Tracey: “My husband told me he was spending Friday evening at his brother’s house, but my neighbour saw him in a restaurant with Jennifer. Jennifer is a childhood friend. I knew that they were getting together for a coffee here and there. But now that he lied to me about where he was on Friday evening, I am concerned there is more going on with Jennifer.”
Darren: “My wife Lily keeps secrets from me regarding our daughter. She says she is just honouring our daughter’s privacy and not telling me things Vanessa does not want me to know. I feel outmanoeuvred and helpless. Shouldn’t I also know what is going on with our daughter?”
Charlotte: “I am totally shocked because I just discovered that my wife Michelle gambled away our entire savings. She lied to me for months. Why didn’t she trust me to come to for help?”
“Secure-functioning partners fully and completely share all information with each other. They maintain their transparency at all times.” (Stan Tatkin, In Each Other’s Care, 249) However, we are humans, and humans are far from perfect. It is also a reality that the average person lies one to two times per day, and the one top percent even up to fifteen times per day.
As children, we learn to lie out of shame, fear and as a form of self-protection. We are small and vulnerable to the reaction of the adults in our life. We might be afraid to get into trouble, to be disapproved of and to lose the love or respect of our caregiver or other authority figures, like a teacher. We also observe our environment and learn that there are “white lies,” for example, polite excuses adults make up. We observe fibs, fabrications, deceptions, excuses for broken promises and lies of omission.
We often do not learn that any form of lying, no matter how harmless and insignificant it appears to be, including withholding information, damages the trust in a loving relationship. It puts our partner in the position of never knowing what is true. We undermine the foundation of the relationship by bringing unnecessary unpredictability into the picture.
Neither Joe nor Lily put their relationship first, but they acted out of conflict avoidance and their own interests. Joe lied because he wanted to meet his friend Jennifer by himself. This is unilateral thinking. He behaves as if he was in a one-person system instead of considering how it affects his marriage to lie—independent of whether his lie is found out or not. When he made this choice, he acted like a rebellious teenager instead of the adult he is. Keeping secrets shuts out the spouse and creates distance. He also exposed himself to sliding into an affair because he chose to connect emotionally with Jennifer while hiding this from his wife. It builds an emotional wall between him and his spouse and opens an emotional connection or a “window” (Shirley P. Glass, “Not ‘Just Friends’”) to a third party.
Regarding parenting or other decisions, partners can only function as a team when the right-hand knows what the left one does. Lily has created an unhealthy triangle with her daughter, leaving her husband out of the equation. She has felt dissatisfied in her marriage for a while, and instead of working on her connection to her husband, she has directed her energy toward their 12-year-old daughter. Joe and Tracey, just like Darren and Lily, are “mismanaging thirds,” a topic I will elaborate on in one of my next blogs and videos. Please also check out my YouTube channel for further relationship topics.
Whether you are just starting a relationship, getting married or have been in a long-term committed relationship for a while, it is worth adopting a transparency policy. Agree with your partner on what that means for both of you and decide to in doubt share more information than not enough. Here is why this policy makes a big difference:
Full and complete transparency is essential for ongoing, daily trust. In an adult partnership of equals, we need to put our adult pants on and let go of ideas that dishonesty is about staying out of trouble, restricting our freedom versus being independent or asking permission. Our partner is not our parent. The more conflict-avoidant we are, the greater the temptation to act like a child by hiding, performing or disclosing limited information.
Another problem with withholding vital information is that it deprives our partner of choice. Charlotte could have helped and saved their finances with the necessary information. “If I had known that my wife developed a gambling issue, I would have watched our finances more closely,” she says.
“By far the most damaging betrayal of all is the withholding of vital information that, if known, would change everything. If and when revealed, this particular type of betrayal commonly causes PTSD in the discovery partner.” (Stan Tatkin, In Each Other’s Care, 250)
That happened to Janet. If she had known her husband was having an ongoing affair for the last seven years, she could have left and found a different partner.
A traumatic experience caused by a betrayal requires the lying or unfaithful partner to handle the truth differently moving forward. Denying, defending, deflecting, dismissing, continuously lying, or gaslighting* intensifies the PTSD the partner is already experiencing.
*The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” in which the main character, played by Ingrid Bergman, is tricked by her husband into thinking she is going insane. When the wife says she sees the gaslights dim after the husband searches for hidden jewels in the attic, he convinces her she is just imagining it. In addition, he tells her she has done things she didn’t do. Gaslighting refers to any attempts to shift blame, deflecting the lie and refocusing on something else.
Instead, the partner who has committed the betrayal needs to stop what they are doing (for example, having an affair or keeping secrets), completely own their past actions, and patiently rebuild the trust again by being open, truthful and forthcoming with all information.
Lying or withholding the complete truth causes long-term damage, particularly when the behaviour is chronic. Omissions lead to further suspiciousness from our partners because we have proven to them that we are not courageous or grown-up enough to face potentially unpleasant conversations.
If you recognize yourself as conflict-avoidant, be gentle and compassionate with yourself because you have most likely learned that you are only lovable when you are fulfilling the expectations of others. Hence, you have learned not to “rock the boat” and to comply or avoid compliance rather than facing hard conversations. Conflict avoidance is perfectly understandable and quite common. However, your partner likely experiences you as not fully trustworthy or non-collaborative. Decide to work on having healthy conflicts and trust your partner to understand that this change won’t happen from one day to the next.
Lying or omitting the full truth has long-term damaging effects on our partnership because it erodes trust. It also means we cannot experience being accepted and loved for who we are. Only truth and transparency allow us to be fully ourselves. As adults, we can stand up to another person without any danger. Between loving grown-ups, transparency is about interdependence. Two confidants require the same information to function as a team. It is also about safety, trust and valuing the unit over independent actions. Or as Tatkin says, “What’s the point of partnership if you are going to be a solo player?” (Stan Tatkin, In Each Other’s Care, 250)
On my YouTube channel, you will find further relationship tips.
To learn more about recognizing and changing your relational patterns reach out for a complimentary Zoom consultation.