“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:
Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.