Why do we lie or hide in intimate partnerships, and what can we do about it?

Why do we lie or hide in intimate partnerships, and what can we do about it?

(Adapted from Indivisible)

Reimagining Intimacy: Telling the Truth to One Another.  To create lasting real relationships, both people need to be honest and transparent about what they need and what they want, or to be able to openly explore their needs and wants with their partner. A relationship in which two people can talk about their differences, and  learn to love what is real in each other is miraculously freeing. A great relationship creates a climate that invites this level of dialogue and self-revelation.  But so many times people lie, or hide, instead.  So, why is that?  After reviewing the social and psychological literature on lying, there are two core drivers:  one,  the need to not upset other people or to avoid conflict, and two, the need to have the approval of other people.

When we are in the “hide the suffering” or the lying camp, we have to wear masks. Eventually, the gap between what’s presented to others and the underlying reality becomes so wide that any bond with another becomes highly breakable. Wouldn’t it be easier if we were able to tell the truth about our inner lives, to help each other get clear on the values that drive each us? After all, it’s not our masks people want; it’s authenticity.  An honest, transparent relationship feels good in the body. It feels clear and somehow safer when people tell the truth about themselves, even if its not easy to hear. It’s our job to learn to let others tell their truths without reacting. To let them have their experience even if we wish it to be different.

For many of us, feeling exposed, even to the people to whom we are closest, is very uncomfortable if we don’t love what is inside ourselves. If we can’t love our own dark sides, shadows or broken places, we will never allow others to see them—and we won’t be able to love others in theirs, either. Even if we aren’t forthcoming about those shadow sides, our partners will probably intuit what they are, maybe even calling us out on them. When our partners name the things we cannot accept in ourselves, it’s all too easy to become resentful.

Hiding our truth is learned over a lifetime.  Voicing our shadows, inner conflicts and our complexities at one time or another is likely to have been met with anger, scorn, withdrawal or other forms of punishment.  In this way, we learn over time to hold back on discussing those aspects of ourselves, even with our most intimate partners. On the flipside, if someone does tell us their truth, and we shame them again, we reinforce the hiding habit.  If we want authenticity and revelation, when our friends share themselves with us, we must accept their truth and not argue, bargain, wheedle, cajole, shame, or in any other way punish them for offering it to us. If a friend tells us a tiny slice of their reality that isn’t so appealing to us, and we react unfavorably, their tender shoot of truth telling is squashed.

Our inability to hear other’s truths generally stems from our own expectations. Holding people up to our expectations is a recipe for disaster; it produces only disappointment and bitterness. In my case, I wanted my partner to be steady and stable, and when he wasn’t I felt scorn rise up in me.  It was my attachment to my desires that were at the root of this suffering, not the situation itself. When I stop faulting people for the things they cannot do, spaciousness opens up in the relationship, and in my heart.

Everybody is doing the best that they can at any given moment.  That is a radical concept, but try it on for size. Given any unique set of experiences, values, needs, skills, awareness of their own choice and impact, each person is always making the best choice in the moment. Even if these choices don’t appear to be “good” ones, I can have compassion and understanding; when someone makes a destructive choices, it indicates that he or she is still informed by old pain, or there is another, more dominant value that is being upheld.  No matter what, there is never a case when someone’s whole being is evil or unworthy of love.

Here’s another revelation: We can love people where they are, even if we don’t agree with their behavior. After all, we react to the same circumstances in different ways; behaviors can have multiple meanings to different people. What if we didn’t project meaning? What if we just love our partner anyway? How about that?

We can’t make another person do what we want or expect. We can never know another’s mind fully— character, fears, life arc. And so, out of respect for that person’s self-knowledge, even if we want something different, we love them anyway. If someone is not showing up in a way that feels good to me, I let that person be where he is and move on, without taking it personally. This narrative around choosing to love others where they are flies in the face of the grasping, needy, transactional relating that is so often present.

Stepping out of the path. Loving someone and accepting him or her, doesn’t mean you have to be a victim. You can still move out of harm’s reach. If the behavior is truly egregious, eventually you can learn to say, “I see that you lie and you cheat, and I can have compassion for the things that make you do that, but it’s really poor behavior and it makes me uncomfortable. So I am going to avoid situations in which I can be impacted by that lying and cheating. But I won’t close my heart.” If I close my heart because someone doesn’t behave in the way I expect, or desire, in the way that I think they should, then it hurts me, as well. I create my own suffering.

These days I try to let people be where they are and avoid arguing with their stated needs, even those needs are baffling. I try to say something to the effect of, “I can love you. I don’t have to be attached to your life on a daily basis, but I can see you for who you are and love you right there. I don’t have to be your closest (friend/wife/lover/business partner), but I can love you anyway.” That, after all, is how I long to be treated.

If we love people, we love them all the time. That’s because we accept all of them – even the parts we don’t like. We allow our love to be like a steady shining sun, even when the clouds are between us and another, the sun is still shining.

Next: Practicing telling our truths.  


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