Why honesty in relationships is non-negotiable & 7 rules to follow.

Kelly Gonsalves

Honesty is one of those things we intuitively know is a good thing, but we can really stumble a lot in trying to actually put it into practice.

But when it comes to our relationships, having open and honest communication is necessary to creating a healthy, sustainable partnership.

Here’s why honesty in relationships is so important.

What do we mean by honesty in a relationship?

Honesty is the quality of always speaking the truth and being totally authentic, straightforward, and transparent in our words and actions.

It involves a few key practices: never lying, never hiding the truth, and never purposefully omitting or misdirecting people from the truth.

Honesty in a relationship means always telling your partner the truth and being totally open with them, both for the big things and the little things.

If you’re avoiding talking to your partner about something—such as things that are bothering you in the relationship, something you did that you know your partner will be upset about, or how you really feel about the things you talk about together—then you aren’t being honest.

Being honest means being your true self around your partner, never hiding who you are, what you think, or how you feel.

Why honesty is so important in a relationship

Honesty is the foundation for trust in a relationship, and trust is necessary for a relationship to function and thrive.

When you’re always honest with someone, it tells them that they can trust you and the things you say. It helps them know they can believe your promises and commitments.

“Relationships are built on trust, so honesty is very important in a relationship,” relationship and well-being coach Shula Melamed, M.A., MPH , tells mbg. “We depend on our partner being our port in the storm, a person who we can trust with our thoughts, feelings, and heart.”

Being honest with your partner also facilitates healthy communication , which is also necessary for a functional relationship.

Couples need to be able to talk to each openly and be real with each other; that’s what true connection is all about.

That commitment to being honest also means that both people will be proactive about addressing any tension, conflicts, or issues in the relationship, bringing them up to their partner for discussion. 

“Relationships flourish when partners trust each other to be honest and open to resolving conflict,” relationship counselor Margaret Paul, Ph.D. , has told mbg . “On the other hand, relationships flounder when trust is broken.”

Is honesty always the best policy? 

Yes, honesty is always necessary in a relationship 100% of the time.

“Each lie that your partner catches you in dilutes your bond, turning you from teammates to opponents in an invisible conflict where your word is never taken seriously,” Melamed explains. “That being said, no need to be brutal when delivering your opinion or answering questions honestly that you know might hurt.”

For example, if your partner just cooked you the worst meal you’ve ever had in your life and asks you what you think of the food, you should be honest—don’t say you love it when you don’t.

But Melamed recommends avoiding unnecessarily hurtful statements (i.e. “you're a terrible cook”) and springing for kinder ways to convey the same sentiment: “Hmm. I so appreciate that you made dinner tonight. Does it taste a little bitter to you though?” Or, “It’s a little bitter tasting to me, so I think there’s some room for improvement. But you clearly put a lot of effort into this, and I so appreciate it when you make dinner.”

Secrets vs. privacy

Sometimes couples can get a little wrapped up in trying to make sure they know absolutely everything about each other.

For example, someone might insist on sharing an email address or knowing exactly where their partner is at all times, or they might feel entitled to tell their partner how hot they think various celebrities are, even if the comments hurt their partner’s feelings.

“Clearly, there are times when sharing too much could actually be hurting your independence and sense of self—or worse, hurting your partner,” marriage therapist Linda Carroll, LMFT , has told mbg . “It is essential to understand the difference between secrets and privacy. Think of it this way: Privacy is a boundary around one's own thoughts, ideas, and past experiences that don't directly involve one's partner. A secret is something that is misleading in some way and intentionally kept hidden from them for fear of judgment or reprisal.”

Partners don’t need to tell each other absolutely everything in order to be considered honest, but they do need to be transparent about information that’s going to directly affect each other’s well-being.

A good rule of thumb is that if you’re actively avoiding telling your partner something because you’re worried about their reaction, you’re keeping a secret and intentionally being dishonest.

And if your partner asks you something directly, you do need to tell the truth. 

How to build more trust and honesty in a relationship

Be consistent.

Do the things you say you’re going to do, and be someone your partner can rely on. Building trust happens through actions, not just words, says Melamed: “Show up when you say you will. Do the things you promise. Nothing erodes trust and builds resentment quite like empty or broken promises .”

Don’t commit to things you can’t do

“People think they should say they can make it and show up for another person when they can't because they don't want to disappoint,” Melamed says. “Better to be honest now and disappoint a little in the moment than disappoint later and errode trust.”

Prioritize communication

Make communicating with each other an open priority in your relationship. Have a conversation and agree that you’ll both be open with each other about how you’re feeling, what you need, what’s working, and what’s not. By establishing this precedent, you make honesty easier to practice for both of you.

Lead by example

Is your partner closed off or isn’t always honest about how they feel? Getting a closed-off person to open up takes patience, not pushiness. A great way to help them feel comfortable being honest is to simply lead by example.

