Honesty In Relationships

Honesty in Relationships. Psychology Fanatic article header image.
Honesty in Relationships.

Without commitment to honesty, deception creeps into relationships, creating distance and disrupting connections. Secrets provide momentary benefits, allowing behaviors to go unexamined. No one challenges the money we wasted at the casino, our dinner with a co-worker doesn’t spark suspicion, and no one misses the broken vase, at least not immediately. We do what we want, conceal the evidence and pretend we are doing what’s best for the unknowing spouse, sparing her (or him) the emotions, and avoiding a fight. We’re accustomed to being stupid; we just don’t care to defend our stupidity—so, we fib. Whether our action is justified or not, the secret concealing the act, dismisses the importance of honesty in a relationship, weakens intimacy and challenges trust.

Intimate Openness

Openness demands engaging in discussion of those  uncomfortable subjects that challenge justifications and expose risky behaviors. Emotional discussions are difficult, poking sensitivities, so instead of difficult honesty in our relationships, we dodge and conceal. Even strong connections erode from blows of dishonesty. Just a few lies, once discovered, weakens communication in other matters. Deceived partners must cautiously evaluate communications for deception. Even when we tell the truth, the history of secrets ignites suspicion.

Once committed to honesty, we mediate our actions , knowing we must divulge our stupidity and suffer the consequences. When facing the weight of an emotional confession, we find additional strength to take the higher path. Honesty becomes a habit. 

Once committed to honesty, our actions are kept in check by knowing we will have to divulge the stupidity and suffer the consequence.

~T. Franklin Murphy

Honesty a Social Virtue

While honesty we consider honesty a basic social virtue, it also benefits the individual possessing it. At first glance, we immediately see the benefit to the partner. The relationship exists in transparency. The openness leads to easier predictions of the future. Healthy relationships, while maintaining fun spontaneousness, are relatively predictable in that they don’t wallop us with nasty surprises. Basically, honesty serves a social purpose for social connections. David Hume noted three hundred years ago, “honesty, fidelity, truth, are praised for their immediate tendency to promote the interests of society; but after those virtues are once established upon this foundation, they are also considered as advantageous to the person himself, and as the source of that trust and confidence” (1983).

In the end, our honesty and transparency to a partner creates a better relationship which in turn rewards the person holding to the virtue.

Five Traits that Build Trustworthiness

John Gottman suggests that honesty travels with four other companions to establish trustworthiness. They are:

  • honesty,
  • transparency,
  • accountability,
  • ethics,
  • and alliance (2011).

As mentioned earlier, honesty alone does not compensate for reckless behaviors. We still must face consequences. Thus, the additional traits added by Gottman are essential for establishing trust. We can’t be brutally honest in our relationships, without gentleness, and an underlying sense of responsibility and sorrow for wrongdoing and expect our bonds to flourish.

A Few Final Words from Psychology Fanatic

I can’t promise honesty in your relationships will always make you richer, more popular, or more intimate.  Actions still carry consequences. Even if you tell the cop you are drunk, he may still arrest you. You tell your wife that you had an illicit affair with her best friend, she still may leave you. It’s best not to drink and drive; and best not to cheat. Honesty in relationships doesn’t buy a free ride. But it can, when coupled with reasonable action, build trust, and with that trust comes intimacy. ​Search your heart, honestly share the secrets, trudge through the emotional dialogue, examining  behaviors with a partner. When we give and receive truth without harsh judgments and responded with loving-kindness, we forge a bond, and find joy. We no longer live alone in but in a joyous communion with another.

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Gottman, John M. (2011). The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition

Hume, David (1751/1983). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. ‎ Hackett Publishing; Copyright

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