We hear a lot about honesty in relationships but what does that really mean? Do you have to share everything? And how do you share your truth so the other person listens and doesn’t become defensive? Today I’m teaching you my top three tips for being honest so you can build trust in a relationship.
Let’s Talk About Trust in a Relationship
Before we talk about how to be more honest in your relationships, we need to talk about how that relates to building trust in your relationships.
I’ve written previously about something I call the Trust Triad because there are basically three components that create trust in a relationship.
The Three Components of Trust in a Relationship
Competency in any relationship is huge. Does the other person do what they say they will successfully and efficiently? This is being competent. Do they follow through? Do they show up on time? Do you believe that they can do the things they promise or commit to? In other words, can they do the job of being your partner, friend, or coworker?
We build the competency leg of the Trust Triad by taking things on and following through. We do it by not letting the little things slip through the cracks. We also build this by not saying yes to everything. When we say yes to everything, we can’t do it all. It’s important to commit to a smaller number of things and do them consistently well. This is when I talk about getting help as much as possible. When there’s too much on our plate, things slide, and we try to be everything to everyone, so competency fades.
The second factor, goodwill, is all about you believing that the other person has your best interest at heart and that they care about you as a person, not just the role you fulfill. We tend to build this side of the Trust Triad as we express compassion and empathy for other people’s feelings. It’s when we stop and give our full attention, listen well and ask specific questions. It’s when we approach things as a “we” problem, not a “you” problem.
Now we get to what we’re talking about today because this third component of trust – integrity – is all about honesty. Are they saying something so you won’t get upset? Are they trying to manipulate you to get their way or avoid a conflict? Are they saying they feel one way, but you think they really feel another? Are they telling you outright lies consistently? We build up this facet of the Trust Triad by speaking our true feelings – by being willing to have those harder conversations and not brushing everything under the rug. We do this by speaking as truthfully as possible, all the time – especially about the little things.
You’ve got to work on all three of these components, but today we’re going to dive deep into that third leg, integrity and honesty.
Define “Honesty” Please
Honesty in your relationships is really about authenticity and transparency. When you’re being honest in a relationship it means you’re straightforward and say what you really think and feel. It means you don’t willfully omit or misdirect others. There’s no manipulation with true honesty.
True honesty is always from a loving heart and a willingness to be open and vulnerable.
Honesty is not brutal honesty. Being honest isn’t an excuse to criticize or berate your partner. Brutal honesty is fear-based and is usually some form of lashing out. When you say, “I need to be really honest with you..” it’s usually in an accusing tone. You might say, “I’m going to be really honest with you – you’re always dominating the conversation when we go out and everybody hates it.” That’s not honesty to me. Honesty would be saying, “I get really uncomfortable with how you act when we’re out with our friends and end up feeling embarrassed because I think it’s a reflection on me.”
Honesty isn’t just about saying everything you think and feel. The goal of honesty is to be closer to others, so you need to communicate in a way others can receive so you can build trust and intimacy.
Honesty in any relationship means you stop avoiding certain conversations and get real with yourself about why you’re avoiding in the first place. Honesty means you tell others about the real you so you can be yourself in your relationships.
I’m going to be speaking about how to be more honest today because that’s how you build trust. When you don’t share your true feelings, your partner knows and picks up on the incongruence between what you’re saying and the energy you’re putting off. They can tell you’re upset but you say you’re fine, so they stop trusting what you say. At some point, when you say you love them, they start to doubt that too. They start to doubt a lot of things when they can’t believe what you’re saying, and your trust disintegrates.
Why We’re Not Honest
Most people avoid honesty because of some fear-based thought:
You’re not honest with your mom about how you always feel put down by her because you’re afraid of hurting her feelings
You’re not honest with your partner about needing more time because you don’t want to appear needy or clingy
You’re not honest with your partner because you’re worried they’ll leave you or not respect you anymore
You’re not honest because you’re afraid nothing will change and then you’d have to leave
Top Three Tips for Being More Honest So You Can Build Trust in a Relationship
1. What’s Your Motive?
Think about why you’re sharing something before you speak! This means that you have to up your mindfulness game! If you’re not being mindful and aware of yourself in a moment, you won’t have that pause before you speak. In other words, you’re more likely to react instead of act.
Indian Spiritual Master Shirdi Sai Baba says this:
“Before you speak, think: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”
Honesty needs to come from love. It should be tender, thoughtful and compassionate. Brutal or even rigorous honesty is fear-based and has no place in a love relationship.
2. Share Feelings, Not Thoughts
Being honest is about sharing what you feel, not your judgments or thoughts about things. It’s about sharing your true feelings, not your reactions. Our true feelings are usually under our initial reactions.
For example, your partner might say something that upsets you and you lash out in anger. Yes, anger is a feeling, but what’s underneath that? Anger, resentment, frustration and impatience are “top” feelings and often reactionary ones. You want to give yourself a moment and dig down to what’s under those feelings to get to the real ones. What’s really happening when your partner upset you is that you’re feeling abandoned by them. It seems like they don’t have your back or you’re feeling sad and alone and not like a team.
It’s easy to be angry or resentful. What’s harder is to get to your real fears. But that’s what’s honest. And that’s what will build trust.
As I said earlier, the reason for honesty in a relationship is to deepen our connection and trust with another person but we don’t connect with thoughts – we connect with feelings. It’s when we’re sharing our feelings and being vulnerable that we strengthen and deepen our connections. So, take a moment (or two or three) and identify what you’re truly feeling about whatever it is that you want to share.
3. Listen Well
When we’re honest with someone it also means that we’re ready to honestly listen to any feedback or comments they might make. It means we keep that same loving intent as we receive information back. Again, you’re being honest to build trust in your relationship and that means that communication is a two-way street.
It’s important to learn how to listen without getting defensive or hurt so you can build trust both ways in your relationships.
Can’t I Keep Anything Private, Abby?
I don’t advocate telling your partner everything – that’s what best friends are for. I think there are many feelings people have that are better discussed with a therapist (or best friend) first so you can get to the real issue of what’s going on. I’ve had many clients who came to me upset about something their partner is doing only to find that it’s linked to their own issues and, once they dealt with those, they didn’t feel the need to even speak to their partners about it.
As with everything, you’ve got to check into your feelings about why you’re not sharing something with your partner. Is it from love or fear? Are you worried about their reaction and that’s why you’re not telling them how you feel?
Just make sure it’s a boundary, not a secret.