Being the best partner — 28 October 2003
Should you always tell the truth?

Honesty is a virtue in life and a necessity in a love relationship. It is needed for the maintenance of trust between partners. However, is the “whole truth” as demanded in court proceedings – the optimal value for couples as well?

The merit of honest exchanges between people has been strongly advocated by many philosophers, writers, teachers and leaders. Mahatma Gandhi told us that “There is no good higher than truth”. Henrik Ibsen said: “The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom are the pillars of society.” Mark Twain recommended: In case of doubt always be truthful.”

So when is it that full disclosure is inadvisable? When it comes to our thoughts, opinions or emotions that may potentially harm our mates or our relationship, a measure of discretion is advisable.

For example, all people have fantasies. Some may be about sexual exchange with other partners, some may be about running away, (when the pressure mounts), some may be about being with a younger, more fit, more exciting partner, some may be about all the opportunities that this relationship does not afford us. The list may be very long. These passing fantasies may have a healing effect for us. They are the escapist fantasies to be lived in our minds instead of being acted upon. Yet, if we choose to share them with our partners, we may cause pain, rift and at times even irreparable damage to our union.

Dreams are another personal experience of our subconscious mind. We solve many of our current concerns at night through symbolic images in our dreams. Very often, even the dreamer is not fully aware of the meaning of his dream content. If he should relate them to his partner, a literal interpretation by the spouse may cause marital grief.

For example, Lori dreamed that she was being chased by people who intended to harm her. In her dream she sought her husband’s help – and he refused to assist her. Upon awakening, Lori was very angry with Chuck for not being there for her. Chuck, of course, disavowed any responsibility for the actions attributed to him by Lori in her dream. Nonetheless, he was offended that Lori did not trust him to rescue her. This couple was in a spat for several days without having an easy avenue for resolving their conflict.

Both fantasies and dreams are the internal dynamics of our minds and are perplexing enough for us. We may be wise to process them first for ourselves, and then decide whether they are worth sharing with our mates.

Another area of risky honesty is the response to certain questions. “Honey, do you think this dress makes me look fat?” “Did you think I appeared stupid in front of my colleagues when I asked that question?” “Do you believe I deserved to be fired?” “Do you think I was right or your mother was right?” Any answer to the content of these questions is likely to be hazardous to your relationship. Since all these questions come from an insecure place, they are really pleas for reassurance. If they are taken literally, the responder is likely to fail the questioner. Truth here is irrelevant- your partner’s need for support is crucial.

Let’s learn from this true story about a six-year-old.
“Mom, is it O.K. to lie sometimes?”
“Why are you asking?”
“A girl in my class told me today that everyone says she has a long, ugly nose, and asked me if I thought she did.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I looked at her nose, and it is very long- but she also has a long narrow face, so I said,” I think your nose fits your face very well.”
“What happened then?”
“She smiled”.
This sensitive first grader already possessed the wisdom of being truthful, while preserving the dignity of another person.

When dealing with issues that a person can not alter, kindness must consistently supercede honesty.

Sometimes when we are stressed and overwhelmed we may begin to doubt the wisdom of being with our partners. Before sharing these thoughts, we must allow time to pass, question ourselves first, before we attribute our unhappiness to our partners’ inadequacies. “I was thinking that I may not want to stay with you forever”, is not a comment to be made lightly. It is painful to the partner; it shakes the stability of the relationship and may not be true tomorrow.
Not everything that crosses our minds is worthy of sharing.

Some people believe that an honest relationship is measured by the partners’ freedom to share every thought, feeling or desire they experience. I believe that the relevant question is not is it true and honest for me? – But, is it respectful of my partner and healthy for us?

As long as the partner’s emotions are seriously considered and are not likely to be harmed, honesty is a virtue. Reckless spontaneity and poorly considered “honesty” are no more than self-serving callousness.

If you pride yourself for being an honest person in love, you can claim the title:

  •  If your consideration for your partner precedes your need to share your thoughts.
  •  If you process your dreams, fantasies, behaviors and feelings first, and only share them if they serve the partnership well.
  • If you answer your mate’s concerns- not literally, but with support and reassurance.
  • If you fully realize that getting something off you chest is not a valid motivation for sharing ideas – especially if they may cause your partner unnecessary pain.
  • If you comprehend that honesty in the relationship serves to sustain and uplift the union, and
  • That the “whole truth” in love relationships is not only about facts but is primarily about preserving your partner’s dignity and the integrity of your union.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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