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Honesty, being real, and truth in relationships

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Love is truth. Part 6 in the “Love is...” series

“Do I look fat in these pants?”

What’s the right answer?

“Are you kidding? You look fat in any pants!” What if that’s the rock-bottom truth? Does that make it the right answer?

“Oh, no! You look great!!” Lovely. If true. If not, though, you may be throwing your partner to the wolves.

“Well...I wouldn’t say they’re the most flattering pants I’ve seen you in recently. I like the green ones much better.” Wow. An A+ for tact and diplomacy. But who could pull an answer like that out at a moment’s notice?

You see the problem. We put impossible burdens on love. What is the truly loving answer to the “fat in pants” question? There may be none.

But the thing is that love IS truth whether we want it to be or not. That’s because love brings two people together in a breadth and depth of naked intimacy that no other relationship does. You learn truths about another person you never imagined existed, and that person learns truths about you that you never wanted another person to ever know.

Love is a truth factory.

Which is exactly why it’s home to so many lies and so much hiding. There’s only so much truth we can bear.

What do we do about this? It all depends on what you want. So let me tell you what you should want. (I know that sounds arrogant, but I’m just talking from decades of experience working with couples, so you might as well make use of that!)

Love, in the first place, should be a place of tolerance and acceptance. Ideally you fall in love with the person you know, not with a fantasy figure you barely know at all. And it’s not the kind of love where I love you because you’re wonderful. On condition that you’re wonderful. No, it’s the kind where I love you because you’re YOU, and I happen to find that wonderful, even though parts of you may not be all so wonderful.

So, given that you have that kind of love, the best kind, then you have a place where truth can find a home. You can be my mirror, someone through whose eyes and feelings I see myself more truly than in any of my more superficial relationships. And a wise person would want that.

And given THAT, I’ll have a gift I can treasure: a person with whom I always know what’s what and who will cherish me nonetheless.

What about you? Do you want that? Do you even think that possible?

I wouldn’t blame you if you said no to the experience of truth in love. Too many of us don’t trust our love will endure the truths we find. Too many of us don’t want to hear the harsh truths that intimacy uncovers.

And so I think many of us in fact opt for a very different arrangement. We’ll be as nice to each other as possible, as complimentary as possible, and then when needs start going unmet for too long and truths come out all too harshly for being buried for too long, and things get too rocky to bear, we’ll just move on to another relationship.

Now this may not be how we consciously design our relationships, but this is the design we actually choose in practice all too often.

Good news. There may be a way to make the “love is truth” model more bearable for those of with a limited tolerance for inconvenient truths.

There’s a mode of relating out there that some people call “honesty.” As in, saying something negative and then qualifying it by adding “I’m just being honest.” Well, I’m here to say that honesty is not the same as the truth.

The truth is broader, wiser, and more prudent than honesty.

Honesty blurts out true statements regardless of context or phrasing. Truth is true to the feelings of the other person and the needs of the situation, as well as to the facts of the case.

Honesty is blunt and thoughtless. Truth is thoughtful and healthful.

Honesty prioritizes “truth.” But truth prioritizes making things better.

I think that if we hear this truth about the truth we will have more truth. And better love.

How, then, DO you tell the truth to someone if they DO look fat in those pants?

Well, the truth is that honesty is a game that stupid people can play quite well. But truth is for smart people. And in the pants case—in all cases—how you tell the truth depends on context.

Does the other person really want the truth? Or do they much more want or need reassurance?

Have they been struggling to lose weight and would it too much truth for anyone to bear to hear that they still look fat in those pants?

Are they on their way out the door late for work and there’s no time to deal with your truth?

Is the most important thing here that they look just right and so they and the situation absolutely requires the truth?

Can you trust yourself to tell the truth in a way that will go over as diplomatic?

Do you have a sense of what the other person is counting on you to provide?

If you want more detailed help with this, check out our book Truth without Fear. It'll give you everything you need!

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The cover image is a detail from Truth Presenting a Mirror to the Vanities of Life, artist unknown, French, c. 1630.


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