Photo: Getty Images
Once upon a single time, a man I met told me a story that I can only assume from his tone he thought was the absolute height of hilarity. His then-girlfriend had done something that annoyed him so he took her toothbrush, dipped it into the toilet and then replaced it on the bathroom counter. (I’m not sure why he didn’t learn from Seinfeld that his dastardly plan of revenge would also cause him to suffer if they engaged in any future make out sessions. Fool.) We each have our own personal barometer of betrayal and for me giving your love interest literal potty mouth then not mentioning it definitely crosses the line.
So does lying always ruin a relationship? How much honesty do you practise and require from your partner? The recently released book The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship found that lying to your partner was exceedingly common with nearly three quarters of people telling fibs to their significant other. And it wasn’t just the relationships in decline that practised deceit, 69 per cent of respondents who were in “extremely happy couples” said they’ve lied at some point to their partners.
This doesn’t surprise me as I believe white lies do have an important place in healthy relationships. When it comes to lying there seems to me to be two quite separate groups: lying about opinions and lying about facts. Lying about opinions comes in response to things like “Is everything going to turn out alright?” or “Is this poorly mixed cake I baked terrible?” Frankly when I ask these questions I don’t want the unvarnished truth, I want to be told “No, the lumps of icing sugar are like explosions of deliciousness – gold star for you!” I think a good partner should be there to prop you up in times of insecurity or vulnerability, and if that takes a little white lying I’m completely okay with that.
We’ve all had or heard from friends about those brutally honest partners, the ones that decide right when you’re mid-sexing is the appropriate time to mention they think you’ve gained a bit of weight. And the worst part is those people hide their nastiness and cruelty under the guise of “honesty” like they deserve some sort of national medal for spewing forth every mean thought in their head instead of biting their tongue like the rest of us. We’re usually our own harshest critics so to have those negative thoughts reinforced by your partner sounds like a hellish echo chamber indeed.
I’m glad that when I ask my partner “Is everything going to be okay?”, he always answers “Yes” even though he is not Nostradamus or an ancient Mayan and therefore has no idea what is going to happen next. And I don’t want to brag or anything but William Blake is also on my side IN RHYME. “A truth that's told with bad intent / Beats all the lies you can invent,” he sagely pointed out in Auguries of Innocence. So, so true, Willy. It also helps that my partner and I have evolved a strategy for times when we really need the truth. It consists of saying “Swear on your mum?” because everyone knows you cannot swear on your mum and then tell a lie or any future broken backs that may happen to her are probably your fault.
However if you’re lying about facts, that’s an untruth I cannot abide. Like Bill Clinton famously stating “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” or not mentioning the fact you stuck your partner’s toothbrush in the toilet, these are the sorts of lies that can break a relationship for most of us. They are the lies that can chip away at trust and tear apart couples. But we each have to make our own call on what level of honesty we require in a relationship, as evidenced by the fact Bill and Hillary Clinton are still seemingly happily together.
Another interesting revelation from the survey was that there aren’t really that many differences between the genders when it comes to dishonesty in relationships. Men and women lie almost the same amount. Men and women are almost equally likely to lie about their feelings, thereby blowing that boring old stereotype of women being sooo emotionally honest out of the water. And men and women are both equally likely to read their partner’s emails. (If you wanted to know where they diverge, women lie about their partner’s sexual performance and men lie about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.)
If you do fall into that high-falutin’ quarter of people who never lie, there’s also good news as recent research has found that lying less is linked to better health and relationships. And one last positive? While I’ll never ask your opinion of my cooking, you’re welcome near my toothbrush any time you want.