Tell them how you’re feeling or what you’re up to, and allow them to follow your lead. When your partner sees that you’re always being real with them, they’ll feel like it’s safe for them to be real with you.

Avoid judging each other for the things you say

If someone is honest with their partner about how they feel and then gets shut down or yelled at for what they say, they’re less likely to want to be honest in the future. So when someone is being honest and vulnerable, avoid judging them or punishing them for it. That means avoiding calling what they said “stupid” or immediately telling them why they’re wrong to feel the way they do. You want to create a space where people feel safe expressing themselves; this is what breeds honesty.

If someone expresses something that hurts you, tell them you appreciate their honesty and then discuss why you’re feeling hurt. Was there another way they could’ve told you that would’ve hurt less? Let them know. If someone said something that you really wish they hadn’t said, you can let them know that that’s information you would prefer not to hear from them. Just remember that your partner should be able to tell you difficult things; that’s part of being in a relationship. 

Address the breaches

“When trust has been broken in your relationship, both partners need to direct real therapeutic attention to the relationship to rebuild it,” Paul says. “The betrayal is an opportunity for each person to look within and heal their part of the relationship-system in order to understand why it resulted in broken trust.”

Healing broken trust takes time and real, dedicated work. You both need to be involved and collaborating on how to rebuild that trust . “Don't kid yourself into thinking that you can repair broken trust with a quick statement of forgiveness and a warm embrace,” Paul adds. “The underlying causes for betrayal need to be identified, examined, and worked on in order for betrayal not to resurface again.”

Give it time

Trust takes time. It’s hard to just force yourself to trust someone when you truly aren’t there yet. Work on finding ways to feel safe and secure in your relationship. Committing again and again to being totally honest with each other will be an important first step.

The takeaway

Telling your partner the truth can sometimes be difficult, but it's the foundation for trust in a healthy relationship .

If you or someone you know is struggling with telling the truth, these seven tips above can help build more honesty and trust in a relationship.

Kelly Gonsalves author page.

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University , and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed , among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter:

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  • Sample Essays

Truthfulness in Relationships Essay

This t ruthfulness in relationships essay question appeared recently in the IELTS test.

It is about whether always telling the truth is the most important factor in any relationship:

Always telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship between people.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Making Comparisons

Truth Essay

In a question phrased like this, you'll notice you are given a superlative adjective: 

  • the most important consideration

You should use this to help you think about how to construct your essay and the ideas you might have. Ask yourself some questions related to this in order to brainstorm ideas:

  • What does being truthful actually mean? (e.g. what about white lies*)
  • Is truthfulness the most important thing?
  • What other things could be important?
  • Are these other things more important?

* a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person

If you think there are other more important things or things that are as important, then you probably disagree with the statement .

Importance of Truthfulness Essay

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Write about the following topic:

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own experience or knowledge.

Write at least 250 words.

Model Answer

In any relationship, the importance of truthfulness is a topic that often sparks debates. While some argue that always telling the truth is the most crucial aspect, I believe that the significance of truthfulness should be considered in relation to other factors. 

Undoubtedly, honesty plays a vital role in fostering trust and building strong connections between people. When individuals are truthful with each other, it establishes a foundation of transparency and integrity. This creates a sense of security and allows for open communication, which is essential for healthy relationships.

However, it is essential to recognise that truthfulness is not an absolute concept and must be balanced with other considerations. In certain situations, revealing the complete truth can be harmful or unnecessary. For example, when delivering bad news, such as a terminal illness diagnosis, it is crucial to consider the emotional well-being of the recipient. While honesty should be prioritised, the delivery of information must be done with sensitivity.

Furthermore, maintaining trust in a relationship involves more than just truthfulness. In some cases, withholding the truth may be necessary to protect the well-being of the other person or the relationship itself. If, for instance, someone asks you about a new hairstyle they have, it could be damaging to the relationship to tell them you do not like it, so a white lie may be the best option to avoid hurting them. Thus factors such as respect, empathy, and understanding also contribute significantly.

In conclusion, while truthfulness is important in relationships, it should be considered in conjunction with other factors. Balancing truthfulness with empathy, sensitivity to the situation, and the overall well-being of the relationship is crucial and promotes healthier and more harmonious relationships.

(282 Words)

This truthfulness essay would achieve a high IELTS band score.

It has carefully considered the question and given a clear and coherent response to it. Although the writer agrees truthfulness is important, s/he explains how it's not this simple. It needs to be considered in its particular context and sometimes a lie might be the best choice to maintain a healthy relationship.

So if you get an agree / disagree question, look carefully to see if it's suggesting that something is the most important thing, or a similar phrase. You can then use this as the basis to think about other ideas for the essay.

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