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Do you agree on when you should 'fess up?

Every month in our Love Life Lab Experiment, Sarah Abell invites you to improve your love life with small changes – this time, we're focusing on honesty

by Psychologies

How honest are you and your partner with each other? Whether it is wearing a new top and exclaiming ‘this old thing?’ when asked if it is new or lying over meeting up with an ex – are you in agreement about when you should own up or not?

Most of us, whether we are dating or in an established relationship, will have certain expectations as to when honesty is required, and when withholding the truth from each other is acceptable.

But according to some recent research, there is a fair chance that we are overestimating how much we agree with our partner about these ‘rules’. The truth is we can’t read our partner’s mind and therefore, if we want to know what they actually believe, then we need to assume less and ask more.

The theory

Two American researchers, Elise Roggensack and Alan Sillars, discovered that most of the couples they studied supported honesty and discouraged deception in their relationships. However, many of them overestimated their ability to predict their partner’s responses to certain statements pertaining to honesty.

So, it could well be that what you and your partner think is worthy of disclosure might not be the same. In their paper ‘Agreement and understanding about honesty and deception rules in romantic relationships’ (Sage, 2013) Roggensack and Sillars explain that couples who wrongly think that they agree with their partner often avoid conflict in the short term.

But the researchers also point out that this ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality can lead to ‘more intense conflict in the event that deception is uncovered’.

Try it out

What often happens is that we wait until one of our ‘rules’ is tested or broken before we reveal our expectations but if we value consensus in our relationship, then obviously it’s a good idea to talk about our beliefs in advance.

Below you will find a few of the statements from the study. Decide if you agree or disagree with them, and then see if you can guess your partner’s responses, too.

You might then want to have your partner read through them too, and see if you guessed right. Be warned though – disagreement could lead to some heated discussion! It is worth explaining what each statement means to you both, especially with the more ambiguous ones.

  • We should share everything about our relationship history.
  • It is OK to keep things private that are not damaging to the relationship.
  • My partner should tell me if they spend time with someone of the opposite sex.
  • We should disclose where we are financially.
  • My partner is not obliged to tell me anything.
  • Omitting details is all right if it is to avoid hurting my partner’s feelings.
  • My partner should tell me if they are facing problems and vice versa.

Sarah Abell is a relationships coach and the author of Inside Out – How To Build Authentic Relationships With Everyone In Your Life (Hodder, £8.99). Find out more at nakedhedgehogs.com. To buy her LifeLabs Practical Wisdom online course How to Save Your Relationship, please click here. You can try a free 3-day taster trial first too.

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