“My husband isn’t honest with me,” wives sometimes say to me.
“You mean, he lies to you?” I reply.
“No. I think the things he says are true,” they say. “It’s not that he lies. It’s that he doesn’t always share the truth.”
Trust is the thing your relationship requires most to stay healthy. Some people say love, but I think they’re silly. People who love each other have screaming fights, engage in extramarital affairs, and get divorced every day.
Trust. It’s the top of the Making Relationships Work food chain.
So, if you and your partner are experiencing relationship problems, it can pretty much always be traced back to a breach of trust.
Trust is a funny word. It doesn’t always mean what we think it means. We can trust someone to feed the pets, or water the plants, or keep our children safe. And some might believe or say that would make that person trustworthy.
But if you’re married to or otherwise in a relationship with that person, maybe you can’t trust them with household finances. Maybe you can’t trust them to make sure the kids brush their teeth before bed. Most often, mistrust in a relationship develops because one or both partners has a serial invalidation habit.
That leads to someone thinking and feeling: Whenever I am hurt or sad or angry or anxious or afraid, and I try to share that with my partner, I always feel worse afterward. They always respond in a way that communicates that they think I’m crazy to think what I think, or I’m weak to feel what I feel. Every time. For many years. Therefore, I don’t trust them.
I don’t believe anything erodes relationship trust more frequently or consistently (among otherwise very decent, ‘trustworthy’ people) than an invalidation habit. It disguises itself as no big deal. Harmless disagreement. So, people just keep doing it or subjecting themselves to it until one day, often years down the road, the levee breaks.
But perhaps in second place on the Ways Good People Destroy Trust in Relationships list is the non-lying form of dishonesty.
No matter how well intentioned we might be, when our spouses or romantic partners believe that we’re holding back from sharing the whole truth with them, they lose trust in us. And your relationship WILL suffer from an absence of trust.
It gets messy and uncomfortable in these gray areas. Love and marriage are sometimes messy and uncomfortable. Welcome to the party.
“Do you like my new haircut?”
“How do I look in these new jeans?”
“How is it that you could not know this is the 10-year anniversary of our first date?”
“Do you think my sister is pretty?”
“Are there things you want to do in bed that you’ve never shared with me?”
“What do you think of this new recipe?”
“Do you want to go visit my parents this weekend?”
Every couple and situation are different, of course. But those questions present honesty landmines for many people. Answering with 100-percent, no-bullshit honesty WILL hurt their partner’s feelings.
Perhaps one doesn’t want to hurt the other. So maybe they tell a little white lie.
“It’s great, babe. You look beautiful no matter how you have your hair done.”
Or maybe total honesty in the past was rewarded with venom.
“Oh my God. THAT’s what you want me to do? THAT’s what you think of me? I feel so disrespected and dirty.”
Or perhaps something like “You never want to visit my parents, and it really hurts my feelings. They’re always asking about you. It’s like you hate being a part of my family.”
Sometimes, people tell the whole truth, and the results are painful. Therefore, people may choose to not tell the whole truth because they don’t want to be punished for honesty.
It turns out that THEY don’t trust their partner to handle totally transparent, vulnerable honesty.
But much of the time, withholding the whole truth stems from fear.
“Will he get mad at me again?”
“Will she think I’m a freak pervert and not want to be with me anymore?”
So, we just don’t say anything. But sometimes, our partners know. They don’t know what we feel. They don’t know what we believe.
They only know that we DO feel something. That we DO have thoughts about something. And that we’re not sharing. That we’re not letting them in.
Maybe what we think is harmless enough. But the fact that we are not giving them access to it results in an erosion of trust.
Maybe what we think is scary and hurtful to them. The mere anxiety of having to wonder about that is enough to widen the trust gap between two people who otherwise love one another and want to treat each other accordingly.
Trust is essential to making marriage work. To making intimate relationships of any kind work.
Not kind-of important. But critical. Necessary. Trust is a non-negotiable prerequisite for your relationship not sucking.
Above all else, we must build and maintain (or restore) trust in our most important relationships. It’s the only way.
So, please be someone your partner can be honest with without being punished for it.
Please be willing to get uncomfortable so that your partner doesn’t have to wonder what you’re not telling them.
Please consider that no matter how well intentioned your shrouded honesty may be, you ARE inadvertently harming your marriage or romantic relationship regardless.
I know it’s hard. The epic struggle between Uncomfortable Truth and Comfortable Lies.
But there’s only one path to a healthy, sustainable relationship. Trust.
And, if loving and caring for our marriage, or family, or partner is a value we possess, we must fight for trust. Whatever it takes.
It’s often not what people see and hear.
It’s what they don’t see and don’t hear. It’s the unknown hiding in the shadows. Maybe it’s a threat, or maybe it’s nothing.
