I received an email today from someone that was wondering – is it possible to be 100% truthful and transparent with a partner in a committed relationship?
Great question. A lot to look at there… and, first-off, I don’t have the answer that will satisfy the question.
Yes and no – are the answers I came up with.
To answer this question first one must take into account culture. I assume this woman was writing from America, but not sure. Culture everywhere profoundly affects how people within the society deal with being truthful to others.
In Thailand the answer is a resounding – “No!”
In Thailand – everyone lies as naturally as if one were telling the truth. The idea of what is a lie and what is a white lie is hard to differentiate in Thailand. They are ALL white lies -a nd acceptable, it appears.
It’s a function of a culture where one of the major goals of the culture is to gloss over every minor problem or issue before it becomes a problem and keep everyone smiling and happy. Really, it’s true. The entire culture is built on this idea that keeping the flow of happiness going is the most important part of social interaction. Those that don’t go with the flow aren’t seen as playing the game correctly and aren’t well liked by others for it.
Imagine the difficulty when an American comes to Thailand and tries to interact… it’s not a pretty sight. So, this is what I’ve gone through personally for the last 4.5 years arriving here after living in Hawaii and mainland US prior to that.
Unfortunately, or fortunately maybe, I haven’t changed much in my American ways. I still call a spade a spade and I don’t enjoy someone lying to me to smooth over any confrontation or problem that might be created if the truth were known. However, I’m able to ignore smaller issues – at least not ask about them if I sense it’s one of these situations where it’s not going to really matter.
So, I give you this tidbit so you can see that culture really affects the way people act. Lying within the culture in Thailand is seen as necessary. They don’t really consider it lying in the same sense as Americans might. They see it as necessary and as a valuable skill to survive and thrive in their culture. Are all Thais like this? To some degree – all Thais play the game like this, yes. Thais that gain the most respect are the ones that can fluidly escape any situation by downplaying any negatives – lies – or other issues in the smoothest way and without creating any problems, confrontations, or loss of face.
American culture is quite a bit different. In America we insist on the truth in all circumstances. Nothing but the truth will do for us – and some take it to extremes. Maybe this is what was happening with this woman that wrote me about her relationship.
In America, can the truth be told – can someone be genuine in total about their feelings, beliefs, actions, thoughts, and dreams – with another person? I can probably answer – yes, it’s possible and maybe it occurs sometimes. Two people that are friends can probably do this with some frequency in the population. I wouldn’t say it’s common between friends though.
Now, ask that same question about two people in love in a committed relationship – and I’ll probably have to say – it’s very, very rarely possible.
What are the reasons people lie? We’ve already looked at why Thais’ lie as a group of 65 million people. They’ve found it’s in their best interests to do so. The social interactions go much more smoothly when not fussing about the little things – and they realize they don’t necessarily need to hear the little truths about every situation because it creates a lot of stress, anxiety, problems to deal with that they’d rather not deal with on a daily basis. They’ve resolved the issue in one sense… on a daily basis they occupy little of their time with small problems that can be overlooked. On the other end – the long-term, negatives build up and erupt over time – often resulting in deaths in relationships and social interactions.
Here are some reasons we, in America lie:
- We’ve done something we know is wrong and others would consider wrong and we want to present an image of ourselves that is better than that.
- We’ve done something we believe is right, but know others would consider it wrong and we want to present an image of ourselves that is better than that.
- Telling the truth would hurt another person’s feelings – and we want to spare them from that.
- We lie to get something we want.
- We lie to avoid something we don’t want.
- Put another way, Phil at Philforhumanity.com says we lie out of fear mostly. Fear of harm, of conflict, of punishment, of rejection, and of loss. He also mentions we lie for altruistic reasons.
Many times we lie with good intentions. Lies don’t have to be just selfishly motivated, though I’d dare say that most times they are selfish in origin.
Whether or not it’s possible to be in a relationship with someone and be totally genuine and transparent demands looking at that relationship and at the two people in it. (presumably only two, but would go for polyamory and everything else too)
Let’s look at some situations people frequently lie about…
If your partner is unreasonably affected by things you admit to doing – and you aren’t going to change and stop doing those things, you might feel justified in lying so your partner doesn’t stress out.
If you have a compulsion – maybe it’s smoking, that you can’t break from and your partner is always asking you – “Did you smoke today?” You may resort to lying about it to avoid the confrontation over it.
