What is important in a relationship in order to create intimacy, a strong bond and a feeling of commitment? Most people value integrity, they want honesty and they wish their partner would be transparent about their feelings. But can you handle being really honest with your partner, about the hard stuff? And can you listen to things that might be difficult to hear?
Sometimes it seems like everyone must be lying to their partner. So many marriages end because of it. The lies can be lies of omission, avoiding information if we aren’t asked directly, or outright falsehoods that cover-up of a deeper truth. Do you want to be a partner that is committed to telling the truth?
Two of the biggest areas where people feel compelled to lie? Finances and sexuality. Sex and money — two of the hardest subjects to talk about openly and honestly. These are intensely personal — private topics — that we have been taught to keep to ourselves and never reveal.
Lots of people are embarrassed by how they handle these parts of their lives, and may have shadow areas around money and sex from the past.
Anytime something is a potential source of shame, we are more likely to lie about it. We all go to great lengths to avoid feeling shame, even with — or maybe especially with — our partners.
Lying about Money Can Lead to Financial Infidelity
Sharing with a partner the truth about spending habits, under-earning or over-spending, can be hard. Yet couples who are honest with each other, particularly about financial issues, can avoid a bigger problem — conflict and crisis around money issues and even financial infidelity — which, to many partners, can be as difficult to get over an actual affair.
When you and a partner move in together or get married, you may have a conversation and make an agreement about how to handle shared finances. This includes a financial plan — who will be paying what bills out of which account, how much to save for the future, how much risk you’re both comfortable taking with regards to investments, etc. Financial infidelity happens when one or both partners break the agreement, without the knowledge or consent of the other.
This betrayal of trust can be just as damaging as any other kind of infidelity.
Tell your partner the truth about how you handle your money. Give them a picture of your finances before you commit to them for the long haul. And share with them your fears about finances that you bring to the relationship. Honesty means taking a risk and trusting that your partner will understand that sharing your fears means you are trusting them and working to live in integrity in the relationship.
Lying about Sex Can Degrade Intimacy and Lead to Affairs
For couples whose sex life is unsatisfying, it is important to find a way to talk about how to improve the erotic part of your life together. Resentments and distancing in the relationship can degrade the intimacy and it can become more and more stressful as time goes on if you avoid the conversation.
Have the difficult talk now — even if talking about what you desire and about what you really want feels scary. Avoiding the conversation means that it will only get harder to talk about later. And you run the risk of taking your erotic needs outside of the relationship, into an affair, to an outside partner who you imagine will fill your desires better than your spouse
Although you might fantasize about it, having an affair can actually be difficult and stressful. Lying about an outside relationship can take its toll on you and on your affair partner. And if you decide to end the affair and stay with your spouse, your marriage will never be the same.
Some affairs can wake up your marriage. But it can be hard to recover from the shock of the betrayal. If you have been lying to your partner for a long time, the crisis of trust may be difficult, if not impossible, to get past.
The Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy
Some parts of your life you may choose to keep private. Should you share everything with your partner? It depends. What parts of your personal thoughts and behaviors do you consider your own?
Your private life is different than keeping a secret from your spouse. If you are doing something that you are worried that your partner will find out about or you go to great lengths to hide it from them, this is clearly a secret. And it may be a red flag that you’ve crossed the line into something that will damage your relationship and your partner. If you don’t want your partner to know about something you are doing, why are you doing it?
If you are withholding information that you suspect your partner would disapprove of, or that would hurt them, that would make them angry if they knew, think about how this is affecting you. Do you feel bad about yourself? Is it worth it?
Sometimes people hide interactions with an ex, a “work spouse,” or a friend, behaviors that could be considered micro-cheating or an emotional affair. If so, you could be risking hurting your partner, or losing your marriage. More important, you could be damaging your own view of yourself.
It doesn’t matter what other people think. It matters what you think. Are you being honest with yourself? Are you telling the truth? Are you living in integrity?
Personal Disclosures Can Bring You Closer Together
If you want to be successful as a committed as a couple and you value intimacy, learning to share at a deep level is important, but it can be scary. What should you share, and what should you keep to yourself? What would upset your partner if they knew? Are you telling them something only to make yourself feel better? Are there things you should be honest about because you have been hiding them unnecessarily?
Take the first step. Disclose something risky or personal to your partner. Express your vulnerability and tell them how nervous you feel sharing your feelings.
Depending on the nature of what you’re sharing, your partner may feel upset. Be sure to empathize and validate those hurt or angry feelings.
Stay in the moment, no matter how uncomfortable, and allow your partner to express whatever it is they’re feeling about your disclosure. The feelings will likely change, subside, or turn into a longer conversation. If you are not defensive and if you avoid attacking them, your may find your intimacy deepens as a result of being honest.
Once you’ve got things out in the open, your partner may feel safer disclosing something they may have been keeping from you. You can both then commit to a more open and honest relationship for the future.
If you want a deeper relationship, with a deeper level of trust than you’ve experienced in the past, it will take some risk. Honesty is tough. It’s not for wimps.
If you need help and support to be honest with your partner, try couple’s therapy, either in person or online. Email me.
Originally published at drtammynelson.com on November 13, 2018.