Honesty vs. Brutal Honesty
There is a lot of talk these days about honesty. I sometimes hear teachers say, “above all, speak your truth” or “secrets are the enemy of intimacy.”
While it’s true that keeping secrets from your partner will create distance and harm the relationship, it’s not necessarily clear what counts as a secret, and what is simply kinder to leave out of a conversation.
Furthermore, “speaking you truth” can be liberating and purely without agenda, but it can also be a disguise for vomiting all your ‘stuff’ onto your partner without taking responsibility for yourself.
Here’s an example:
You come home from work and your partner, who is engaged in a project, doesn’t say hello to you. You feel hurt and assume your partner doesn’t care.
In an effort to speak what’s on your mind and not keep secrets from your partner, you say,
You clearly don’t care about this relationship because you are ignoring me
This is, after all, what you are thinking.
But this is not honesty. This is brutal honesty.
Brutal honesty is accusatory, and loaded with emotion, assumptions and blame.
Honesty is vulnerable and responsible. Here’s an example of honest truth-speaking in the same scenario:
Wow, I just observed that when you didn’t say hello to me when I walked in I felt hurt, sad and confused. Then I thought, ‘you do not care about me.’ I understand that these thoughts escalated from my feeling hurt and I take responsibility for that. I wanted to share my experience with you.
The second example of honesty is mature and truly in service of the relationship.
Brutal honesty can also come out as a disguised attempt at intimacy in another way. I’ve seen couples tell one another that they are attracted to someone else at a party, or that a particular colleague is more attractive to them than their partner. The couple has, with good intentions, agreed to a policy of “complete honesty without secrets,” believing that such a policy will “bring them closer together.”
I’m sorry, but this kind of behavior does not build trust and strengthen the relationship. It is unkind, manipulative and breeds suspicion and insecurity in the relationship.
Here, let me break it down for you even more:Honesty… Brutal Honesty…
- Is used to foster intimacy + connection • Is used to quell anxiety
- Holds paradox + multiple truths • Is always very black and white
- Requires adult maturity • Indicates lower developmental stages
- Is specific • Contains sweeping generalizations
- Is clear and free of projections • Contains projections
- Is asking if feedback is welcome • Is giving unsolicited advice
- Is explicit • Is covert and subtly manipulative
- “When I observed your action, I felt sad.” • “You made me sad.”
- “I’m feeling angry right now.” • “You are an asshole.”
- Is in service of the relationship • Is always selfish
- Is always healing even when challenging • Is always hurtful, even if the hurt is not immediately known
With care (and good practices), we can thrive in our relationships and live in love. Love is not a mysterious fairy tale we hope and wait for… it’s born from cultivating practical wisdom and healing — and applying them with diligence.Yours in Health, Lesley