Lies, damned lies and relationships

A long time ago I knew a man and woman who decided that their relationships would be based on total honesty.  This, they decided, would manifest itself in all aspects of their lives together.  When she would ask, “How does my hair look?” he would tell her, “I think it makes your face look fat.”  If she didn’t like his shirt, she would say so.  When one would look momentarily hurt, the other would say, “But we agreed to tell each other the truth all the time.  How can we be truthful about the big things if we can’t be truthful about things that don’t even matter?”

I don’t know if they ever were truthful about the so-called big things; I was never privy to those sorts of conversations.  Anyway the relationship struggled on for about a year with the “honest” moments becoming more frequent and the silences between longer.  Finally they broke up.

But had their honesty been a failure or had it, in fact, never existed?  Is telling the truth about everything – irrespective of its effect on the loved one – really an honest manifestation of the relationship’s basic premise of mutual respect and care?  Or does the promise of truthfulness only represent the ultimate rationale for the exercise of power and meanness in the guise of honesty?

I guess it raises bigger questions of the nature of relationships themselves.  One of the hardest lessons we learn from the failure of a relationship is that there were aspects of it that were the product of sheer illusion.  We create in those we love impossible ideals that we think are necessary to sustain our love.  We recover much more quickly from the incidents that disabuse us of our illusion (e.g. a betrayal, a beating) than we do from the fact that our illusion is shattered.  

And, to a certain extent, maybe an affair is an attempt to rebuild illusions in our life; not just about a significant other but also about ourselves. Especially when this has become impossible in a long-term relationship where everything has become known and predictable.

We invent ourselves in a manner to attract love.

We recreate our partners in an image that we can love.

If these are the lies that form the foundation of most relationships, then even assurances of openness and honesty will always be just another deception. 



Filed under cheating, life, Love

12 responses to “Lies, damned lies and relationships

  1. shewalksinbeauty

    There are things that need not be spoken in all aspects of love, whether it be hurtful or not. I believe in honesty, but not at all costs. The foundation that we have created to establish a strong marriage is based on respect, not on honesty. We agree not to hurt one another. If that means keeping a secret, so be it. It would, of course, be better not to do the things that can hurt each other, but they happen. It does not diminish the love I have for my husband. Due to respect for my husband I keep my secrets from him.

  2. You are right, SWIB, and my point was that it is folly to expect that our relationships are based on total honesty or to place that burden on ourselves or those we love. Maybe we have to accept that some dishonesty is actually necessary to maintain a healthy relationship. The problem, of course, then comes in working out which acts of dishonesty constitute lack of respect for our partner. I don’t think that our recognition of dishonesty in relationships necessarily gives us carte blanche to act dishonestly in everything e.g. that I am HIV positive, that I am not the father of my child etc. So how to sort those lies that are destructive from those that are protective? Perhaps the only sure way is to ask ourselves the question, “Which lies would I not countenance from my partner?” BTW, I find your comments refreshingly insightful – and there is no burden greater than the insights we have into ourselves.

  3. Hmmm… I value honesty very highly. There is certainly value in holding back negative or hurtful comments like your initial examples. “If you haven’t got something nice to say, say nothing at all.”

    That doesn’t speak to the big picture, though, does it? Personally, I would rather be hurt by the truth than happy in ignorance.

    Knowledge allows me to make better decisions. If my partner were thinking about another man, I would want to know that and the reasons behind it. Is there somewhere I’m laking? Do I want to stay in this relationship? The more information I have, the better my answers.

  4. shewalksinbeauty

    No, I’ll take the order of Happy in Ignorance, please. I can eventually get over my feelings for someone else, but my husband my not. I won’t do that to him.

  5. Hmmm. Interesting post. I am not sure that what you described in the above post would count as ‘useful’ honesty…or to put it in other words – the use of honesty appeared to be trivial to the greater aspects of the relationship.