When the people who we’re supposed to trust are the ones hiding the truth from us, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
You May Also Want to Read:
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13
An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 14
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21 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 15”
I think a lot of this stems from the fact men think that they know what women want, or what they want to hear. So if a woman asks, “Do these look good on me?”, men are taught that the answer is “yes dear”. But they learned all that from other men, and I don’t think they have ever bothered to ask, “do you want to know the truth?”. ON THE OTHER HAND, women are also conditioned to rely on the opinions and thoughts of others for validation, or just accept/take what they can get, and it dis-empowers them. And it never occurs to them to say “I need/want/like this” without the need for someone else’s input or stamp of approval. It’s a circle of emotional emptiness…
While nothing applies to everyone (as in not all men nor all women do this), I agree very much with this insightful observation. Thank you for sharing it. Emotional emptiness, indeed.
I think that the “does my bum look big in this?”question is really about the wife wanting to know if her husband loves her even if she has put on some weight. They don’t want the unvarnished truth, but reassurance.
But there seems to be only two kinds of responses in this scenario; blunt honesty or lying. Nothing in between.
Asking: “Do you want to know the truth?” won’t engender any more trust, but asking: “What are you REALLY asking me?” might.
Yes. Men respond to a question women aren’t even asking. Lets be honest, women already know whether or not their ass is or looks big; they are bombarded in many ways everyday with those messages. What women are really needing is for the man to make her feel safe before she even asks. Which points to what Matt is revealing – such safety comes from trust…
Omg wtf Matt Jesus Christ if i could trade my old man for your ass i would but fuckin a it’s so stupid….. Does he not have for thought, does he not take a step back and look at shit for reality, is he stupid, wtf is going on in my wonderful boyfriend’s head……. Its his mom, she sucks,>talk to her allot, she’s so fucked up she fucked him up…. So many excuses. I’m not gonna leave him cuz he’s the best i ever met for sure, I’m so stuck…. Sorry about the rant
Don’t you think you are worthy of a partner who considers you an important part of their life?
Omg and if my ass looks big….. It is so yep
I think people tend to pull back or get quiet when they think the response they’ll get if they do open up will be less than stellar. But open dialogue is so important. Both men and women need to understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about the tough things, and that the avoidance of conflict actually creates more conflict. Conflict resolution is a healthy part of a relationship if it’s done correctly – it helps someone learn about the other person in ways that ‘keeping the peace’ doesn’t. Active listening and intentional speaking while being honest in a kind way creates a foundation built on trust. Honesty in conflict doesn’t have to be harmful – you said, “answering with 100-percent, no-bullshit honesty WILL hurt their partner’s feelings”. That doesn’t have to be true, the delivery and CONVERSATION THAT FOLLOWS can make or break a relationship. Trust is built over time in those moments when honesty is delivered with kindness from one person and accepted with grace from the other. Trust is built upon seeing the other person’s true self and fully believing they have no intention to hurt.
Matt, thought provoking as usual and always on point. What I might add is that at the core of trust is respect. Respect is by far the best way to show your unvarnished honest devotion as it places your loved one in a position of not second guessing the place they hold in the relationship. We all need to feel respected and in so valued. By respecting your partner you show that you can handle the truth you can be vulnerable as well as accepting of all flaws quirks and affronts. After 37 years together I will say it took some time to realize the importance of respect. Blessings
If a person asks a question they either want an honest reply or they want to hear what the want to hear. If you know and love that person, you know what to say! If you don’t really know that person, you will never get it right. Just for an additional thought, you had better love that person, because that is the only thing that really matters. You will never get it right if you don’t truly love them.
Thoughtful post, but I’m not really sure what you’re recommending, Matt. Are you suggesting radical honesty at all times? If so, how to handle all the uncomfortable situations that result (you gave quite a few examples already).
Thank you, Gene. I’m not trying to recommend anything necessarily. The key idea for me is that it’s common for trust to be eroded in relationships—not from lying or betrayal or anything we might consider untrustworthy—but from the sense that something is true, but my partner isn’t letting me in on it.
I agree trust is important. I prefer straightforward rather than polite. But always telling things like they are can also be hurtful? So maybe we have to discuss with our partner, topic by topic, where they want some sugar coating, and where radical honesty. “When you ask me if you look like you’ve gained weight, do you want me to tell you what I really think, or some sweet compliments?”
My wife actually asked me to tell her some nice/sweet things even if I don’t feel like this. E.g. I was away on a few days vacation with a friend, and she asks me if I missed her. We had lots of things to do with my friend, so most of the time I didn’t have a moment to miss someone. But I know, if I say exactly like this, she won’t be pleased. So I said sometimes (which is true, of course). Then she starts digging how much, how often. This is when the things get tricky! For me it’s a bit annoying. If she keeps asking like this, then I assume she expects full honesty. But then if I give full honesty, then she can get upset at the answer she doesn’t like.
