How Well Do You Encourage Honesty?

Encourage honesty - AdobeStock_146213509 copyDo you encourage honesty when you argue with your spouse? Truly? This is an important point to prayerfully consider because it’s relevant to the issue. Unfortunately, we don’t always make it “safe” for our spouse to tell us the truth. And we don’t even realize that. But the truth is:

“When presented with the truth about something that has been concealed, many spouses think only of punishment. They cry, scream, hit, and threaten. And all these things do is persuade the lying partner to cover his or her crimes more carefully in the future.” (Dr Willard Harley)

Now, this doesn’t justify lying; but it also doesn’t encourage the other spouse to tell the truth. We all have to be honest about our behavior. If we want our spouse to be honest, we must make it safe for them to do so.

Encourage Honesty?

Below is a great illustration of this very point. Many spouses feel they need to make this type of “deal”:

cartoon on honesty purchased from Jerry King

Pertaining to this issue, here’s what Dr Willard Harley writes:

If you truly want honesty, 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 discuss what you can both do to make your marriage a safe place to be open and honest.

How well do you encourage honesty? You may say that you want your spouse to be honest; but do your own actions promote it?

To Encourage Honesty, think about it:

Do you have angry outbursts when your spouse is honest with you?

Do you make disrespectful judgments when your spouse is honest with you?


When your spouse is honest with you, do you make selfish demands?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are punishing honesty. You are also inadvertently encouraging dishonesty. The way to encourage each other to be truthful is to minimize the negative consequences of truthful revelations. Instead of punishing 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, I have them add, Can I have ten minutes to think about this? Then we’ll get back together to talk about it.

Make Honesty Safe

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. Couples should not live together as long as one spouse persists in abusing the other.

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 never your enemy. It’s a friend that brings light to a problem that often needs a creative solution. If honesty is followed by safe and pleasant negotiation, it becomes the necessary first step toward improving your compatibility and love for each other. (From the book, Surviving an Affair, written by Dr. Willard F. Harley and Dr. Jennifer Harley Chalmers) 

In Addition:

Do you encourage other types of communication, as well? Dr Gary Chapman wrote the following concerning this issue of encouraging honest conversations. It comes from The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional – April 10:

“’Respect everyone; and love your Christian brothers and sisters.(1 Peter 2:17) I’ve heard many people say, ‘My spouse won’t talk with me.’ If this describes your marriage, the question is, why? One reason some spouses go silent is negative communication patterns. Here are some questions to help you think about your own patterns. Consider whether you often come across as negative or complaining.

  • Do I listen to my spouse when he talks? Or do I cut him off and give my responses?
  • Do I allow my partner space when she needs it? Or do I force the issue of communication, even at those times when she needs to be alone?
  • Do I maintain confidences? Or do I broadcast our private conversations to others?
  • Do I openly share my own needs and desires in the form of requests rather than demands?
  • Do I give my spouse the freedom to have opinions that differ from my own? Or am I quick to ‘set him straight’?

If you answer yes to the second half of any of these questions, it may be time to change your communication patterns. It’s all about treating your spouse (and all believers) with respect and love, as 1 Peter 2:17 directs. Doing so may loosen the tongue of a silent spouse.”

Honesty in Our Own Communication Patterns

Here are a few more questions to prayerfully and honestly ask yourself:

  • Am I using my communication to build my spouse up or tear him/her down?
  • Would my spouse say that my words are glorifying to God?
  • If I feel like my spouse is picking a fight, do I respond in a way that deescalates the conversation or adds fuel to the fire?
  • Is my body language welcoming and open during this conversation?
  • Am I seeking to hear what my spouse is actually saying or putting my own biases and opinions on their words? (Questions come from the “Communication Checklist” written by Grace Marriage)

If we want honesty and openness from our spouse, we have to welcome their honest communication. We can then work on it from there. And that is the honest truth. Openness and honesty goes both ways.

You don’t have control of what your spouse does or doesn’t do. You aren’t responsible for your spouse’s behavior; but you are responsible for yours. Looking at all of this honestly is a great step in a healthy direction.