    I think it is more constructive to be honest about the things that really count, the aspects that matter most in a relationship. Telling your partner that she looks fat in something (without being asked for any advice or opinion) is just rude, not something I would consider as being honest.

    I think there lies a subtle difference between being kind and being honest(for the sake of honesty). Within this idea there is this concept that at times you must be cruel to be kind. Sometimes honesty does hurt, but in the long run it will help that person grow and become stronger as a human being.

    The important thing to decide is whether or the honest truth is being kind and constructive to the person that you love, or if it is being honest for the sake of honesty, or motivated out of some need to put another down.

    Again I will say, interesting post. Made me think. 🙂 Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the feedback, Embar – I guess, as in most things, it is difficult to find an absolute when we talk about honesty in relationships. Sometimes dishonesty is provoked/motivated by great love.

  7. Lalane

    i have told (small) lies to soften blows about things i’ve done with other lovers BEFORE I met him. But later when he pressed me and pressed me I told him what really happened. For example, i vaguely said, “making out” but meant more. Now we are going through a big crisis about it because he feels i’ve lied to him and maybe he can never trust me. That is all. I believe in white lies. I would never cheat or lie about it. But now i’m in trouble for lies I told before we wer even together. It sucks.

  8. Honesty works in relationships to the extent that the individuals are honest with themselves.

    Most of us lie to ourselves about all sorts of things – I’ll pay it off next month / it doesn’t fit now but I’ll lose that extra half a stone soon / I’m always really approachable / just the one drink / etc. We don’t want somone else calling us on those lies. Complete honesty would only work if both individuals had complete self-honesty as well, and I don’t think I have ever met anyone who had no self-delusions.

    Personally I think that honesty is over-valued in relationships but that respect is under-valued. There are questions it simply is not worth asking, because you will never believe the answer. “Does my bum look big in this?” is the perfect example.

    I also think that what you did with previous lovers is none of your present lover’s busines unless it could ricochet into the present relationship in some way (had kids / been put under a restraining order / granted them power of attorney / failed to divorce them) .

    But I’ve no idea if any of these opinions are valid, I just know that I think them.

    Interesting post.


  9. LaLane and Aphra – thanks for stopping long enough to comment. I was trying to suggest that there is a greater truth in relationships that is not dependent on facts (e.g. other lovers or big bottoms). The “truth” can actually be destructive because, as Aphra suggests, all of us are a composite of self delusions that are no less important to our sense of being.

  10. Lalane

    I agree about the composite of self-delusions, and lies that are irrelevant to the present situation. Ideally, both people in a relationship have thought about this and agree on those terms. But if one person beleives in some sort of “objective” version of reality and the other doesnt, well, there are problems. I think the desire of absolute truth, may be a by-product of a jelousy, and an overarching fear of being deceived…

  11. lostintranslation11

    “I guess, as in most things, it is difficult to find an absolute when we talk about honesty in relationships. Sometimes dishonesty is provoked/motivated by great love.”

    So very true!!! I’ve come to realize as I grow in age, wisdom, and experience that the absolutes (black/whites) I ranted on about so vehemently in my youth and college years have become these maddening shades of grey(s). I ache for the security of those absolutes now and yet I embrace the perplexity of the shades… the grace and insight into human nature and circumstance that these allow.
    Your writing is incredible… This post just happened to be a subject of which I often debate within myself and have been fortunate enough to see the actual growth of my perspective. I found this very refreshing and validating… Thank you!

  12. Very interesting post. I had a similar situation to you, Lalane, I started out being honest about things like how I felt about my previous boyfriend, my friends who had some drug issues in their past etc., and after numerous arguments (you’re taking his side, how could you be friends with that person) etc. I started telling little white lies so that I wouldn’t have to be challenged about all these small things. Then I get in trouble for lying and told I’m untrustworthy! If people want the truth they also have to learn not to overreact or punish the person for telling the truth.

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