If, during your daily activities you are routinely coming into contact with your ex-boyfriend and your husband is asking you whether or not you’ve seen this person recently you might choose to lie and say you haven’t seen him.
If your husband is asking you, “Do I look older than I did when we met (10 years ago)?” You might choose to ignore the fact that he looks older just to make him feel better.
If your girlfriend is asking you if she’s not “pretty”, you tell her how pretty she is… knowing full-well she’s nothing like the societal definition of prettiness but that your friend subscribes to this silly ideal as being essential for her.
There are many reasons why we lie.
Is it possible to go through a marriage being 100% genuine and honest with someone?
That would depend on you and the other person primarily. Two people that decide to be 100% truthful and transparent with each other could do this. It’s possible.
These two people would need the ability to overlook small issues that others would blow out of proportion. These two would need to be able to trust their partner completely. These two would have to have a strong sense of identity and morality – that the other agrees with and mirrors, in order to exist as two people being 100% truthful with each other.
Now, in some cases this might actually be easy… if neither partner is interested in asking many questions about what the other did with her time or what she was thinking about – the relationship could go quite smoothly, couldn’t it?
If these two people were questioning each other about their whereabouts, actions, and what they were even thinking about – it would probably be impossible to continue a relationship like that for very long at all.
I’ve been with a person like that – have you?
So, in large part it seems like – it’s quite easy to get along in American society without lying and with being 100% truthful to someone that demands very little in the way of answers from you.
On the other hand – if someone is very demanding and questions you about every tiny part of your life – being completely honest with someone will inevitably bring up points of contention. We are all different people. We all have selfish motives and intentions. We all have fantasies, regardless if we’d ever act on them – but, for our spouses to hear of our fantasies would probably bring about some conflict. As long as our spouse is not asking about our thoughts and fantasies and why we’re having them – we’re OK.
So… In a relationship in which two people largely trust each other and aren’t concerned with finding out the minutia of their whereabouts, conversations, actions, thoughts, and dreams – it’s possible. I wouldn’t say it occurs often at all. In fact, I don’t know anyone that has a relationship like this except myself and my partner.
In a relationship in which the two people are very concerned with knowing everything going on in the other person’s world and thoughts – it will end in failure, or at least be contentious. Some thrive on that though, yes?
I wanted to mention the woman that wrote me said this…
We promised each other to be transparent and to tell each other even the most hurtful things, is that ever possible??
I would say – not possible. I’d go so far as to say, that’s not a good thing to agree on in a relationship either.
I have this idea about telling another person the most hurtful things…
I’ll tell someone a truth that will hurt – hurt a lot, only if it will bring about some change in the person that propels them forward and brings them to a new understanding about themselves that is better than it would have been without knowing. Of course this is circumstantial and needs to be looked at in detail before I’d consider it.
With my partner now – I can say I’m 100% honest with her and have been for years. It’s a one-of-a-kind relationship and I’ve never had such an arrangement in my life with another person – partner or friend. It has a lot to do with my maturity at this age, and the mindset of my partner. We trust each other 100% and yet, if either of us had a transgression of a minor nature – we’d get over that quickly because we understand human nature, fallibility and all that. Neither of us asks questions about the details of the other’s daily activities and thoughts and fantasies. It’s just not something that matters.
With my friends – I’m not often 100% truthful. I don’t see a need to be most times. In the past I have told friends some things that hurt a lot. Usually because they asked me. Sometimes, they didn’t have to ask. I’ve told people that their underarms reeked…
Why did I do that? That bit of knowledge will help them through life. I’ve told people that they’re not good listeners and that it’s no wonder they don’t have anyone to talk to – nobody could stand to be in a 1-way conversation – on the receiving end – for very long. What’s the point?
I’ve dropped some bombs too.
If I can help a person by giving them my honest opinion about something – that I strongly believe others are holding back from the person… I’ll do it with the idea that it may change their life. Actually, I do it when I know it will change their life. I’m not really concerned with whether someone likes me or associates with me after that point… I think much better to help someone get further in their own development with or without me as a friend.
What do you think?
Have you been blatantly honest with someone when you sensed they’d grow from it?
Are you able to be 100% truthful with your spouse? Totally transparent – volunteering information even without having been asked?