— ALSO —

Furthermore, here’s an important article to read that can give you additional insight into this issue:


It’s important to be careful how you deal with the things your spouse tells you. Sometimes our minds can play tricks on us. We’re SURE we recall something a certain way; but it may not be so. Below is a link to an article posted on The Generous Husband web site. Paul Byerly makes a good point concerning this issue. For better understanding, please read:

(Your memory is not as good as you think it is)

So, What Can We Do to Encourage Honesty in Our Marriages?

This is a hard question to answer. It’s also difficult to accomplish. But we know it’s possible because we have rebuilt our own marriage upon this principle. We didn’t always make it safe for the other to speak his or her own mind. God revealed that to us in the midst of some tough marital times. Now, we both work to encourage each other to be as open and honest with each other. Thankfully, God is helping us in this mission.

The important thing is to try to be as approachable to your marriage partner as you can. Yes, we know that many spouses are dealing with abuse issues. And if that is the case, you have to approach marriage issues differently than the “average” spouse. Please go to the Abuse in Marriage index topic. Prayerfully read what you can to deal with the difficult issues that face you.

But for the rest of us, it’s important to work through the questions listed above. And it’s also important to work to be as approachable as you can. That’s what marriage partnership is all about. Jesus is approachable, and we should be too. That’s what Drs Les and Leslie Parrott talk about in something they wrote. Please prayerfully consider what they write here (and go into their linked article for more thoughts on this matter):


“If you’re ready to become more approachable in your marriage, here are a few ground rules:

• Remind yourself that you and your spouse are on the same team. You share many goals, dreams, and visions for the future.

• Pray together and individually. Bless your spouse and pray for them.

• Do good to your spouse.

• Tell your spouse they can come to you. Help them feel safe when they do.

• Be a good listener. Don’t listen to respond, and don’t use their concerns against them.

• Give to your spouse without expecting anything in return.

• Take a walk in your spouse’s shoes. Leverage empathy to better understand where your spouse is coming from.

“Being approachable to your spouse is the secret to open, thriving communication. Approachability cultivates trust between the two of you and helps you both feel emotionally safe. And it’s an incredibly important attribute of your marriage that will open the door to healthier, more effective communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.” (Drs Les & Leslie Parrott, from their article, “Approachability: The Key to Emotional Safety in Marriage“)

And that is our prayer for you. We pray you will work on being approachable to each other. As you do your marriage can thrive as you cultivate trust. It’s important to encourage honesty to build a safe, loving marriage. We hope you will.

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

7 Essentials - Marriage book


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10 responses to “How Well Do You Encourage Honesty?

  1. (USA)  I value honesty and I feel I am constantly let down when I uncover yet another lie my husband has told me. I don’t know how to get him to truly be honest and open with me, when I may be just a little too honest and open with him.

  2. (USA)  To me I value honestly a lot. I cannot stand when someone lies to me. The most hurtful, is when you know the person is lying to you and you ask them a question and they lie about it. This has happen several times with my husband. My husband used to tell me everything. However, when he did, I would either get angry or questioned him about it. I guess from those reactions he stop telling me the truth about things because he knew what I was going to do. So I decided to turn of a new leaf, and how I would react to him tellilng me the truth, however, he continues to lie to me.

    The other day, I asked him a question, and at first he lied to me and then he said, I’ll tell you the truth”, but the truth seem like a lie as well, so I went along with what he told me and thanked him for telling me the truth. My husband has continued to lie. I know that if you confront a liar that might lie to cover up another lie. Is there a way to stop making him lie? I changed my behavior on when he tells me something. Would my reaction cause a change reaction?

    1. Hi Linda, I think I can offer a solution to your situation. Well done on realizing the mistake you were making and congratulations on changing the negative behavior. Your husband is not deliberately being dishonest with you. He is choosing the safer option. As you have stated, he used to be honest but your reaction would indirectly discourage his honesty.

      So give him some time to adjust to the changes. You have to rebuild his trust in you. You have to create the environment that makes him comfortable to share his opinion without the fear of you coming down on him. Remember that with each outburst you were grooming the inward behavior so make a conscious effort to groom an outward behavior.

