Why Is Honesty So Important in a Relationship?

honesty in a relationshipWhen we talk about honesty in relationships, our mind often goes straight to deception. We think about it in terms of whether or not someone lies to their partner. Or how often they lie. Or what kinds of lies they tell. But when we consider honesty only as the absence of deception, we miss an important piece of why it matters so much in a relationship.

Of course, being honest, by definition, literally means not lying. And “not lying” is certainly a piece of the puzzle when it comes to a successful relationship. Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that couples who cease to lie to each other for a measured period of time reported smoother interactions and improved relating. One study even linked this improvement to better overall health in participants.

However, there’s far more to being honest than not telling lies. Our ability to be open and truthful with a partner is a sign of trust and security in the relationship. Feeling comfortable to disclose something vulnerable or meaningful about ourselves is indicative of the relationship’s strength, arguably even more significant than an inadvertent or little white lie here and there.

When we feel like we can communicate with a partner about all aspects of ourselves, it opens the door to an entirely new level of closeness. Author George Orwell once wrote, “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” I would argue that the two go hand in hand. To be loved for who we are means being genuinely known and understood by someone else.

So, what does it mean to be honest with our partner?

When we examine our authenticity or honesty in a relationship, it’s helpful to ask ourselves questions like:

  • Can I be truthful and open with my partner about what I think and feel?
  • Am I willing to say everything that’s on my mind when it matters?
  • Am I generally comfortable in these conversations?

Is it always necessary to say everything that’s on our mind?

It should be said that obviously no one needs to say every thought that enters their head to their partner. Being honest isn’t about being hurtful, overly critical, or righteous. It’s possible to be sensitive to another person’s feelings while being truthful about our own. The main way is by allowing (or rather, inviting) the same openness from our partner that we express to them.

How do I cultivate more honesty in my relationship?

The best way to create this more open, honest line of communication is to cultivate a curious and non-judgmental attitude in ourselves. This can clearly be something more easily said than done. It can mean having to set aside our own triggered reactions and really seeking to understand our partner and where they’re coming from. Yet, the more we’re able to do this, the more trust gets built in the relationship. We start to learn who the other person really is and feel for them separate from ourselves.

How can I tell if I’m being authentic?

Honesty is very much about the ability to be ourselves. It means showing all the different sides of who we are and making our actions meet our words. It’s about asking ourselves, “Am I suppressing certain pieces of who I am in order to be accepted by this person or can I let them see me when I’m vulnerable? Am I walking on eggshells? Leaving stuff out? Hiding things?”

Can’t honesty be hurtful sometimes?

Don’t get me wrong, honesty should never be used as an avenue for acting out or allowing ourselves to mistreat our partner just because we’re in a bad mood in a given moment. Some people engage in insensitive or outright abusive behavior with the excuse of “being honest.” We always have control over our actions and shouldn’t justify destructive behavior in the name of authenticity.

Yet, what we think and feel and how we act are two entirely different things. Being willing to open up to our partner about what’s going on in our internal world invites them to know and feel for us. It can also help us make sense of our own emotions, so we’re not as likely to act them out in ways that hurt us and our partner.

Honesty is about “expanding” communication.

All of this may sound like a simplified principle to follow, but so often, our focus when it comes to honesty between couples turns the conversation to things like scrolling through a partner’s phone, questioning where they were, and interrogating them about what they’re not saying.

While it certainly matters if we feel we cannot fully trust the person we’re with, another approach to building real trust is to focus on expanding how we communicate and listen. Rather than thinking only about what’s not being said, we can build on what is.  We can be more honest and open about what we think and feel and do what we can to create an environment that inspires the same in our partner by listening with openness.

It may not always lead to the easiest conversations, but this kind of openness creates a richer level of intimacy and a much more solid foundation for a relationship. The more we can see being vulnerable and true to ourselves as a thing of value, the more we can allow ourselves to be known by another person. When we let someone know us, we wind up being loved for who we really are. And after all, isn’t that what we’re after in a relationship in the first place?

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About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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