“The purpose of honesty is having the facts in front of you. Without them, you’ll fail to solve the simplest marital problems. Lying to your spouse or giving false impressions will leave your spouse ignorant of the facts.” (Dr Willard Harley)
Most of us would claim that being able to honestly trust what our spouse says and does is vitally important to us. We sure wouldn’t want to be “ignorant of the facts!” Yet, is that really true?
The following are some things to consider as to whether we create an environment for honesty or possibly even dishonesty when certain facts are presented. Dr. Willard F. Harley, the founder of Marriage Builders, and Dr. Jennifer Harley Chalmers, in their book, Surviving an Affair writes:
When finally presented with the truth about something that has been concealed, many spouses think only of punishment. They cry; they scream; they hit; they threaten —and all these things just convince the lying partner to cover his or her crimes more carefully in the future.
Don’t make your spouse miserable when he or she tells you the truth. That simply encourages dishonesty the next time. Instead, talk about how important honesty is to you and how you want to work together to achieve greater love and compatibility. Use the disclosure as evidence that you both need to rise to a new level of honesty.
How well do you encourage honesty? You may say that you want your spouse to be honest, but do your own values promote it? How do you answer the following questions?
• If the truth is terribly upsetting to you, do you want your spouse to be honest only at a time when you are emotionally prepared?
• Do you keep some aspects of your own life secret and do you encourage your spouse to respect your privacy and boundaries in those areas? [You can learn more about this by reading the article, Paper Fences: The Boundaries We Fail to Set in Marriage.]
• Do you like to create a certain mystery between you and your spouse?
• Are there conditions under which you would not want honesty at all costs between you and your spouse?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you do not always value honesty. In certain situations, you feel your marriage is better off with dishonesty. You see, there are always “reasons” to be dishonest. But that little crack is all that dishonesty needs to slip into your marriage and run amok. As soon as you allow one reason for dishonesty, it becomes easier to allow others, and before you know it, you have a dishonest relationship.
You encourage honesty when you value honesty. If your own values do not consistently support it, you will be sending each other mixed messages that will undermine living together in complete honesty. Having consistent values is one way to encourage honesty.
But another important way to encourage it is in the way you react to honesty. Do your reactions convey an appreciation for the truth, even if it’s painful? These questions will help you determine if you are actually discouraging honesty in the way you sometimes react to it.
• Do you ever have angry outbursts when your spouse is honest with you?
• Do you ever make disrespectful judgments when your spouse is honest with you?
• Do you ever make selfish demands when your spouse is honest with you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are using Love Busters [habits that destroy romantic love] to punish honesty and you’re encouraging dishonesty. The way to encourage each other to be truthful is to minimize the negative consequences of truthful revelations. Instead of trying to punish your spouse when a shocking truth is revealed, try to reward your spouse’s honesty.
I have had couples learn to say, “Thank you for being honest.” If they feel they need some time to process the new information, so as to protect their spouse from any Love Busters, I have them add, “Can I have ten minutes to think about this and then we’ll get back together to talk about it?”
There are some marriages so infected by angry outbursts that it is not safe to be honest. Honesty runs the risk of a severe beating or even death. In these marriages, I suggest that a couple separate until safety can be assured. No couple should live together as long as one spouse persists in abusing the other.
And if honesty triggers physical or emotional abuse, separation is usually the only reasonable response. Dishonesty may prevent physical and emotional abuse in the short run but dishonesty can lead to even greater abuse when it is discovered. If the fear of abuse is preventing you from being honest, I suggest separation while the abusive spouse receives professional treatment. Then when the risk of abuse is overcome, be totally honest with your spouse.
Remember, honesty is not your enemy; it’s a friend that brings light to a problem that often needs a creative solution. If honesty is followed by safe negotiation, it becomes the necessary first step toward improving your compatibility and love for each other.
So what about you? Are you REALLY creating an environment for complete honesty in your marriage? Solomon gives us an interesting insight into the power of honesty. He said in Proverbs 26:24, “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” True, isn’t it?
For those of us who have reacted negatively in the past when our spouse was honest with us… or if we have been afraid to be honest, let’s remember in the future how God’s word portrays honesty: As “a kiss on the lips.” What a picture of intimacy for which we can model our marriages.
Steve and Cindy Wright