Why is Honesty So Hard to Implement in a Couple?

One of the most important factors --if not the most important factor-- in any relationship is honesty. If you do not trust your partner or vice versa, simply put the relationship will not work. A surefire way for you to lose the trust of your partner is being dishonest with them. Indeed, even white lies when figured out seem to cause some loss of trust. You might think your lying is innocuous, but deep down all it is serving to do is undermine your relationships.

And yet so many of us struggle with honesty. Lying is so commonplace that you can go on any form of social media and regularly come across “trust nobody” memes and posts. This is a sad state of affairs. It becomes a very interesting question as to why we are like this. Often we want to be more honest, but almost as a reflex fail in our attempts at honesty.

One reason for this might be psychological conditioning. If you have some form of unresolved trauma in your past, lying might be very commonplace for you. Especially if the conditions of this trauma entailed defending yourself, lying might become a coping mechanism when you perceive yourself as potentially “being in trouble.”

Another reason might be what the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza called, “bondage.” Bondage is the essential state of the human mind --i.e. Our starting point-- emotionally speaking. Bondage is the state in which our emotions are not regulated. For instance, think about when you get angry and you can’t stop being angry. Spinoza believed that when it comes to any emotion, most humans have a starting point of being incapable of regulating them. Coupled with this, Spinoza believed that the motivation of this unregulated emotional state of affairs was egoism: or, in plainer terms, selfishness.

When we’re incapable of getting out of Spinozisitc bondage, because we are being selfish we will more readily lie because we think it will allow us to get our way.

And this isn’t just mere philosophical speculation. Richard Thaler’s Nobel prize-winning work in behavioral economics proves that this is the essential state of the human mind.

Clearly, this essential starting point of the human mind is sub-optimal for relationships. All it will serve to do is undermine your relationships by destroying trust.

There are solutions, however. When it comes to dishonesty as a traumatic response, therapy might become a good option. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you notice when you have been traumatically triggered; in doing so, instead of unconsciously lying, you can more easily consciously resist the impulse to lie.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help with bondage. But Spinoza’s solution to bondage is also quite helpful. Namely, trying to get a full understanding of reality. When we are in unregulated emotional states, we can literally become delusional. The antidote to this is trying to grasp the facts of reality to the most accurate level you can. For instance, you might become jealous when your partner wants to go out with her friends and then lie to her when she asks, “are you okay?” The emotional state of jealousy in this instance is fundamentally due to ignorance: you might be thinking to yourself, “she’s going out because she doesn’t want to spend time with me,” or “maybe she’ll cheat on me while she’s out with her friends.” If you get a clearer understanding of the facts --i.e. That your partner simply wants to go out with her friends for a good time-- these thoughts and the emotional jealousy attached to it makes no sense. Once you realize this, you will have no reason to lie, because you will have more tranquility at the fact of your partner going out with her friends. And so too with any emotion that seems to be holding you back or even making you delusional.

Try to be as honest as you can with your partner, and if you make mistakes along the way don’t beat yourself up about it. Dishonesty is something that every human being is guilty of and all people who are honest needed to work their way out of dishonesty. It will be a journey, but when you finally succeed at overcoming your initial human nature you and your relationships will be happier and better for it.

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