Radical honesty in relationships is something I made up but think could be really valuable for people. It’s different from regular honesty because, instead of just telling the truth if someone asks you a direct question, it means always striving to be honest with your partner.
Definition of radical honesty
Radical honesty means:
Being honest with your partner even when you have no obligation to tell the truth, when there is no chance they will find out what’s happened, and you think they will actively dislike what they’ll hear. You believe that continuing intimacy and the health of your relationship depends on each of you building and maintaining a true and accurate picture of the other person and their inner world.
The concept of radical honesty in relationships is an idea that I had some time ago. I genuinely thought people would be really enthusiastic about it, but whenever I tell anyone, they disagree with me.
In fact, they bring up reasons why being honest is not so great.
“It will just make him insecure and I want to do it anyway”
“He won’t like it but I want to keep doing it anyway”
“It’ll avoid an argument if I don’t tell her”
“She doesn’t understand so I’m keeping it a secret”
These kinds of situations come up pretty regularly, but I hadn’t really noticed them before until I started thinking consciously about radical honesty.
I didn’t always believe in radical honesty. In the past, I believed in ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’, based on the unintentional moral lessons passed on to me by my father. Basically, if someone doesn’t ask you about it, you have no obligation to tell them. No harm done.
This opens the door up to all sorts of questionable behaviour, because no one goes around asking “Is there anything bad you’ve done that you know I won’t like that you want to tell me about?”
For the most part, I never really kept secrets from my partners in the past, but I’ve definitely done things I knew some people wouldn’t like.
Why it’s important
After a bad break up, I realised I needed to change the way I approached my next relationship. I promised myself that I would demand honesty from myself and my partner, no matter what happened, no matter what my mind told me to the contrary.
And the results were awesome!
Everyone deserves to know the truth, but I apply this principle most seriously to romantic partners because it’s a different sort of relationship. You share your life with a partner in a way that’s rare outside of romantic relationships (not that it’s not possible).
Relationships are a lot more emotionally threatening because attachment dynamics are the foundation of our psyche. What we learned in childhood plays out in our adult relationships, and it’s rarely pretty.
That’s why I believe radical honesty is an essential ingredient for proper emotional intimacy.
Why people avoid it
Many people don’t want to practice radical honesty because it’s scary.
Consequently, lying by omission seems very appealing for all sorts of reasons. We may not even realise that we’re doing it.
Perhaps this is because our rational mind tells us that this particular thing doesn’t matter. Our partner would be “better off” not knowing. This would be the sensible thing to do, and you’re doing them a favour! But, actually, it’s just a subconscious way of avoiding intimacy.
I’m not talking about cheating on someone or actively deceiving them. Pretty much everyone agrees these things are wrong (whether they practice what they preach is another matter).
This advice is for people who are basically decent partners, but who don’t always tell the truth when they could.
Why you should do it
Radical honesty means telling your partner the truth even if you think they won’t like it. You think that, if you were to tell them the truth, they would be very angry, sad, or even leave the relationship. In those instances, it’s even more important that you choose to tell them the truth.
If you don’t, you’re keeping them with you under false pretences. Plus, your perception of how the other person may react is usually exagerrated anyway.
Do you even really respect someone if you think they can’t handle something you have to tell them? Isn’t your choice of action basically saying you think they are too weak, egotistical or fragile to deal with you? And maybe your opinion is correct.
But if something you’ve done is that bad, or your partner is that intolerant, maybe you shouldn’t be in the relationship anyway.
Examples of radical honesty
So, for example, girls find themselves in a lot of situations when other people might try to come on to them (especially if alcohol is involved). If this happens, instead of just not telling your partner what happened because they might get jealous, just tell them anyway.
Or, if you’re getting to know a new romantic partner and you’ve previously done something you’re ashamed of, just tell them what it is and laugh about it. If they judge you, then you’ve had a lucky escape!
Maybe there’s something wrong in your relationship and you don’t want to tell the other person because they might feel hurt. Tell them anyway!
Even if you are just having a bad time with something, such as struggling with work and it’s making you feel ashamed, tell your partner. In fact, tell anyone!
Radical honesty can be applied by anyone, even if they’re not in a relationship.
Benefits of radical honesty
I believe that if someone genuinely loves you and is emotionally secure, they will try to find a way to come to terms with an unpleasant thing that you’ve told them.
And maybe their reaction will surprise you. I’ve practiced radical honesty in the past, thinking that it would end up in a stressful argument, and it actually prompted the other person to tell me something surprising about themselves.
I wouldn’t have found it out otherwise. The confession definitely improved our relationship. I felt happy because they trusted me enough to tell me something I might react badly to.
By being radically honest, you’re giving the other person permission to be radically honest. And that’s when intimacy flourishes.
When to stop
It’s possible to take radical honesty too far and make yourself really stressed. Everyone is entitled to privacy and I’m not saying that you have to tell your partner everything you do. That would be mad, and they’d get bored really quickly.
But everyone knows when there’s a nagging feeling at the back of your mind telling you your partner won’t like this. Instead of neglecting to mention it, make a point to tell them the next time you talk.
If you never talk to each other, that’s a problem!
I honestly have discovered only positive results from using radical honesty. I have never thought to myself, telling the truth has really damaged things between us. Instead of thinking that someone’s love for me is conditional based on pleasing circumstances, I now respect them (and myself) enough to honour them with the truth.
Catherine Heath is a freelance writer in software and marketing. She’s obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature.