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Learning and Practicing Responsible Honesty
By James Vaughan

Our parents were right—Honesty really is the best policy!

Honesty is in the number 1 spot on my list of the most important ingredients in long-term relationships. Honesty provides the basis of trust, intimacy, and lasting love. It's easy to fall in love with another person without knowing how honest they are, but it's difficult to stay in love with another when we discover they are dishonest about things that matter. To trust one another at a deep level, we must know each other deeply. Deep knowing can only come from a lot of honest disclosure over time.

Similarly, real caring for another can only happen when we know them at a deep level—a level they choose to honestly disclose to us. Everything else is superficial. Superficial caring is a lot better than none at all, but nothing compares with caring based on real knowing.

Below are some Questions and Responses to guide you toward responsible honesty.

1. Should you be totally honest with your partner?

There is no virtue in total honesty based on being critical rather than caring. And there is no virtue in honesty that talks about your partner rather than about yourself. What does have great virtue and what we want in our relationships is Responsible Honesty.

Responsible honesty involves sharing your truth in the most timely, constructive way possible about everything you think is important in your relationship. Your truth is simply your perception of the truth. It is always subjective and incomplete, but it's what you have to share with those you care about.

Making responsible honesty the core of your relationship requires a joint commitment. One person in a relationship can take the lead, but one person cannot make it happen. It's a building process that usually involves learning some new skills and unlearning some old ones. We have been trained by our society to be dishonest—to withhold our true feelings and thoughts.

To change, you must first discover your true feelings and thoughts and then learn to express them in a constructive way—a way that is intended to help you, your partner, and the relationship grow. This cannot be achieved by simply throwing a switch. It will take time just as any interpersonal skill takes time to build.

2. How can you begin?

The best starting point is to make an explicit agreement with your partner to strive for responsible honesty. Then begin, but don't try to force yourself or your partner to go too far too fast. Take it a step at a time. It will help to adopt an attitude that the facts are friendly, and that talking honestly about important issues will not make them worse. Become a generous, active listener. Support your partner's attempts even when they aren't made with the greatest skill.

Acknowledge your failures, and celebrate your successes. Keep your intentions clear—to build the relationship—to care for yourself and your partner. It will not be easy, especially in the beginning. Listening to your partner's expressions of truth and acknowledging your complicity in creating whatever problems exist in the relationship can be emotionally draining. You may experience times when you seriously doubt the wisdom of this path. There is no substitute at these times for persistence.

What lies beyond these tough times is well worth the effort. You are building the basis for a new level of caring, trust, and intimacy. Responsible honesty will simplify your life. You will eventually achieve an ease in your communication that can never be reached when you must use energy to cover up your true feelings and to constantly second-guess what your partner really means and what they are leaving unsaid.

Here's one of life's greatest ironies. We are often less than totally honest out of a desire to be safe—to avoid other's negative judgment of us and to avoid their negative reaction to our true feelings and thoughts, but this does not keep us safe. On the contrary, it puts us in jeopardy, as we now have to sustain the facade we created. The most safety and security you will ever know in a relationship will come from what seems to be the riskiest path of all, responsible honesty.

3. When should you begin?

Today.

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