I was at a relationship workshop recently, and the question was raised as to whether lying to a partner is always wrong. One man explained that because his wife doesn’t like him visiting his mother, when he goes there, he usually lies to her about it. I felt this was fine at the time; after all, he wasn’t intending to cause any harm, and it seemed a reasonable way to avoid an argument.
But I’ve since come to thinking that telling even small ‘white’ lies should be avoided, because they can too easily be small steps on a path to the kind of habitually dishonest behaviour which is quite addictive, because it’s such a temptingly easy way to avoid conflict – especially compared with the much harder job of working out what the real problem is, and doing what’s necessary to resolve it. Lying – even seemingly harmless fibs – can make things easier in the short term, but will most likely create a lot of problems further on down the road. Because it’s a sure thing that unresolved or buried conflicts in a relationship will pop up again one way or another, causing more stress along the way in the process than if they’d been sorted out at the time.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be kind in how we explain things, or take into account how what we are saying might be received. Recently my wife asked me if her posterior looked particularly large in a new skirt she had bought. The fact is, her rear actually did look a bit enhanced in this particular garment. But rather than lie, which – however well-meant – could have diminished the trust between us, I replied with the simple truth that I didn’t know what she meant by ‘large’, but it certainly looked lovely to me!
Apart from the risk of being found out and never trusted again (a real deal-breaker in any close relationship) lying to somebody we are close to is infantilising them – implying that they’re not ‘big’ enough to accept the truth. And when we do this to avoid the upsetting the applecart of their version of reality for the sake of an easy life, we may be allowing them to continue with a fantasy which is getting in the way of them being fully honest with themselves, and taking the steps they need to become more of the person they really are.
Almost all the significant growing I’ve done in my life has been as a result of somebody I respected having the guts and the integrity to tell me something I didn’t really want to hear, but which with hindsight, was exactly the kick I needed to wake up and grow up. Our truth is the best gift we can give anyone, and it’s a betrayal to deny them that – especially if they’re someone who we are, or have been, close to. If there’s a problem with some part of our relationship, we need to be truthful – firstly with ourselves, then talk it over with our partner to find out whether we can come to understand each other better, or whether in fact we see things so differently that it’s better for us to part. Anything less is a kind of theft – stealing their right to know what’s true and what isn’t, which leads to living a ‘fake life’ where no-body knows what they’re really feeling any more!
We owe it to ourselves and the people we interact with to have the courage to always be truthful, or be as near to it as we can. It can feel surprisingly brave sometimes, because there’s always the risk of upsetting someone or being rejected. But by being honest with others, I am also more likely to tell the truth to myself – letting go of any comforting ‘stories’ I may be telling myself about my life that don’t match the reality. Lying to myself is the worst betrayal of all, because unless I’m standing on a firm foundation of reality, and accepting things as they really are, I can’t begin to feel strong enough to change whatever there is about myself, or about the world I live in, that I’m not happy with, and become the ‘good’ man I aspire to be .
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