  3. (USA) When I am lied to by my wife, I cannot explain the pain. I don’t understand why she would do such of a thing about money. If she lies about one thing such as credit cards, it will be hard for me to trust her the rest of my life. It’s really confusing because we both make enough money not to run up $37,000.00 in credit cards without my knowledge. Her only answer has been is that she was trying to fix things. Oh My! I am a man and my job is to fix thing, not hers.

    Women who lie to husbands are simply pushing them away. I gave my wife my heart because I lost my late wife suddenly. I trusted her with my life and I transferred that trust to my new wife and she has destroyed my trust. Now I will never trust her or any woman ever again. I lost my trust when I lost my late wife to death.

  4. This article has taught me to value honesty more. Sometimes it’s easier for me to hide behind a white lie because of being scared of disappointments. What it says about dishonesty is very true. I really liked learning more about being honest and enjoyed reading this article.

  5. ME my fiancé are always arguing and debating about things I always get angry and shut down every time he tells me somthing I don’t like and he comforts me. He complains about him being the only one doing the comforting. But it’s so hard for me to comfort when I’m angry

    He’s been hurt by people in the church so many time so he turned back to his old ways, I loved when he was in church
    I tell him it’s not God that let him down, its man. He goes every once in a while to church but his attitude doesn’t change.

    Next we get in arguments when I’m sick or hurting/ cramping. Because he says I’m exaggerating when ever I don’t feel good and it gets me mad.

    Please have advice or a scripture to help me. We’re not even married yet and we argue like we’ve been married for a long time. HES’ A GOOD PERSON AND I WILL TRY TO BRUSH OFF MY ANGER. I just want us to get along; I’m getting tired of arguing. It feels like w’ve been running in the same place. I don’t like the feeling of wanting to give up. Please help me !!!?

    1. Keira, sounds like you guys need pre marital counseling. Being married is a life long commitment, and there’s going to be a lot of times you not going to agree. You need to learn to pick your battles and learn to communicate without shutting down on your partner; nothing gets solved if you shut down. You say you are not ready to give up, then pray for God help you make the changes in yourself, then what you want in your relationship will follow. May God be with you.

  6. In regards to this: Are there conditions under which you would not want honesty at all costs between you and your spouse?

    We are not yet married, but I’ve had a problem with “Too Much Information” in my relationship with my boyfriend. I know it is mostly due to his ADD, but it still hurts. In the past he has gone into waaaay too much detail about other women. (Ex wife, ex girlfriends, co workers and actresses.) In this case, he doesn’t need to be honest about how he feels towards these women, how Hot he thinks they are, etc. I’m not “one of the guys”, and the comments sometimes hurt.

    He has, however lied to me about smoking pot. I don’t smoke it and have no desire to. When we were first dating, he mentioned that he smoked it in the past, and made it sound like it was in the past. He didn’t tell me that he continued to smoke it as he got older to help with a herniated disk in his neck.

    He told me about a cocaine addiction that would have killed him if it had not been for an intervention that helped to save his life. Because he is an addict, I am afraid that he could become addicted to the pot, despite the general consensus of the public that pot is perfectly harmless. I don’t know how I can encourage honesty with him. I’m willing to try whatever it takes.

    1. Celeste, You are right in thinking that sometimes “too much information” can be troublesome, if one person doesn’t need all of the side details in the healing process after the other has made a confession. Some need it and others don’t. But it’s okay to tell your boyfriend that you don’t need to know the side details. Just stop him if he goes into those details that are flooding your emotions.

      But on the other hand, it’s important that he comes clean with bringing out important facts that can affect your life together. Withholding important facts is not good at all. And you need to graciously accept and encourage such honesty, even if it is painful. Secrecy can cause all kinds of problems. The side details aren’t as important, but the main facts are important. If you are ever to get married, you both need to make sure that you know as much about each other as possible.

      The fact that he is an addict would greatly distress me if I was considering marrying him. You would be marrying his addiction more than you would marry him. Addictions push the real person off to the side. Spouses (girlfriends and anyone close to an addict) are dragged into all kinds of ugly and dangerous stuff. Please know that. I see all kinds of red flags waving and warning you all over the place as far as his addictive and immoral behavior. Please guard your heart.