My husband went away for a week-long training. He called me from the road 45 minutes after he left and asked me if I missed him. I told him no and he got so mad!
Heh, this happens!
Gene- this is Super frustrating for someone like me to hear- and it brings up the point that I think there is something missing in understanding of “radical honesty”. I see as really just being authentic with your mate.
I mean, Why the eff can’t you be honest with how you feel?
The truth of the matter is , if you guys were authentic with one another she wouldn’t “need” you to miss her. She wouldn’t need validation that she was missed- she would have no doubt where she stood in your life.
I’m not a proponent of the radical honesty as depicted by that Ricky Gervais movie, that’s a very superficial understanding of “radical honesty”…
The question shouldn’t be focused on how to answer “do I look fat in the jeans?”..
If you know your loved, you don’t have to ask that fricken question.
You’ll know you look “fat”, but he likes them
And if he doesn’t like them, he must have the wrong address- because them curves are your house and you ain’t gonna move.
Or if YOU don’t like them, the. That isn’t something he can fix even in the slightest.
But really- if people are
Looking for those external validations, it’s a sign there is something deeper they are asking about.
And THAT question (Those questions) are answered by radical honesty- AND radical vulnerability.
We too often miss the conversations that reveal who we truly are because-
OMG, that’s so awkward, and uncomfortable-
It’s easier to not say anything, to
not voice what’s true for
Ourselves because that is how we are taught to
Function early on.
We hide parts
Of ourselves to get along in day to
But we miss honest connection.
Maybe she’s missing you, or is insecure because she didn’t notice the difference with you gone either (and believe it or not, that is something unsettling for most women to realize.)
Instead of answering in a way you think she wants to hear, maybe asking her more questions as to why she was asking the question can lead to a real conversation.
THAT is the case essence of radical honesty.
When we avoid honesty and vulnerability
We are really trying to avoid our own discomfort, we’re not trying to protect theirs.
First, I need to apologize. I had a few glasses of wine and was channeling my inner Lizzo in my statement above. I really hope it wasnt an offense to anyone.
Im writing again because I want to clarify what my message is.
While this does not need to be a conversation with myself directly, I do want to advance this idea as something that is important to the conversation of “how to not get divorced. ”
What Im talking about when Im talking about “Radical honesty” and “Vulnerability” can really just be summed up as “Intimacy.” Its about the capacity to be and feel emotionally close to someone.
Maybe that goes without saying.
But what I think happens ALOT, is people avoid being honest about parts they are taught to hide and are ashamed of-( and for men that list seems to be alot longer than for women- if I am generalizing. Even asking for help can be shaming for men, for example) . People will also be less than honest about things that threaten to disrupt the status quo- issues that bother them but could have a high cost if they bring it up ( and this could be a boundary issue, actually.)
But what ends up happening, when people “keep it to themselves” or tell the other person what they think they want to hear, is they actually null out any chance of growth in that area. It prevents the other partner from really knowing the other.
It seems like if people do this enough, if conversations about what one another are experiencing – either in the relationship, or even where they are struggling/learning at work, or struggling/learning with family members, or struggling/learning about their own self concept, then the conversation dries up and it is becomes very much about the business of life (ie- appointments, what is needed at the grocery store, the underwear that is still in the dryer, etc. )
THAT is where distance comes in. Where the relationship starts to feel dead and people “grow apart.”
Going back to Gene’s example of his wife asking if he missed her…(Sorry Gene), …
I still affirm that this is an excellent opportunity to ask why she is asking this.
Does she feel disconnected overall in the relationship? Is she needing reassurance because of this?
When was the last time there was an actual meaningful conversation that reminds both parties that the other is there,- that it is a shared life, that the partners are known by each other well, that they are loved by each other and the relationship is alive and healthy?
I really believe holding yourself back doesnt make the relationship easier.
It actually deprives the relationship of the life of one (or both) of the partners which makes the relationship even worth having.
I know for myself, I cant have a relationship in which the other person cant be there for me in this way. Though, God knows Ive tried.
Hope this contributes to conversation.
For good or bad, this subject compels me.
Hi Elle. Both your posts (regardless of the wine) are quite interesting and thought-provoking. I will have a think / discussion with her on what that means.
I like Matt’s posts, but I think I like the ensuing discussion even more, some very interesting thoughts come from the commenters here!
Err..I meant I agree about the comments section. :).
I appreciate your kind words, thanks for validating my input.
Definitely a worthwhile topic.
Such an important point, and something I say to my partners of ADHD’ers all the time – absolutely no one is going to step in front of a firing squad. If you want to know when someone has made a mistake or forgot something, or has an opinion you may not like, you have to make it a safe space to share, otherwise you’re going to get lying and hiding.
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