Whether to be honest or lie in a relationship is an interesting topic. One that, in couple’s counseling sessions often comes up in the extremes. It is obvious that honesty in a relationship is important and lying is destructive, so most people try to be honest and stay away from lying, but anything taken to an extreme can be harmful.
Take honesty, for example; I often hear, “I need to be 100% honest about how I’m feeling and what is going on in me. If I can’t be honest then maybe this relationship isn’t worth it.” The naked, unaltered truth that goes on in our heads, can be extremely damaging to a relationship. It is important to make the distinction between being honest and being considerate. Altering your words or leaving out the fact that you think they are a “stupid, idiot, lazy, jerk” is not lying. You may in fact think those things in the moment, but they don’t need to know that. In fact, your truth can and often does change. In another moment you can think they are the sweetest most adoring, loving person and in these moments you can wind up feeling deeply regretful for what you previously said and did.
On the other hand, “white lies” can also be damaging. Holding back out of fear of hurting the other, creating a conflict or just plain not knowing your truth, can lead to resentment and blowups over things that seem meaningless.
There are a few key areas of truth that come up again and again as points of difference or contention that easily go to one or the other extreme in relationships and couples counseling:
- Feelings or emotions on a topic
- Wants, needs, hopes or desires
- Values, opinions or beliefs, morals; especially if one has done something that goes against the other’s beliefs.
In expressing and communicating feelings, emotions, wants, needs, hopes, values, opinions beliefs, etc. people tend to either share forcefully or not share enough (if at all).
Often “lying” or under expressing starts with not being able or willing to see your own truth (as listed above). Perhaps you believe there is something “bad” about it, so you deny you feel that way. This most often times occurs unconsciously and instantaneously.
Maybe you just say nothing when things bother you sometimes, because you would rather just not make waves or make it seem like it isn’t that big of a deal. Sometimes, as mentioned, you don’t even know you are holding back. It happens instantaneously and unconsciously. The only thing you are aware of is that you feel upset or bothered.
Some of the symptoms of under-expressing, holding back or “lying” in a relationship both to yourself and to your partner are:
- Snapping or becoming irritated for unrelated or seemingly meaningless things
- Shutting down
- Not wanting to share all of your love
- Not doing the things you know the other person would love you to do,
- Holding back or running away
In extremes, it can also lead to infidelity and major betrayals in the relationship. You may feel that, “I can’t be me in this relationship, so I will find someone or some way that I can be”. Again, this is often unconscious and can happen as a “slip” or a “mistake” either by word or action – one that you later deeply regret.
Most people are aware that lying is hurtful to those you love, and harmful to a relationship, but many are not aware that TELLING THE NAKED TRUTH, can be just as harmful. A lot of couples run into problems. In believing that they need to tell each other exactly what is going on at all times – radical honesty. This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship, especially when speaking “radical truth” in the heat of an overly emotional moment.
Telling the naked truth can be not only hurtful to the other person, but can create a division in the relationship as potentially harmful as lying, betrayal and infidelity.
My recommendation in couples therapy and couples counseling sessions is to find a balance between the two. Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a clear cut and concise way to find the middle path. From Habit 4Think Win-Win:
“Think Win-Win: Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose…
Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!
A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:
- Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
- Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
- Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone
Many people think in terms of either/or: either you’re nice or you’re tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration. To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave. To do that–to achieve that balance between courage and consideration–is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to win-win.”
Having courage and consideration in your communication together with the belief that you can find a mutually beneficial solution that will make you BOTH HAPPY has the power to transform your relationships, and should be the focus of any type of relationship therapy. I have written a guide that can walk you through 7 practical steps to creating communication on this level. It is a shift in perspective and does take some adjusting to, but the rewards of putting in some effort can be exponential.
Love Therapy Center offers counseling, education, and coaching for couples, families, and individuals in San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.