What Do We Mean by Honesty in a Relationship?

Honesty in Relationships

by guest blogger Pam Fullerton, psychotherapist and writer

When it comes to romantic relationships, what is the most important thing you look for in a person?

Although many will have a different answer, the one thing that tops the list for most people (or at least makes their top 3!) is honesty.

I agree, honesty is very important. It’s one of the most important aspects of a relationship. However, we must ask ourselves, “What do we mean when we say that we want honesty from another person?” Most people mean that they want someone who “won’t lie to them” or “keep secrets,” but the question of honesty goes beyond lying and secrets.

Honest Honesty

I have worked with many individuals who come into therapy because they are unhappy in their relationship. They share with me what makes them unhappy about their loved one, meaning what that person does or doesn’t bring to the relationship. When I ask the question, “Does your partner know how you feel?” the answer is almost always, “No.”

There are many reasons they haven’t shared how they feel. Some don’t want to hurt their partner, while others worry about the reaction they will receive. Some express, “What’s the point? It won’t make a difference anyway.” However, sharing your true feelings is an important aspect of honesty in a relationship and deserves your attention.

Honest Examples

First, before I share this particular example, let me say that I think it’s so unfair that as women we struggle as we do with physical self-image. But this first example has to do with the question women often pose to men, “Do I look fat in this outfit?” Men have shared with me that when a woman (often their wife) poses this question, they find it challenging to feel attracted to her. It’s often the lack of confidence that they find unattractive, but also, this is one of those difficult situations in which it’s very hard to be “honest” about how you feel and how you’re affected by your spouse. How do you say to your spouse, “I struggle to feel attracted to you when you pose that question to me”?

Another example is when a person is apprehensive to share with his or her partner when he or she is unhappy and doesn’t feel a priority in the partner’s life. The person may need more from the relationship but not know how to ask for more. It becomes a very difficult “honest” conversation to have.

A final example of a very challenging “honest” conversation to have with your loved one: You might not like that your partner vents so much about whatever it is that leads him or her to being unhappy in life, such as work-related woes. While we naturally want to turn to our partner for support, and most partners want to be supportive, we sometimes don’t realize how our venting about life affects our partner. In this case, how do you say, “I don’t always feel that I can listen to you” or “I don’t always look forward to you coming home from work because you’re so unhappy. I want to look forward to seeing you”?

The Honest Truth

The truth is that it takes courage to give honesty to those we love, and it may be even harder to receive that honesty. But growth in a relationship occurs when we are open to providing feedback to our partner and receiving it in return.

While it’s valued, honesty may be one of the most challenging parts of your relationship. It’s likely that no one knows you better than your partner, and it can be frightening to receive honest feedback about yourself from someone who knows you so well. Also, being really honest with someone we love can be frightening. But the goal in a relationship is to feel connected and grow in our connection with one another.

The fear is that if we share something about our partner that is unpleasant, honesty can lead to disconnection. But that disconnection may be temporary and necessary to pull the relationship forward.

Most important, if you’re going to be honest with your partner about whatever it is that concerns you about him or her or how he or she affects you—whatever it is—what you say needs to be said with love and compassion. Honesty is not a license to be hurtful or mean. Blame and accusations are not honesty. And please remember that even if you say it with love and compassion, it may not go well. How something is said can (but won’t always) make all the difference in the outcome. Giving and receiving honest feedback is a process that needs time, love, and nurturing.

One last thought: I do not believe that everything needs to be said. However, if by not sharing with your partner you are ultimately harboring resentment and/or withdrawing—or you simply recognize that not using your voice is causing diminished feelings toward your partner—that is when it becomes critical to talk honestly.

As always, remember that this is very hard work, so be kind to yourself, as well, in this very challenging relational work!

One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. I know it’s not easy to do! I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section.

Pam Fullterton HeadshotPam Fullerton has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for the past 19 years. Although she works with a variety of life issues that are presented to her in therapy, her passion is to understand the vast complexities of all relationships. She believes that healthy connections with others are what promote personal growth. Keep up with her writings on relationships, mindfulness, and more by subscribing here.

