We all lie to our partner on occasion — and sometimes, that's totally OK.
"Honesty is certainly a virtue, but there are times when complete honesty can actually do more harm than good," said Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a marriage and family therapist.
Of course, no one's condoning a sweeping policy of flat-out fibbing. As a general rule of thumb, before you lie, ask yourself how your partner would feel if they found out you didn't tell the truth, suggested Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW, a licensed therapist, and relationship specialist. All lies — even small ones — can snowball over time into bigger issues. (Find out 5 ways relationship experts keep their own marriages strong.)
So when is it OK — and when's it not OK — to stretch the truth in a healthy relationship? Read on to find out. (Want to strengthen your relationship and pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get sex tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox!)
OK: If you don’t like his new shirt
So, his homemade chicken Parmesan wasn't exactly Michelin-star quality. Or maybe you hate the new shirt he's so excited about. Feel free to keep these inconsequential thoughts to yourself, Hokemeyer says. In cases like these — where you might unnecessarily end up hurting his feelings — it's OK to be less than honest. Besides, he cooked! Don't ruin this for yourself. (You can also lift your partner up with any these 9 perfect compliments.)
Not OK: If it’s money-related
There's an old joke about wives leaving their shopping bags in the car and only bringing them in the house after their husbands went out. You know, so they wouldn't know about the purchases. But many experts, including Monica O'Neal, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, argue that it's best to bring 'em in and be open about what you bought. Conversations about money should always be truthful, she says. "There is much emotion attached to sharing something you've worked hard for like money. It requires a deeper sense of trust. If one partner feels taken advantage or lied to, it be corrosive to a marriage," O'Neal said.
Not OK: If it has to do with the kids
If your son tells you something only to follow it with, "Don't tell Dad," it's best not to agree to those terms, O'Neal says. "I don't think you should lie about stuff with kids — even if kids ask you to. Parents should be a united front." If you don't feel like you can be honest with your partner when it comes to your children, then that's worth exploring with a professional, O'Neal said. (These are 5 relationship problems therapists commonly see and how to fix them.)
OK: If they can’t handle the truth that very minute
Let's say your other half had a particularly bad week at work. You don't have to tell her the second she gets home that your daughter got waitlisted at her alma mater, Hokemeyer said.
Not sure when you should stay quiet? Hokemeyer suggested asking yourself, "Does this need to be said?" "Does it need to be said by me?" And, "Does it need to be said by me right now?" If the answer to any of those questions is no, don't feel bad about keeping the news to yourself for a little while.
Not OK: If it pertains to your family
Not that you ever ask, yet your mother still never hesitates to complain about your partner's habit of being "constantly late to every single thing" or "talking so much — does he ever draw breath?" It's important that you both know where you stand with each other's families — but you don't need to regurgitate every single word someone uses to describe someone else, O'Neal noted. That's just hurtful, not useful. Instead, try something a bit more vague like: "If my mom seems a little bit withdrawn today, it's probably just because of XYZ. I just wanted to give you the big picture, so you weren't out of the loop."
OK: The nitty-gritty details of girls’ night
If you only have eyes for your partner, there's no need to tell him about the good-looking guy who just so happened to buy drinks for you and your friends the other night, says O'Neal. (Unless, of course, he'd find the story entertaining — then tell away.) It's a fine line, though. If you constantly find yourself in situations that you feel you need to lie about or feel like you're omitting parts of your stories because you're worried your partner will be overly jealous, that could be a sign of a bigger systemic issue like emotional or physical abuse, O'Neal says. Any type of domestic abuse should be reported and discussed with a professional.
Not OK: Your sexual history
Your sexual history — including any diseases you've had or currently have and the last time you were tested for STIs — is something you should always be open and honest about, O'Neal said. Awkward as the conversation may feel, keeping your partner in the dark unfairly puts them at an increased risk.
OK: Past sexual escapades
Your S.O. likely knows how many people you've been with and a bit about your ex of five years, but that's about all they need to know when it comes to prior flings, O'Neal said. College spring break hookups or that one time you debated entering an amateur pole-dancing contest aren't must-share stories. "Marry someone you could tell that kind of stuff to and would think that it's funny," she says. "But when you're lucky enough to be with someone for a long time, they will have time to find stuff out if you want to tell them."