Practicing radical honesty may help struggling couples


**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I have experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I have been dishonest in most of my relationships.

It was always out of fear: Fear of being rejected, fear of being hurt, or just general anxiety about the future.

I learned how to omit and distort the truth by watching the people around me. As a child, I would see my parents tip-toe around certain topics (money, feelings, unpopular opinions), and I thought that was normal.

Being honest wasn’t something I practiced regularly until I was over 40 years old.

It began with little things, like being honest about my feelings when my partner did something that upset me. It was challenging to do, but it led to some of the most productive conversations I’ve ever had in a relationship.

From there, I slowly started opening up about bigger things, like my fears and insecurities. It was scary but led to a much deeper intimacy with my partner.

Now, honesty is something that I value above almost anything else in a relationship. And I’ve seen firsthand how radical honesty can transform even the most flailing of relationships.

But when we think about being honest with our partner, we usually focus on the big things, like fidelity and finances. But what about the more minor things, like always being truthful about how we’re feeling or admitting when we’re wrong?

Radical honesty is a concept that goes beyond simply being honest with your partner; it’s about being honest with yourself, first and foremost. It’s about being willing to dig deep, examine your thoughts and feelings, even if they’re ugly or painful, and share them with your partner without judgment or fear.

Sounds pretty scary, right? That’s because it is. But the rewards of practicing radical honesty in your relationship can be transformative.

Why do we lie to those we love?

Most people regularly lie to their romantic partners, whether about little white lies or more significant deceptions. But why do we do it? Usually, we’re afraid of how our partner will react if we tell the truth. We’re so scared of being judged, rejected, or even abandoned.

Through the lens of self-preservation, honesty makes no sense. Why would we choose to be honest if we know our honesty might lead to negative consequences? The answer is simple: the rewards of radical honesty are worth the risks.

“You likely tell yourself that you’re lying or withholding to avoid causing others pain or worry. In truth, it’s typically our own painful feelings we try to avoid. Paradoxically, lies told to make things easier have the opposite effect. Half-truths and omissions create a wedge in relationships that block intimacy.” — Tonya Lester LCSW, Psychology Today

Here are five ways that radical honesty can help to improve and transform your flailing relationship:

Be More Authentic With Yourself

The first step to being radically honest with your partner is to be authentic with yourself. This means being honest about your thoughts, feelings, desires, and fears, even if you’re afraid of what they might mean or how your partner might react. Only by being authentic with yourself can you hope to be real with someone else.

Improve Communication

Once you’ve become more authentic, it will be much easier to communicate openly and honestly with your partner. This means sharing not just the good stuff but also the bad stuff without judgment or fear. It also means listening to your partner’s words without getting defensive or trying to come up with a rebuttal quickly.

“Radical honesty usually requires tact. You can still be honest while having tact.” — Marty Nemko Ph.D., Psychology Today

Resolve Conflicts More Quickly and Easily

Since you’ll communicate more openly and honestly with your partner, resolving conflicts as they arise will become more manageable. This is because you’ll be able to get to the root of the problem more quickly and efficiently, without all of the guesswork or mind reading that usually goes into trying to figure out what’s going on with your partner.

Feel Closer to Your Partner

By sharing everything — the good, the bad, and the ugly — with your partner, you’ll feel closer to them than ever before. This is because you’ll know they accept you for who you are, warts and all; they don’t expect you to be perfect and are willing to work through the tough times alongside you.

“Talking, even if it doesn’t solve the problem right away, allows you and your partner to understand each other, empathize, and create a plan about the direction you want to head in together. Speaking up, especially when it’s hard to do so, will either vastly improve your relationship or bring all the cracks up to the surface where you can deal with them.” — Tonya Lester LCSW, Psychology Today

Rebuild Trust

If trust has been broken in your relationship — whether it’s due to infidelity or simply a lack of communication — radical honesty can help to repair the damage and rebuild trust between you and your partner. This is because trust is built on a foundation of openness and transparency; you’ll lay the groundwork for rebuilding trust in your relationship by sharing everything, no matter how difficult.

As a bonus, radical honesty gives you a more positive and realistic view of the relationship since you no longer see it through rose-colored glasses. This can be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s much healthier for you and your relationship.

Honesty vs. Sharing EVERYTHING

For the record, being radically honest does not mean sharing every thought, idea, feeling, or experience with your partner. That would be way too much information and would likely overwhelm them (and bore them to death).

Instead, focus on being honest about the important stuff: your thoughts and feelings about the relationship, your needs and wants your fears and concerns. This is the stuff that matters and will help to improve and transform your relationship.

What if radical honesty doesn’t work?

There’s always the possibility that practicing radical honesty in your relationship won’t have the desired effect. Being honest is a gamble, and the stakes are high. You run the risk of your partner being unable to handle the truth or of them responding in a hurtful way to you or the relationship.

But sometimes, the reason that radical honesty fails is a bit more complicated than that. Honesty is often used to control and manipulate rather than create space for a deeper connection. In these cases, radical honesty is just another parlor trick to move out of discomfort as quickly as possible.

Being radically honest is not about controlling the outcome. It’s about relating and connecting with your partner from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. If you can do that, you’re well on your way to transforming your relationship for the better.

“The instinct to lie is rooted in self-preservation. This is understandable but misguided. In all of our relationships, speaking up is the only way we get our needs addressed. Staying silent, and not allowing others to know what you’re experiencing, whittles away at your sense of self. Your needs matter too.” — Tonya Lester LCSW, Psychology Today

The Bottom Line

If you’re tired of feeling like your relationship is stuck in a rut, it might be time to try something new — something radical. Honesty is always the best policy, but it can be challenging to put into practice when it comes to relationships.

Radical honesty is not for the faint of heart; it takes courage, vulnerability, and the willingness of both partners to dig deep and examine their thoughts and feelings. But if you’re willing to put in the work, radical honesty can help to improve and transform struggling relationships.

Do you practice radical honesty in your relationship? What are some of the benefits you’ve experienced? Share in the comments.

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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