I will never lie to you.
How many of us have made this promise? How many of us have kept it? What would life be like if we were always honest?
Honesty and Lies
Honesty is characterized by sincerity and an absence of deceit. It takes courage to be honest. It is cowardice that breeds dishonesty. Those who pair honesty with a loving heart and communicate with tact are seen as trustworthy, reliable, and caring. Those who tell the truth about honest mistakes earn the respect of others. When we love others, one of the ways we show it is through our honestly, which strengthens our relationships.
Conversely, a lie is a deliberate attempt to deceive (it is not a lie to unknowingly share false information). Lies present us with the illusion that they make life easier, but true to form, they actually make things harder in the long run. When we lie, we willingly present fiction as fact, frame a falsehood as truth, and mislead people we may otherwise say we love. With great effort, we might get away with a lie here and there, but like walking through a minefield, it is only a matter of time before we have a misstep.
The Prevalence of Dishonesty
Most people are honest and manage to avoid telling even one lie on any given day (Serota et al., 2010). Yet, because some lie more than others (i.e., 5% of people are responsible for 40% of lies), on average, people tell between one and two lies each day (see Halevy et al., 2013 for a review). As encouraging as it may be to know that people are usually honest, it is safe to say that all of us have lied at some point in our lives. Hopefully, we have learned that being honest is a better choice.
White Lies, Trust Killers
Honesty builds trust, dishonesty destroys it. One myth I try to dispel in conversations with clients is that small, white lies are harmless. They’re not. They can be a big deal. Lies, even “little” ones, begin to etch away at trust and affection in a relationship. When we get caught in a lie, we give our partner good reason to doubt other things we say. It becomes hard to believe in the love of someone who lies. Likewise, it is hard to feel love for someone who is proven to be a liar. Though not impossible, it is very difficult to earn back trust and affection after we’ve lost it by being dishonest.
Being honest does not prevent us from protecting our privacy, even if our silence reinforces someone’s inaccurate impression about who we are or what we have done. There is a difference between being honest and being an open book. Instead of lying, honest people voice boundaries in conversations when they are asked questions they don’t want to answer (e.g., “That’s something I’m not comfortable talking about,” “I’d rather we talk about something else,” “I’m going to keep my answer to that question private.”). Being honest about our boundaries keeps us from lying or sharing information we’d rather keep private.
Peace of Mind
When we are honest, our mind is able to relax; it doesn’t get tripped up by a net of lies, fibs, and tall tales. It is exhausting to try and make lies seem true to those around us. It is much easier for us to remember what is true than it is to remember each and every lie we’ve told. Keeping others from finding out the truth usually requires even more lies, further complicating our deception and increasing the chances of our dishonesty coming to light. The consequences of getting caught in a lie are usually much worse than any discomfort associated with telling the truth. An honest life is simply easier than a dishonest one.
Honesty is an essential ingredient of a healthy relationship. Without it, a relationship does not have a stable base. When people are honest, it is reasonable and safe to trust them. If we want intimacy in a relationship, we build it by telling the truth. When we are honest with a partner about our vulnerabilities, their support helps us become stronger. Loving feelings in an honest relationship are magical. Loving feelings in a dishonest one are an illusion. Healthy relationships are not immune from struggles, they just involve people who are honest about them and work together to make things better.