The Structure of Relationships
Why is it important to our relationships that we tell the truth? At the core, telling the truth is about sharing our realities, just as relationships are about connection. If we think about relationships as structures we build with others, our truths represent the building material, while the act of connecting (or relating) represents the building process. When we build with faulty material, we wind up with a deeply unstable structure.
As we build relationships around patterns of telling the truth, we begin to see trust blossom as a result. Trust is strong and powerful, capable of many great things, but not telling the truth acts as a potent kryptonite for trust. Over time, lack of trust can erode the foundation of any relationship. When we feed trust by telling the truth, we invest in the future and strength of our relationships.
It’s Hard Work
Honestly, telling the truth is often just difficult sometimes. It can cause pain, fear, and shame, and can even be deeply unsettling under certain circumstances. In these instances, it can be very tempting to take the “easier” route and not tell the truth; however, we sacrifice the strength and stability of our relationships when we don’t tell the truth. From a long-term perspective, not telling the truth is more of a deferment of work rather than a genuinely easier route, because it will lead to the need for relationship repair work somewhere down the line.
The Grey Area of the Truth
When presented with the binary of “telling the truth” and “lying,” there seems to be some cultural uncertainty about whether a grey area exists between the two. In the absence of a clear answer to this question, and with the knowledge that binary logic has historically been used to perpetuate violence and erasure, let’s refrain from strictly labeling “not telling the truth” as “lying.” Though we lack clear and specific delineations between “telling the truth” and “lying” there is a distinction to be made between the two. When we intentionally obscure our truth, we choose to portray our reality differently than we experience it. It is a deeply unstable structure.
Let’s remember that we don’t lead perfect lives with crystal clear answers to every problem. Sometimes we are in relationships with people we didn’t choose, or out of necessity (anyone who has sat through an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner can relate.) Sometimes we are presented with a situation in which there doesn’t seem to be a definitive right or truthful response. Sometimes we are simply too tired and cannot bring our full selves to our relationship. These aren’t pretty situations, but it would be dishonest to pretend we do not find ourselves in them.
The Truth About Boundaries
Expressing boundaries is a particularly notable scenario in which it is hard to tell the truth, but vital to the longevity of our relationships. We are not, at least in western culture, taught how to constructively express boundaries, nor are we taught the importance of expressing boundaries. Instead, many of us are taught that the expression of a boundary is selfish, frivolous, or hurtful. Therefore, it’s crucial for us to remind ourselves that advocating for our needs and wants is an integral part of a robust relationship. As Adrienne Maree Brown writes, “Boundaries create the container within which your yes is authentic.” Put differently, truthful and enthusiastic consent is made possible by our truthful expression of boundaries. This is hard work. But we can do it.
When You Just Can’t Tell the Truth
Absolutes don’t reflect the reality of our lives and to say that we should or will always tell the truth would be naive. There have been and will be times when we do not tell the truth. Best practices for these times include awareness that we are not telling the truth, understanding of why we are not telling the truth, acceptance that there may be consequences for our not telling the truth, and a possible examination of that relationship if that specific dynamic is what feels like our reason for not telling the truth. Repeatedly finding we are unable, unwilling, or afraid to tell the truth is a big red flag in any relationship.
Build a Truthful Foundation
Telling the truth is a necessary part of building strong relationships. It is sometimes difficult or complicated, but, when we make an effort and push through the discomfort, we are rewarded with hardy, trusting relationships that are better equipped to meet our needs and desires. And when we can’t work through the discomfort or murkiness to tell the truth, we at least have some best practices to mitigate possible harm done to ourselves and/or our relationships.
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