We all want it in our relationships.
But is dishonesty ever “alright”?
It seems like a simple question at first.
Of course dishonesty is not alright – we want honesty all the time. After all, if you can’t trust someone about the little things then you can’t trust them about the big things, right?
But when you really look at it, it’s not really that straightforward.
What is dishonesty? There are three main forms of dishonesty:
- half truths
- lies by omission
Some people think of honesty only in terms of lies, but it seems very clear that it’s more than that. Honesty is not only about the words you say and the actions you take.
It’s also about the things you don’t say.
You can be 100% honest in everything “you say”, while still being very secretive and deceitful. Half-truths and lies by omission are as damaging (if not more) than the things that you say.
Intimacy vs. Autonomy
Intimacy is all about closeness, and the way to build intimacy is through the sharing of your thoughts and feelings.
No one shares everything however, and we shouldn’t want them to. It’s important to balance intimacy with autonomy. Even when we are part of a relationship, we are still an individual and it’s important not to lose sight of that.
When you see your partner at the end of the day, it’s common practice to ask about their day. When we do this we don’t actually want to know everything. We aren’t looking for an itemized list of what your partner did during the day, minute by minute (at least I hope not). What we are really looking for is a summary, with maybe some of the highlights and lowlights of that day. We want to know what was important to them, and by them sharing that with us they are both maintaining and building a sense of intimacy.
It’s up to each person to determine what the “relevant” details are, and this is one of the places we get ourselves in trouble. What it relevant to one person may be different from what is relevant to another.
Let’s say you had a cheeseburger for lunch.
Now let’s say you had sex with a co-worker at lunch.
Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like they are pretty different things. Having sex with your co-worker is kind of a big deal, and sharing that knowledge would probably have a different impact on your relationship then telling your partner you had a cheeseburger.
One seems a wee bit more important in terms of relevance to your relationship than the other, and although the fallout would be considerable, I think it’s a safe bet that your partner deserves to know about the lunch sex.
But what about the cheeseburger? Is there any need to tell them about that?
Normally the answer would be no. But it comes down to context.
What if you and your partner are on a diet together, and the cheeseburger was a way of “cheating” the diet?
What if you are saving up for something and you promised to brown bag a lunch in order to save up money?
Well then perhaps the cheeseburger IS actually relevant. Maybe your partner WOULD be hurt if they knew about the cheeseburger.
When withholding information from your partner (either through half-truths or complete omission) it comes down to intent.
WHY are you withholding information?
Is it because you truly thought it wasn’t important and it didn’t even occur to you to tell them? Is it because you want to surprise them with something? Or is it because you were feeling guilty and you didn’t want them to find out?
Sometimes people have disconnects on what “is important”, and this is an area where communication comes into play. Over time these sorts of disconnects will be sources of conflict for a couple, and this is natural and even healthy conflict.
When there are disconnects on what is important you can use them as opportunities to understand your partner better, and be a better partner to them in the future.
But if you are ever withholding information or keeping secrets out of shame or guilt, then you KNOW you have done something wrong. If this happens, any withholding is intentionally being deceptive.
Drawing the Line
Is it ever alright to intentionally be deceptive?
Sure, if you want to surprise your partner with something. It’s kind of hard to surprise them with things if you can’t keep some secrets.
But what about secrets that would hurt them?
I think there probably is a bit of a grey area here as well.
We all run into problems and issues in life. And sometimes we don’t want to share those. Sometimes we need to be able to work through things on your own.
That’s understandable to a degree. We don’t want to be the person who is alarming our partner by crying wolf every time we have concern or a fear. Sometimes we realize our fears are nothing, and it’s best not to stir the waters by raising them.
It’s important to be very careful with this though.
If these fears persist for a long time, or if they start to spill over into and affect the relationship, then they are pretty damned relevant. At that point choosing to keep them to ourselves will only ever do harm. It will break down trust, and damage the integrity of the relationship. And the longer it goes on, the more damage will be done.
I think being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you are always truthful. It doesn’t mean you have to share every little thing. There are cases where you will hold things back, or even outright lie in the short term (with surprises for example).
To me it comes down to three very important things:
We all choose our own actions. If we are in a relationship, then we need to think about our partners in the things that we do.
If our intent is good in the sense that we are considering our partner and being respectful towards them, we may still get ourselves in trouble if there is a disconnect between what is important to one versus the other. But those sorts of conflicts are fine.
We should never hide behind lies and partial truths or omissions out of shame or guilt though. Those sorts of things will only do long term harm.
And we should never do things that are disrespectful to our partner, or we know would hurt them if they found out. If we are doing that, then our relationships are built on a rotten foundation. And eventually, they will crumble under the weight of our own deceit.
Acting with respect, empathy and good intent is always the best approach.
The truth isn’t always easy to face; but it’s always the right answer.