationship?
- If I learn certain things about my partner that make me uncomfortable, how will I feel? How will I react?
- Do I really want to know the answer to some of my questions? What purpose will it serve?
- How can I work on accepting whatever the truth is, even if I don’t like it?
Releasing Expectations and Ownership
Identify what your expectations are for your partner. Are any of those expectations unfair?
In relationships, we sometimes become comfortable to the point of forgetting that our partners have their own lives, interests and needs outside of the relationship. While getting comfortable with one another is an important piece of a long-term relationship, it is equally as important to remember your mutual need for autonomy.
In the interest of respecting one another’s autonomy and independence, examine your sense of ownership. Do you feel that your partner is “yours”? Do you feel that you “belong” to your partner?
While a sense of connection is important, remember that neither of you “own” one another, nor are you entitled to know every thought and that passes through one another’s mind. When we sit with this type of mutual respect for one another’s thoughts and feelings, it becomes easier to step away from the entrapments of entitled thinking.
Entitled thinking can lead toward a lot of unnecessary questions that are generally meant to trap or corner your partner.
Learn when you are going down a “trap” mode of questions and when you are on the other end of that with a partner. Call one another out on questions that ultimately form a double-bind and learn to reframe questions into statements of need.
For example, if you are feeling insecure about your partner’s past and the implications on your current relationship, reframe that into a statement of need such as, “I need reassurance about our relationship.”
Be As Open As Possible
Relationships thrive when communication is open and honest. If you are feeling the need to lie frequently to protect your partner’s feelings, maybe that is a sign that something needs to change. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether this relationship is right for you.
- What is causing me to feel the need to lie?
- Am I tempted to lie to preserve my partner’s feelings, my own sense of convenience or for another reason?
- Why can’t I be completely honest in this situation? What are the costs/benefits of the truth?
- What do I need from my partner to feel I can be completely honest?
- Do I rely on dishonesty or partial truths too much in my relationships with others? If so, why?
Truth is a fickle subject, and none of us are good at it one hundred percent of the time.
We bend the truth, step around it, and avoid it for a variety of reasons, yet it upsets us when others are dishonest.
As we examine our motives for truth and dishonesty, we need to give the same amount of compassion to others we allow for ourselves. Sometimes dishonesty isn’t meant maliciously.
Often self-preservation is at the core of our decision making around truth.
Each of us has an innate sense of self-preservation. It is instinctual. Our more sophisticated lies get us into trouble.
Lies for the purpose of social graces is almost expected in certain facets of our culture. When lies become a leading role in intimate relationships, it is a warning sign for larger problems under the surface.
Be gentle with yourself and your partner as you explore the role of truth in your relationship. Honesty with oneself is the best place to start, though not always the easiest.