Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Honesty?

?Before you speak, think: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?? ? Sai Baba, Indian Spiritual Master

?Honesty is no. 1 for me,? a woman I worked with said.

Everything she thought about her relationship, or needed to say to her partner, was laid on the table. ?I don?t hold back,? she said. ?Being truthful with my partner is everything to me.?

Which was fine ? except she?d had a series of unsuccessful relationships and she couldn?t figure out why. The only clue was that she described all her exes as overly defensive. And all of them had said she was too critical of them.

?I don?t get it,? she said. ?I wasn?t out to criticise anyone. I only ever said the truth of what I was experiencing. Isn?t it important to be honest with your feelings?

Was she right? Or had her brand of honesty strayed into the red light zone?

Almost everyone rates honesty highly in relationships ? but the trick is to explore what that actually means.

For some honesty means making straight-up disclosures about being where you say you are (and with who); for others it?s more about building a ?culture of trust? in the relationship so that each party is open with their feelings and feels safe enough to be vulnerable.

In my client?s case, it?s possible her emotional or relationship history was leading her to repeatedly choose highly defensive men. But it?s also possible that her inter-relational style was provocative ? or she had a tendency to over-share her thoughts.

Honesty in a relationship is not just about telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, every time a thought enters your head. It?s about being truthful in a way that lands softly, so that your partner is able to hear, and understand, your view.

So tread lightly; harsh and relentless honesty can be damaging.

Here are some ideas to guide you.

1. Mutual trust is a healthier aim for couples.

Talk with your partner about what trust means to each of you and set some ground rules around that. You should be able to trust your partner?s words and actions ? consistently. Neither of you should be secretive in your behaviours (or on your devices). And you should feel ?heard? in your relationship; that each of you encourages the other to relax and be themselves.

2. You don?t have to share Everything.

People often believe honesty means full disclosure of everything you?re thinking and feeling. Don?t do this! This doesn?t mean being ?selective? about the truth or telling little white lies whenever it suits you. It means that the entire contents of anyone?s heart and mind are jumbled and boring ? so edit yourself: just share the things that matter.

3. Consider your reason for sharing BEFORE you speak.

People often rush to share their thoughts/feelings with their partner in order to alleviate their own anxiety or insecurities, about the relationship or other issues. But this puts your partner under constant pressure to provide reassuring advice, to always be ?your rock?. While they may not mind, it?s tiring, and not all that fun, to be someone?s rock 24/7.

Being able to tolerate distress is an absolutely key (and often under-rated) emotional skill. So don?t be in too much of a hurry to talk everything through. Notice your difficult feelings and sit with them a while? it won?t make things worse and they may go away all by themselves.

4. Don?t expect your partner to disclose everything that?s in his/her head.

People who like to talk through thoughts and feelings often expect the same back from their partner. That?s not fair. Some people are quieter than others ? and that doesn?t mean they are unhappy. Give them space but don?t force a conversation ? if you pressure your partner too much, the conversation might not go as you hope.

5. Consider how your ?honesty? might land.

Before you tell all, think about how your words could be interpreted by your partner? Try asking yourself how you would feel if he or she was saying these things to you. And consider whether there?s a pattern to your ?honesty? ? do you keep raising the same topics? Being open with your partner shouldn?t be an excuse to criticise or put them down, especially not repeatedly.

6. Listen more than you talk.

That?s a golden rule for success in any relationship, including parenting and friendships. You already know what you think so let others have the air time so you can learn what?s going on for them. Everyone should have the opportunity to talk ? and the freedom to decide whether to use it.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list here if you?re interested in practical psychology for everyday life.

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