Honesty is the best policy.
How many times have we all heard this hackneyed aphorism? For many of us, it was the first ethical principle we were taught as children. The idea behind it is simple: Even when it seems like it would be better to lie, we should still tell the truth.
But how honest should we be with our partners? What is the truth, really? And how destructive — or benign — is a lie once in a while?
Is saying “You’re fine,” when you’ve had a bad day lying? Is purposefully not bringing up a topic, because you know is would upset your partner, lying?
Frankly, I’m not sure — and I don’t really care. No one is ever 100 percent honest with their partner; that’s impossible.
I’m about 90 percent honest with my partner, and it’s the most forthcoming relationship I’ve ever had. Part of this has to do with the fact that we are polyamorous, meaning we carry on multiple close romantic relationships simultaneously. For a polyamorous relationship to thrive, you need to be upfront and honest as much as possible. Bottling up your jealousies and insecurities simply does not work. Lies end up becoming compounded the more people that are involved.
But the other reason I’ve been so honest with my partner is because Jason really does a good job at not only encouraging honest communication, but not being upset when I am brutally honest. I think this is in large part why our 14-month relationship has been so successful and why I’m still so happy to be with him. Nevertheless, I still don’t think that’s the full picture.
I think the 10 percent lying (or whatever the precise percentage is) is a large part of what keeps us together. I never tell any big lies. I don’t lie when I’ve had unprotected sex with another person. That’s a matter of his physical safety. I do, however, lie about little things when the truth conflicts with other qualities that I value, such as compassion or loyalty.
For example, Jason doesn’t need to know when I’m imagining my ex because I’m having trouble finishing during sex. I think it’s okay to lie when he asks: “What were you thinking about when your eyes were closed?” I will say, though, that when this happened repeatedly, I told him I wanted to spice up our sex life.
When I find myself repeatedly lying about an issue that has to do with the dynamic of our relationship, then I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. Still, I never told him what I was thinking during sex. Rather, I attacked the root of the issue: sexual satisfaction, in this case. I told him we needed to change how we’re having sex.
Nevertheless, I sometimes do lie to him repeatedly about an issue. I lie when I have fun going out dancing without him. It’s not often that I go out when he’s feeling sick or has to wake up early the next morning. But when I do, I lie about the good times because I know that he has serious fear of missing out. I don’t want to encourage him to go out more when he’s getting sick all the time. If I have to lie to get him to stay home and rest, because I know that’s what he needs, then I’m going to do just that.
Even though I’m lying repeatedly about this, I know this isn’t something that has to do with the dynamics of our relationship. This has to do with him and only him. His struggles with FOMO. His inability to rest when that’s what his body needs. Since this doesn’t have to do with us, I feel comfortable lying more consistently about it.
Then there’s what my friends and family members think of him. Of course, I don’t tell him their thoughts exactly. I bring up only the insights that affect us both.
Upon seeing Jason and I interact as boyfriends for the first time, one of my friends noticed that he’s more demonstrative than I am. This was something I hadn’t realized. I mentioned this to Jason, explaining how my friend pointed out this interesting relationship dynamic. I then asked him if he thought it was an issue: “Does it bother you that I’m not as touchy and loving as you are?” We then ended up having a good talk about how each of us displays affection differently, and how that’s okay.
But when a family member had insight into my relationship that was just about her, and not about both of us, I left it out. For example, my mom thought a previous partner of mine was painfully shy and awkward. This is something that I knew. It’s something my ex knew; it was something she struggled with and was working on. When she asked me what my mother thought of her, I simply said she liked her. This was true; she did. But I left out the fact that my mother thought she was too shy for me. My mom’s critique didn’t have to do with our relationship, it had to with her. If I told my ex what my mother thought, it would have only worsened her social anxiety. The next time she’d see my mother, she would have been even more anxious.
Ironically, this type of lying is founded more on trust than deception. While I know my current boyfriend lies to me about certain things, I do, however, trust that Jason knows when it’s appropriate and when he should tell me the truth. He’s lying because he knows the topic is something I struggle with, and hearing the whole truth would do more harm than good. He’s not lying about something that affects us both.
I trust that he’s lying for me, and not for him. Just as I’m doing for him.