Honesty: The Key to a Good Relationship?

A coaching client recently told me, "I'm convinced if two people are totally honest, they can be married." As a dating coach for midlifers, I hear from a lot of folks who are dating. I also stay current with the dating scene on the Internet, and read the profiles people write. Men often say that "honesty" is crucial for a relationship, while women rarely do. Let's take a look at this.

First I'm going to speculate as to why men say this and women don't, and then I want to talk about the place of honesty in a relationship.

As we know from research, and such books as "If Men Could Talk: Unlocking the Secret Language of Men," (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316178683/susandunnmome-20 ), by Alon Gratch, Ph.D., men, as a rule, have more trouble verbalizing emotions, something most of us would also agree is crucial to an intimate relationship. Not that we need to talk about emotions all the time, but that it's necessary to know what you feel and to be able to communicate it when necessary. It becomes particularly important when the relationship meets an impasse. You need to what the problem really is. Are you picking on her about her outfit because you haven't had sex in 4 days? Are you accusing him of ignoring you all the time, when really he does a fair job most of the time, but tonight you're hungry and tired?

According to Emotional Intelligence research, men and women test the same overall, but men, on average, are not as empathic as women (Reuven BarOn). Simon-Baron, Cambridge professor of psychology and psychiatry agrees. His thesis in "The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain," (a http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0738208442/susandunnmome-20 ) is: "The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems."

Of course the "average" man, statistically speaking, is not necessarily the individual sitting in front of you. But where there's smoke there's fire.

So why the male emphasis on "honesty"? And are they referring to honesty about thoughts, feelings, facts, or what? If what we're being honest about is "the truth," how we feel is indisputable, and many facts are, but the truth of any given situation is relative, most of us would agree, or our relationships would not become the imbroglios they do

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith does a great job or portraying marriage, and beings with him saying they've been married 5 years, and her saying "6". If there's an absolute truth ("reality"), it's of little use in human relations.

Men engage more in what's called "selective remembering." He remembers the games he won, not the games he lost. He remembers when to change the oil in the car, but not his girl-friend's birthday. Selective listening may be part of it. He hears that the prime rate has gone down, but not that you'd like more time with him. I couldn't help wonder if this client would hear "honesty" if it were given.

"Honesty", I think, is a systems-word. Women, in their profiles, are more likely to focus on behaviors. "No philanderers," they say, and "no addicts." You see the difference . if he's unfaithful and honest about it , they're still not interested. Doh.

Women use language to connect, and are more hard-wired for emotion. They enjoy experiencing it and talking about it, while men consider emotions a call to discharge by action. They are not as likely to use a verbal strategy to deal with a feeling.

Women have a larger corpus callosum, so it's easier for us to talk about emotions. TALKING about a FEELING is multi-tasking, and one of the hardest things we ask our brains to do.

Women also say thousands more words a day than men do. Testosterone causes silence. Men talk about facts and want clarity and brevity. Women also, according to Reuven Bar-on, have a greater sense of social responsibility. Does this preclude honesty? When we meet for lunch, we greet each other as Nancy, and Kelly, and Meg. Men? Fatso, and Stupid and Loser. Are men being more "honest"? If so, are they being less socially responsible, i.e., not caring if they hurt the other guy's feelings? I can't imagine a man's feelings being hurt by that, yet no woman would greet another woman with Big Butt, Drama Queen, or Boobless Wonder, though they might think it.

Would being 100% honest insure the survival of a relationship? No. The person might be "honest" about the fact that they could not live with you any more and were filing for divorce. Do men say this because they're attempting to systemize, with rules? Or because they've found women to be "dishonest"?

I've heard more than one man say, "I don't know why she left me. I thought we had a perfect marriage. (Women divorce men more often than vice versa.) Variations include, "She was deceptive. I didn't know anything was wrong," and "She told me why she was leaving, but it doesn't make any sense." A plea for "honesty" might be a plea for comprehensibility.

A female client told me she told her man, "I love but, you I don't like you right now." He said she was being dishonest, "because you can't be both at once". It didn't fit his system or either/or. Honesty, I think, or the reporting of it, requires clear, logical thinking. Who's clear and logical when fighting with a lover? Or listening to one?

If you're a man, are you listening, as in hearing? This means hearing the feelings, not assessing the facts. If you're a woman, are you being clear? Women tend to know sooner when a relationship is headed for trouble and attempt to address it. If you're a man, are you hearing this as "being told what to do"?

I think this plea from men for honesty is a wish to be able to understand the woman they love (and themselves in the relationship). They want facts and clarity. However, to understand others, you must first understand yourself, and this means feelings. Honesty, alas, begins at home.

As a concept that I believe is both unachievable and potentially destructive, I tend to agree with Graham Greene: "The truth has never been of any real value to any human being - it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations, kindness and lies are worth a thousands truths." It is nearly impossible for me to outright lie, about either a fact or a feeling, but I will at times do what the Arabs propose: "It is good to know the truth, but it is better to speak of palm trees." Discretion is the better part of valor.

There's something else to consider about being honest: Whether it's true or not, it's true. As John Lilly said, "In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true either is true or becomes true."

Now, what about total honesty between two people? Kindness may be of more value. Honesty should not be used as the weapon it can be. One of the cruelest things we can do is to use an intimate revelation against the person who said it. We know how to hurt the people we love. It's part of our obligation as a decent human beings not to do this. "Better a lie that heals than a truth that wounds," say the Czechs.

Should you be honest about your feelings? Yes . but. Let's say he wants sex and you don't. It's one thing to say, "I don't feel like it now. I had a terrible day at work," and even possible to say, "Not until you've taken a shower and put on some deodorant." But to say, "No, you're the worst lover I've ever had, and like you were saying about your ex-wife the other night ." That sort of "honesty" is inexcusable, and, if not true, soon will be.

There's no easy solution to this. I researched the world's proverbs on this subject we all struggle with. Most were in the vein of "Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages." (African). The Corsicans stood out: "He who tells the truth will never be unhappy," they say. Maybe the answer lies in the Arab proverb: "When you shoot an arrow of truth, dip its point in honey."

An intimate relationship isn't a system, it's a dance, and the music is emotions. Developing your EQ is essential, so you can learn to know, manage and express your emotions better, and to practice the competency of forgiveness, which will always be needed.

Sometimes the most honest thing you can say is, "I don't know what to say now," and the most helpful thing you can say is, "I love you." And keep in mind, to paraphrase Thomas Leonard, we're all doing our very best, even when clearly we're not.

Not what are you going to say, honestly, to your loved one when she says, "Does my butt look fat in these pants?" and when he says, "Am I a good lover?" You can always got to a feeing, and here are some: I feel uncomfortable when you ask me that. I'm wondering why you ask. I love you. Let's talk about what you're really wanting to know.

'Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc . Coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. We coach and train EQ coaches internationally. Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for information on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program, arranged to fit your schedule. Coaching is the ideal profession. Email for FREE EQ ezine.

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