Connie could tell something was wrong. Her boyfriend of 5 years seemed more distant but denied anything was going on. When she asked what was wrong, he said everything was fine. Then one day she found a stack of papers he had left out on the counter. The papers were a new rental agreement he had just signed for an apartment in another city. He had not mentioned he was planning to move out and he wasn’t moving to their dream city, Chicago. Why would he rent an apartment, especially without telling her?
When Connie confronted him, he said he rented the apartment to be closer to work. But as Connie told me more details of their recent interactions and his behaviors it became clear to both of us that he was leaving the relationship. At one point during my conversation with Connie she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I just wish he’d tell me the truth.”
The truth. What is the truth of the situation? It wasn’t clear to Connie, but she knew she wasn’t getting it. We could imagine if her boyfriend told her the truth, that he was breaking up with her, it would be painful for both of them, in a big way. Once we could imagine how painful it would be, we also knew that telling the truth could be too hard for him to say and too hard for her to hear. Most people have found themselves in situations like this at some point.
Was Connie’s boyfriend lying to her? We could definitely say he wasn’t being honest, but is that the same as lying? We all know lying is wrong. But is it always wrong? Should you tell the truth even if it is hard to say and you know it will upset someone? Isn’t hurting someone’s feelings wrong?
These are tough questions and there is quite a bit of material you could read on the topic and several ways to look at it. But at the end of the day and the end of all that reading, you could distill it all down into a few things to help you navigate these questions and each unique situation.
One of the first things to understand when it comes to being honest and telling the truth is the ways in which people lie.
Here is an excerpt from my book, Loved: Relationship Rules for Women Who Thought They Knew the Rules, about the three ways to lie:
Remember the oath taken by witnesses in every courtroom drama scene on television? “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” This simple oath covers all the ways we have of not telling the truth—three ways to lie.
The first type of lie is what you would call a bald-faced lie. It is covered by the first phrase of the oath: “tell the truth.” This is your standard lie of “I didn’t do it” when you did do it. The second type of lie is a lie of omission and is covered by the phrase “the whole truth.” This is the lie where you say you went to lunch with a friend, but failed to mention that the friend is your ex-boyfriend, which would upset your current boyfriend. Finally, the phrase “nothing but the truth” covers those statements that aren’t lies but are designed to divert your attention from the truth. This is when, rather than admit that you didn’t get a particular task done, you redirect attention to three tasks you actually did complete.
Coming back to Connie and her boyfriend, we established that he’s not being honest, but is he lying? Yes, he is. He is leading Connie to believe something that isn’t true. He’s doing that by omitting important information and he may also be telling her things that are misdirecting her attention. We don’t know the specifics of their dynamic and who is saying what, so we are left to our imagination.
Why would he lie to her, though? Maybe you can think of times in your own life when you have lied. What has motivated you to be less than truthful?
Below are four reasons people lie. Which of these reasons do you think is motivating Connie’s boyfriend?
While we don’t know exactly what is motivating Connie’s boyfriend to lie, we can imagine he is trying to lessen the impact of a hurtful truth on Connie; he’s lying because of his expectation of what the truth will do to Connie. But, even if his motivation is to protect Connie from the hard reality of the truth, Connie mostly just wants to know the truth.
It is especially hard, to tell the truth when believe we have to say it out loud. While saying the truth to another person can be helpful and even beneficial, it isn’t always necessary. What is necessary is your ability to tell yourself the truth. In the case where reality doesn’t match up with what you are trying to achieve or create, the truth can be particularly difficult to bear. That’s because once you are honest with yourself about the current state of affairs, that honesty may pull for a particular course of action you don’t feel ready to take.
For example, let’s imagine you want to be an artist and you spend your days in an office. You have a solid job and work with people you like. You even like your job to some extent because you are helpful to others. But your heart wants to paint. You feel this desire every day. However, you believe that being an artist means you’ll be poor and for this reason, you stay at your office job and don’t paint. You tell yourself life is better this way, you are being responsible, you can’t make money as an artist so why bother.
Similarly, if you are in a relationship that doesn’t serve you, it’s hard to tell yourself that truth because it could mean you would feel a need to leave the relationship.
If you are a person who strives to be authentic, you need to be in touch with the reality of the situation and tell yourself the truth—your truth. Is your job unfulfilling? Is your relationship on the rocks? Do you like where you live? What is your truth? Once you tell yourself your truth, you open yourself up for possibilities you may not have known existed.
If you are trying to achieve or create something, but aren’t honesty with yourself about the current reality, you will be thwarted at (nearly) every turn. How much progress can you make on a project if you aren’t willing to do an honest assessment of what still needs to be done and how you are going to accomplish the work? The same goes for creating the life and relationships you want. If you aren’t able to be honest about where you are with respect to your goal, you won’t be able to make progress toward your goal.
Telling the truth to others
Sometimes you just have to the truth out loud to another person. But doing so can be rather daunting, especially if you are concerned about how they are going to react. While there are no magic words to manage the other person’s reaction, there are ways to communicate that maximize your ability to get your point across and minimize the chances of upsetting the other person. Although some messages are just plain upsetting and no word-smithing can make the message easier to bear, how you communicate difficult messages can make all the difference in how your message is received.
I frequently help my clients craft messages so they get their point across in their own words, in a way that is direct and respectful of everyone involved. In Connie’s case, we crafted a message that helped her have a conversation with her boyfriend that led to him telling her the truth—he was breaking up with her. It was hard for him to say and hard for her to hear, but she told me it was better than not knowing.
If you’ve had situations come up where it is hard to communicate something important, you might benefit from learning more about how to authentically speak your truth. With a little background on principles of communication and a template to follow, it isn’t hard to craft your own message.
To help you out, I’ve created an Effective Assertive Communication Guide that walks you through the Six Principles of Effective Communication, your rights in relationships, and how to communicate assertively (not passively or aggressively). The Guide even helps you create a script you can use the next time you have something important you need to say.
Download the Guide today. As added support, if you have questions while you are going through the guide, join my Facebook group Creating Soulful Relationships and ask your question(s) there.