There’s a general consensus that honesty is key to a healthy relationship. Case in point: The 2015 Way We Are Now survey, which polled 6,000 people in the U.K., found that 70 percent of respondents value it over anything else— including communication, commitment, and even sexual attraction—when it comes to romantic success.
But are there ever times when fibbing might actually be better for your relationship?
“As a therapist, I don't generally suggest lying to your partner,” said relationship expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D., licensed clinical social worker, director of Wasatch Family Therapy, and author of “The Assertiveness Guide for Women.” “However, I do think there are situations where it is appropriate to lie or leave out details,” she said.
Here are the six of the most common things people tend to lie about in relationships (from small to pretty effing big), according to Hanks. Plus, her take on how important it is to be totally honest in each scenario:
1. Your Finances
“Whether it's ‘OK to lie’ really depends on the specifics of the situation,” Hanks said. “Lying (or withholding the details) about the fact that you went over budget on a new dress is different than not telling your partner that you have racked up $50,000 in credit card debt over the past year."
Ask yourself this: How much of an impact is this going to have on my relationship and on my partner's life? If the answer to that question is “a whole lot,” Hanks said, it’s important to tell the truth.
“If you both work and keep your accounts separate, and you each pay for half of the bills, then indulging in buying an amazing pair of shoes is more of a personal purchase,” she said. “But if you share an account and your agreement is that you will pool your money, and you get a significant raise but don’t disclose that so you can keep putting your old salary amount into your collective funds, that's really not OK to lie about.”
2. Where You’ve Been
“If you get up and tell your partner that you're going to work every day when in fact, you've been laid off for two months, that lie has the potential to severely damage trust,” Hanks said.
But if your partner asks why you're late getting home, and you share that you stopped to visit a sick friend, but leave out the fact that you stayed a little longer than necessary, that's OK.
"It's not a trust-breaker,” Hanks said.
If the line seems fuzzy, ask yourself whether your partner would feel betrayed or deceived by the details you left out. If the answer is yes, you should probably tell the truth.
3. Your Past Relationships
“If your partner is asking you about your past relationship and where and how you had sex with them, how good he was in bed, or how he compares to your ex in bed, it's OK to leave out the details and share more generalities,” Hanks said.
Ask yourself these questions before you respond: How relevant is this information to my current situation? Will this cause more closeness or distance in my current relationship? (Sidenote: If your partner remains overly curious or jealous about your past relationships, that should probably raise some red flags.)
4. Your Attraction to Someone Else
When it comes to being honest with your partner about your attraction to other people, it’s important to ask: What will be gained or lost by sharing this information?
“If you think a co-worker is kind of cute,” she said, “do you have to disclose that? I don't think so. But if you are having intense feelings for a co-worker and it's impacting your connection with your partner, that's probably a discussion to bring into the relationship—assuming you want to stay in your current relationship.”
5. Parenting Slip-Ups
In general, fibbing when it comes to parenting is a bad idea, but once again, the size and scope of the lie determine just how much of a bad idea it is.
“I don't think it's ever a good idea to go against the other parent's boundaries,” Hanks said. “That said, it's not the end of the world if you give a kid a cookie on the sly even though she hasn't finished her veggies, like the other parent requested. If something is an isolated incident, it's likely not a big deal."
When it comes to ongoing patterns of sabotaging the other parent's boundaries, though? Not cool.
In general, Hanks said you wouldn’t be doing your partner or your relationship any favors by lying or keeping an affair a secret. Even if it was “just a one-time thing,” it’s “really over,” or it “didn’t mean anything” for you emotionally and you’re worried that it will just hurt your partner to find out.
“Cheating is always tricky because there's a lot at stake,” Hanks said. “If you have actually slept with someone else, you've not only betrayed trust, but have put your spouse or partner's physical health at risk, too. STDs don't care if you have an emotional attachment to the person you're sleeping with or not.”
Telling the truth doesn’t mean getting into the nitty-gritty details of when and where you had sex, Hanks said. “That is not helpful information, even if the spouse or partner who was cheated on asks for specific details,” she said.
Instead, she said, “It's much more productive to have a conversation focused on understanding the meaning of the affair to the unfaithful partner and the impact on the relationship.”
The bottom line: Secrets impact relationships—period, Hanks said. “Even if your partner doesn't consciously know you've lied, you know it, and it will have some sort of effect,” she said. “You may find it more difficult to be vulnerable with you partner, or you may start withholding other information.”