Some people think that complete honesty is always necessary. Others might argue that there are exceptions that make it okay to not be honest, even in a marriage. Is honesty always the best policy in a marriage or other close relationships?
There is the occasional scenario where it is okay to lie when the truth would needlessly hurt someone. "White lies" are extremely common in healthy relationships. A white lie involves omitting the complete truth in order to spare someone’s feelings. It is viewed as an innocuous lie and may even be seen as being kind in some situations. An example could be telling your husband or wife they look great, even when they are having a "bad hair day." In other words, white lies are about overlooking certain things in the name of love and understanding.
They are about offering reassurance. We are not talking about serious deception, which is quite damaging to a marriage.
Lies are not okay, however, when something actually bothers you and you need to communicate such issues directly to your spouse. You may want your partner to change something, and he/she should be given a fair opportunity to do so. Lying is also not recommended regarding important issues or concerns. Your spouse has the right to know about serious topics related to your career, health, or family. Openness and honesty are crucial in these circumstances, even if someone is hurt by what is said. You can be tactful and sensitive, but avoiding difficult topics is not a good way to navigate your marriage or another close relationship.
Sometimes friends (and even some professionals) advise against full honesty with respect to serious matters, but I assure you that this will backfire. Secret keeping and withholding relevant information and feelings can seriously sabotage your marriage.
Let’s be clear—I am not issuing a "free pass" for you to lie to your spouse about things that are important. So then how can you tell the difference between a “white lie” that can be helpful, and a deception that can hurt your relationship?
Here are examples of when you should never withhold the truth:
- Being secretive and only disclosing things to your spouse when it is dragged out of you
- Hiding purchases or making major financial decisions on your own
- Hiding drug use, porn use, or excessive drinking
- Omitting important details of a story on purpose
- Not being forthcoming about your needs and feelings
- Emotional affairs or close friendships with someone your spouse does not know about
- Any sexual activity whatsoever with someone who is not your spouse
Dishonesty Is a Slippery Slope
Lying about any of these things can lead you down a slippery slope. It starts to become easier the more you do it. Frequent lying can also lead to the ability to compartmentalize. When this happens, it becomes natural to keep secrets and develop other close relationships outside the marriage. It will reduce feelings of guilt or remorse for these behaviors you know are truly wrong. The avoidance of real communication, including conflicts or arguments, will undermine the authenticity of your relationship.
Once trust has been broken, it is very difficult for the betrayed partner to come back from this. They will always have a sense of doubt. You will have taken from them their sense of full safety and security in the marriage, and that might never be built back up again.
Dishonesty sets a bad example for your children. If you believe they are not sophisticated enough to pick up on your lying, you are underestimating them. You teach them both to lie and to mistrust.
You need to reveal to your spouse as much information about yourself as you know. These are your thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future. You may feel vulnerable disclosing these things, but this is normal. We all want to be accepted for who we are. These are necessary risks in order to create a successful and stable marriage.