In a new mini-series, with help from therapist and relationship coach Esther Perel, we're exploring relationship myths perpetuated by rom-coms and fairytales. Yesterday, we unpacked the statement “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” Today: the potential cruelty of honesty.
Q: Is honesty REALLY the best policy? A: How many intimate little secrets are spilled over pillow talk? It’s no surprise that we equate love with ultimate transparency. “Sharing has become the ethos of perfection — I should be able to tell you everything... If you don’t [open up], then you have a secret,” Perel says. The problem, however, is that this sort of thinking creates a binary: complete honesty or complete secrecy. But Perel says white lies or lies of omission can be the kinder option in some cases. “I think it is very wise to think certain things and not say everything," Perel says. "Honesty isn’t just about you telling the truth; it’s about how that other person has to live with it." In fact, research has shown that two types of lies have inverse effects on relationships. According to an Oxford University study published last year, white lies, a.k.a. lies that protect someone’s feelings, can help strengthen a relationship. Meanwhile, lying to cover up something you did wrong weakens the relationship. “You can’t have a blanket statement that says, 'everything out in the open is best.' But that doesn’t mean you hide affairs,” Perel explains. In our current era of open communication and dialogue, however, honesty has become the go-to foundation for arguments. That's not always good; how many times have we heard "I'm just being honest," following a particularly cruel, underhanded comment? Sometimes, being truthful is the most caring, respectful thing to do. Sometimes, it’s the harshest comeback — an undermining way to twist the knife. “Telling the truth can be a hostile maneuver,” Perel says. “‘I’m not attracted to you,’ ‘I think you’re a fat slob.' But, if you don’t want to be with someone, you can [be honest] in a way where they won’t hear the resonance of that in their head for years to come. That's respect.” Have a question about relationships for Esther Perel? Leave it in the comments below, and we'll choose one to answer on July 12.