How Radical Honesty May Save Your Relationship

How Radical Honesty May Save Your Relationship

We get more and more letters from our readers every day. Some of you comment on politics, or economy. Some want a piece of advice from other readers. This woman, who signed her message "DTruthful1," describes her relationship and would like to share her wisdom with the rest of you. Please, read her letter and have your say in the comments: would you practice something similar with your partner? Why? 

When my husband and I first came together as a romantic couple three years ago, we agreed to practice radical honesty in our relationship. That is, he and I wouldn't keep any secrets from each other bigger than a surprise party. Both of us feel it's well worth the occasional angst we experience in order to enjoy a romance that lets us feel totally connected and utterly trusting of each other.

What does radical honesty mean? It means, quite simply, that you tell the your partner everything that's going on in your life. Not just where you're going that evening, and what you'll be doing at work that day and with whom. But also mentioning when someone you meet gives you butterflies. When you feel an urge to reach out to an ex. When you get overwhelmed with guilt about someone you hurt years ago. It means sharing when someone at the office gets flirtatious with you—even if you don't reciprocate his or her advances. Or telling your partner you find someone—even a movie star—sexy.

In sum, it boils down to full disclosure and keeping zero secrets in an attempt to ward off any potential trouble further down the road.

My desire for being honest runs deep. I had a nine-year relationship prior to meeting and marrying my current husband. Back then, my former partner was not the love of my life by any means, but we did have a caring, fun relationship. Until it all fell apart. I gradually discovered that he had been lying to me. First about small things, like running into an ex at an event and grabbing a quick drink with her. Then about big things, like hitting on a mutual friend of ours, telling her how much he wanted to sleep with her. After we broke up, the walls came tumbling down. Other people shared their stories about my ex-partner. Turns out he had been dishonest about who he was at his very core. It took me a long time to forgive him—and myself.

What I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt from this long relationship was a gift. I came to see how lies, no matter how tiny, can snowball into grander and far more humiliating deceptions. Lies completely undermined my relationship with my ex-partner; I was not about to allow the same thing to happen with my now-husband.

Of course, practicing radical honesty can be tough. It forces you to confront tough emotions head on. In a society that teaches us to avoid conflict as much as humanly possible, to make amends, smooth things over, and tell white lies, radical honesty is the opposite policy. It's all about diving headfirst into sticky situations in the name of love.

I'll give you an example. I have promised to tell my husband whenever I hear from an ex-boyfriend, just as he will tell me whenever an ex-girlfriend contacts him. And yet, in spite of our commitment, I had trouble practicing it in the beginning.

One day, I got an email from an ex (let's call him Obi) saying that he'd be in town, and asking whether I'd like to get together for coffee. It was a totally innocent request. Obi knew that I was blissfully married to the love of my life, and he himself was in a new, seemingly happy relationship. Furthermore, we had only spent six months dating, and things had ended amicably when we decided to go our separate ways.

But for some reason, I didn't tell my husband right away. I wrote back to Obi, saying sure, I'd be happy to meet up for coffee that weekend. But I didn't act immediately to share the news with my husband, because the prospect of discussing my ex with my current love made me uncomfortable. It would just upset him. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I wanted to protect him.

Well, keeping Obi's email a secret couldn't possibly have been a worse decision. I waited until the day before Obi was coming to town before I said something. When I did, my husband was upset, wanting to know when I had made these plans. I was honest and admitted it had been several days ago. We got into an argument. I felt horrible, apologetic, and dishonest. And I ended up canceling on Obi, because repairing my relationship with my one true love was more important to me than making a social visit with an ex. Everyone lost out due to my own reluctance to confront the situation fearlessly and with integrity.

On the contrary, every time I have shared my vulnerabilities with my husband, he has responded with such tenderness and compassion that I am blown away. He meets every embarrassing memory or urge with love, respect and understanding—and I do the same for him. Because of this—our ongoing policy of radical honesty—I know beyond a doubt that our marriage will endure. It's not an easy practice, and maybe it never will be, but it works for us.

Would you practice something similar with your partner? Why? 


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