Most of us would say that honesty is one of our fundamental and deeply treasured values in our lives and especially in our relationships. We like to perceive ourselves as honest people and hope our partners are too. We all need honesty to build up and earn trust.
And yet mistrust is rife. Jealousy, defensiveness and insecurity mixed with secrets, suspicions and accusations … parts of daily life within most of our intimate relationships. Emotional distress and turmoil often follow leading up to many relationship breakdowns.
So how honest should we be in our relationships? How much honesty is required to create a healthy relationship? Why is honesty so important in our intimate relationship?
There are those people that argue that everyone has a right to privacy, that we all have individual boundaries, or that being totally honest in relationships can be perceived as codependent behaviour. Some imply that too much honesty can lead to weak boundaries and increase the likelihood of controlling or abusive behaviour.
Yes, we all have a right to privacy and the right to decide what we share and who we share that with. We are also the sole guardians of our boundaries, which communicate to others what we find acceptable and unacceptable. Without healthy boundaries healthy relationships are near impossible.
But honesty in relationships does not equal boundary violation, giving up our right to privacy or being forced to overshare. It does not mean that we disrespect our needs and preferences. It does not mean that we are at the mercy of someone else or that we helplessly oblige to the demands others may put on us.
True honesty is about empowering ourselves and our partners. It is about coming out of a place of hiding and entrusting someone else to accept us for who we are. It is about entering a state of vulnerability that allows for real intimacy to develop.
Healthy relationships cannot exist without mutual honesty. To experience acceptance, which is ultimately what humans crave for, we need to come out of hiding. We need someone else to see us. We need to allow ourselves to be seen and known. Hiding makes this impossible. Hiding creates secrets that we are not willing to share and not being willing to share ourselves with someone else prevents the experience of full acceptance by someone else.
Hiding also creates a power imbalance within the relationship. One partner is prevented from fully knowing the person they choose to share their life with. They are unknowingly choosing someone, who is choosing not to fully share themselves. The partner, who holds the secrets, has more power. Power struggles in relationships are usually found as a source of great distress and can lead to a buildup of resentment, which blocks connection and intimacy.
So why do we hide? Why do some of us choose not to fully share ourselves with our partners?
Often we hide to keep something a secret that we feel the other person would not like or accept in us. We fear their judgement. We fear being shamed. We fear rejection and abandonment. We may hide something we did that we feel ashamed for. We sometimes hide to protect the other’s feelings. We may also fear negative consequences and avoid punishment of one form or another. Sometimes we simply want to uphold an image or keep up the pretence of fake perfectionism.
“Hiding creates an illusion. Healthy relationships exist in reality.”
The short-term benefit of hiding is avoidance of temporary discomfort. The price we pay is huge: the long-term consequence of being in a relationship built upon the wobbly foundations of dishonesty, illusion, make-belief, denial and threat of exposure.
We create a situation in which true connection is prevented, real intimacy cannot develop and acceptance is impossible. We block the whole purpose and benefit of real relationships. We make it impossible for ourselves and our partner to develop authentic trust and experience the beauty of a real, honest, nature adult relationship.
What it also costs us is the experience of courageously sharing ourselves fully with someone else. Our partner’s love or acceptance can never be received as long as we know that we are hiding parts of ourselves or our past. Ultimately, we deprive ourselves from experiencing validation, acceptance and unconditional positive regard as a human being.
When hiding or withholding information about ourselves we also inadvertently control and manipulate our partner. We are in control over what information about ourselves or our past we share with our partner. It’s almost as if we trick them into accepting a version of us, a partial reality that does not match the whole reality of us. We refuse our partner’s right to make an informed decision about us. We cannot feel chosen.
So why should we take the risks and accept honesty as our way of living and being?
Living honesty in our relationships creates a solid foundation for trust, which eliminates insecurity, deepens commitment and makes it possible for connections to strengthen and intimacy to grow.
Honesty is not just a gift we give to others but it is also a gift we give to ourselves – it paves the way to true intimacy. It creates a truly connected and committed relationship. Commitment within healthy relationships is the foundation of security and safety, something we all yearn for.
Honesty also creates a simpler way of living and has been described as ‘the engine of simplicity’: no efforts have to expended into hiding anything, deceiving anyone or matching up stories. Honesty paves the way for direct, straight-forward and respectful communication.
When we get brave enough to embrace honesty within our lives and our relationships, change happens and real love grows. We cannot fully love what we do not know.