Details of the any stories told in any of my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people I work with in therapy.

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6 Responses to What Do We Mean by Honesty in a Relationship?

  1. Alice Green April 5, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

    Hi Pam, I get your blog regularly and even save most of them to re-read later. I have response to one of your blogs here on Maria’s Farm. The reason I haven’t responded to the ones I get directly from your own blog is because I live alone and have never been married. So I don’t exactly relate to all the marriage issues. But I read and love all your thoughts and suggestions and try to use them with my friends and relatives. Family can be as hard to deal with as anything I’ve met in my life, and friends are easier but can be just as challenging. In my 50’s I did go to therapy and found it quite helpful, but I really seem to get so much out of your advice that I almost feel like I should send you a check for all your hard work and for all your very kind, thoughtful and very gentle suggestions to problems that are vey sensitive and real! Maybe I’ll try in the future to respond to you on your own blog, since you have the right to ask for what you need as well!!
    Thank you from a silent fan, Alice Green

  2. Pam Fullerton April 5, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

    Oh my Alice, what a lovely comment. Thank you so very much. Yes, most relationships are challenging, and it is my passion to help people with challenges in all relationships. I am so happy to know that you can apply some of my blogs to your very important relationships. Your words are worth so much to me Alice. And thank you for recognizing my suggestions as gentle. What a kind and generous person you are to respond. I will keep it in my mind that you are there even if I don’t see you, that is so nice to know 🙂

    Thank you from a grateful blogger, Pam

  3. Michael Beltran April 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    Hey Pam,

    I loved this message, not only for its content, but also how delightfully you articulate heavy points. Yes, I’ll be sharing this with others because it is definitely worthy.

    Being more on the soft-spoken side (like my father), I can bring subjects up and it is as water running off others backs in the shower. It isn’t until someone with credibility has published the same information via physical literature or in the cyber realm that it lands in their head. This includes, but is not limited to mates, friends, co-workers, even an acquaintance Kudos to you for taking the time and putting forth the effort to share.

    Granny often said,”If you’re gonna so much as think it, you may as well say it”. Yes, to this very day it can/will/does land my hiney in pretty darn warm water, but it is worth it. That being uttered, I’ve got to say, girl, you’ve really got it going on! Not only are you eye candy, but also sweetly intelligent. You deliver with class and balance (not common). I am glad you decided to come out of the blog closet.

    You now have my email address, feel free to hit me up with your blog. I was fortunate to have caught your insight in Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen (Thanks to them as well for offering) and am willing to bet there’s far more wisdom to be gleaned.

    In sincere gratitude, Mike

  4. Pam Fullerton April 6, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you so much for your comment and sharing my blog with others!! I appreciate your acknowledgment of the balance that I try to bring to my blog.

    I think the tricky part in being honest is “how” we say what we want to say and the “words” we choose to say what we are thinking as your granny so wisely stated which is often so challenging to do 🙂

    In appreciation,

  5. Chloe August 28, 2017 at 6:00 am #

    Dear Pam

    I agree to your article that not everything has to be said, especially when you know, that it will hurt your partner. My husband had some affairs (that is what I say, he just ignores the facts and is not talking about it at all) and I have told him to tell me that there was something, that we have to discuss in order for me, to trust him again, as I like to make the relation work again as it was. The honesty lead our relation to become free and light. Now, it has a big scar and he is not even willing to let it heal. In not talking about it, he is pushing just far away. IN that case, even it was good maybe not to tell me about, but since facts are here, he should be honest and open up. Only with letting me feel secure and honest again, I will be able to embrace the realtion.

  6. Pam Fullerton August 28, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    Dear Chloe, I am sorry that you are going through such a painful time in your marriage. I hope that you and your husband are able to find your way back to one another. Repair in a relationship is challenging for both people although it can be done. I hope the best for the two of you.

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