I want to talk about honesty. Okay, great topic. What about honesty? John and I talk quite extensively about the value of honesty in a relationship. We talk about how vital it is to be able to have honest communication, that without honesty neither partner will be unencumbered or free to express themselves.
We say all this, without delving into what can happen when our honesty is used against us. Nor do we discuss why some of us do this to our partner.
But I received an email which gave me pause. An email that stopped me in my tracks. A cautionary tale into what can happen when we spout our love of honesty, and then use it as a weapon against our partner. Some of this story will make you uncomfortable, or at least should.
One of the emails I was determined to answer was from a man in conflict with honesty. He’d grown up in a strict religious household, one in which traditional biblical standards were to be upheld. His mother was held to a strict testament code of conduct and as a result bore witness to violence against her by his own father. This son saw honesty used as a tool to justify abuse.
As a result, this man struggled to understand honesty outside the realm of brutality. This made me wonder about our own views of honesty. How do each of us handle honesty? Do we take our partner’s honesty and use it as a tool for punishment too? Do we set the stage for honest revelations or do we react to our partners honesty in a way that causes our relationship to retreat into the shadows of omission?
What happens to a relationship when we claim to want an honest foundation, but then chastise our partner for their candor? What message are we sending to our partner about our ability to handle their honesty? Should we be loving towards our partners honesty, regardless of the truth they speak?
When I think back to times I revealed a truth to John, would I have been more likely to continue revealing myself had he come at me with anger? How on earth can we ever think we’re going to have a deeply layered relationship if we’re sending a message of retaliation and fear?
And why do we want to punish our partner anyway? “I can’t trust you anymore!” How many times do we hear this from couples once an honesty moment has been revealed? Our partner finally works up the courage or has finally walked themself through a fear in order to achieve honesty and what do we do? We punish them?! We turn all inward, claiming some major bond has been broken. “Why didn’t you tell me?!” we’ll hollar. All the while ignoring the beauty of truth.
Nope, in those moments truth becomes a hideous enemy. Do we reach for our partner in a loving embrace acknowledging their courage? More often than not, what happens is we turn our focus on ourselves, we take what is happening as a loss and not a lesson.
We don’t see our responsibility to be loving and proud of our partner’s transparency. Nope, instead we get hyper focused on discipling our partner for what we see as a transgression. I mean, it’s a wonder we’re as honest with each other at all when punishment sits center stage.
Punishment and pain. We may not be physically brutalized like this man’s mother, but the premise is pretty much the same.
John and I can both pull instances in which we omitted a truth only to reveal it later. Thankfully our approach to each other came from a loving stance. Instead of viewing the truth as an infraction towards ourselves or our relationship, we turned ourselves towards empathy, understanding and love.
Matter of fact, punishing our partner for their honesty seems contradictory. It acts in conflict with the premise that honesty in a relationship is necessary. I mean, who would want to be honest if it’s only going to create hostility?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about a partner who uses their OWN honesty as a tool. The partner who wants to validate their behavior by declaring, “hey, you can’t be upset cause I was honest with you!” or “oh, sorry.” This is especially true if a partner commits the same infraction time after time.
Besides, saying, “I’m sorry” is completely different than making amends to another. When we’re sorry, we may feel regret over our decision, but it doesn’t necessarily acknowledge the need to change our conduct. When we make amends we are declaring an intent to modify our behavior. When we make amends in a relationship it demonstrates our commitment to bettering our actions for the good of the union.
If I could tell this man anything it would be to say, honesty is not an invitation for aggression. Even though what he witnessed in his youth goes contrary to this statement. I would tell him most of the time honesty is a way of bringing people together. A way to showcase our empathy for one another and a way to find out the who, what, where, when, and how of others.
We learn about ourselves when we learn to express our honesty…our truth. We also learn about ourselves when others express their honesty. I would tell him that honesty isn’t so much a mathematical equation…you can’t quantify honesty. Then again, maybe you can.
Maybe we do use honesty as a way to gauge where we stand in a relationship. Maybe we do use honesty as a way to control our partner. Maybe some of us look for cracks in our partner’s honesty as a way of ignoring our own truths.
You see, love and anger cannot occupy the same space, so every time you interact with your partner you’re making a choice between the two.
Maybe what this young man saw growing up left him so confused that he couldn’t see honesty without pain. He knew honesty was important, but he’d never seen the love that should accompany honesty.
I remember reading his email broken hearted. All the pain and effort he’d expended in trying to figure out why someone who was supposed to love him, would teach him such a hateful lesson. His sorrowful tale was a huge reminder to make sure I continue to be loving, empathetic, and engaged when someone wants to bring me their truth.