Get­ting a lit­tle cre­ative with the truth oc­ca­sion­ally won’t hurt – but know where to draw the line.

’Fess up. We all do it. The lit­tle fibs we tell him, the se­crets we guard. Take com­fort. Ex­perts say get­ting a lit­tle cre­ative with the truth some­times is per­mis­si­ble – but you must al­ways know where to draw the line.

might say Ellen* has be­come re­ally good at ly­ing. Noth­ing ma­jor, just what she calls every­day fib­bing. The kind where you tell your friend you love the birth­day present she gave you (eww, no), that she looks great in those jeans (she doesn’t), and you tell your boss you have an up­set tummy – which we all know is code­s­peak for “over­slept”.

So why should it be any dif­fer­ent when it comes to her sig­nif­i­cant other? In truth, Ellen just wants to keep the peace. She’s usu­ally an open book in her mar­riage – ex­cept when it comes to meet­ing up with a cou­ple of close male friends whom her hus­band isn’t a fan of.

“Of course I feel guilty,” Ellen ad­mits. “But I would be dis­ap­pointed in my­self if I gave in to ev­ery­thing he says.” Fiercely in­de­pen­dent, Ellen rel­ishes the free­dom to choose her own friends and is un­will­ing to sac­ri­fice an im­por­tant as­pect of who she is. “I’m op­ti­mistic that over time, his in­se­cu­ri­ties will fade and the is­sue will re­solve it­self.”

Char­lotte* buys what­ever she wants with her money and doesn’t al­ways tell her hus­band about it. But there’s al­ways a lit­tle bit of guilt. “I don’t tell him when I pur­chase big ticket items,” she con­fesses. “Even though it’s my own money, I feel that be­cause he’s my hus­band, I am obliged to tell him what I’m spend­ing on.” It’s a toss-up be­tween want­ing to take own­er­ship of her life and be­ing ac­count­able to the guy she promised to spend it with.

An­ge­line* has never dis­closed ex­actly how much she earns to her part­ner of more than 10 years. “Keep­ing my money pri­vate is a safety net I need in case he leaves me or some­thing un­for­tu­nate hap­pens,” she says. “And it’s mu­tual – he doesn’t share how much he earns, ei­ther. We’re both com­fort­able that way.”

The “I” in cou­ple­hood

In­di­vid­u­al­ity in a mar­riage is def­i­nitely some­thing to be cham­pi­oned, agrees life coach Kenneth Oh of Ex­ec­u­tive Coach In­ter­na­tional. “There are al­ways things about our­selves that we don’t want any­one to know, or cer­tain in­di­vid­ual traits that we love about our­selves. And re­tain­ing this sense of self is closely tied to keep­ing lit­tle se­crets to our­selves.”

Melissa’s* hus­band is all about hav­ing cou­ple time, whereas she’s more pro­tec­tive over her own space. But he doesn’t know that – be­cause she doesn’t let him. “In fact, I’m se­cretly glad when ei­ther I or my hus­band travel for work, be­cause it gives me alone time,” she says. “I love hav­ing lit­tle se­crets. They make me feel free, un­judged and in­de­pen­dent – like when I play com­puter games all day, or drop $500 on clothes.”

“It’s not that I don’t trea­sure the mar­riage,” Melissa clar­i­fies. “As much as I love alone time, I still get so much out of my mar­riage that I can’t get else­where, such as the com­fort and trust he gives me.” She may be in­de­pen­dent, but that doesn’t mean she’s un­in­ter­ested in work­ing on the mar­riage.

Ober­dan Mar­i­anetti, a psy­chol­o­gist and clin­i­cal sex­ol­o­gist in Sin­ga­pore, says: “Even fiercely in­de­pen­dent cou­ples can en­gage in a re­la­tion­ship where they feel they are part of a shared dream.” Don’t feel ob­li­gated to give up the lit­tle quirks that make you who you are in the in­ter­est of forg­ing a unit – the two goals aren’t nec­es­sar­ily mu­tu­ally exclusive. As long as your se­crets aren’t hin­der­ing build­ing a fu­ture to­gether, you can keep your 12-hour binge on One Di­rec­tion mu­sic videos to your­self.

Thing is, most of us feel that be­ing part­ners in life equals com­plete open­ness, mu­tual trust and hon­esty – un­til we have to com­pro­mise on our val­ues, or it puts us at some kind of dis­ad­van­tage. “Peo­ple of­ten ex­tend the be­lief of be­ing ac­count­able to each other too far,” says Ober­dan. “A fre­quent as­sump­tion is that ‘I’ merges into a ‘we’. But for a healthy re­la­tion­ship to thrive, the ‘I’ shouldn’t cease to ex­ist. You and your hus­band may be func­tion­ing as a unit, but you’re two sep­a­rate cogs work­ing to­gether in a wheel.”

Okay, so some white lies are fine – but where do you draw the line? When in a

com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship, is it ever okay to reg­u­larly omit the truth? Is there a chance that the white lie could tip the scale and be­come some­thing more sin­is­ter?

Ober­dan sug­gests you take a re­al­ity check by ask­ing your­self what you need to be ac­count­able to each other for: “When ex­actly should I be shar­ing with my part­ner? Should this be the case in all sit­u­a­tions, or is there a cer­tain de­gree of im­por­tance? Are there times when I have the right not to ac­count for some­thing?” Once you have an idea of where you stand, bring it up with your part­ner.

The dan­ger zone

May* makes sure she ed­its her ex out of all con­ver­sa­tions with her part­ner so he doesn’t get trig­gered. “He might ask me if I’ve eaten at this restau­rant be­fore, and the truth is, I’ve been there with my ex. But I tell him I went there with a girl­friend,” she says.

Ask your­self about the in­ten­tion be­hind the omis­sion, says Ober­dan. Are you un­aware of the sig­nif­i­cance be­hind it, or do you gen­uinely think it’s not rel­e­vant? Or do you sim­ply want to keep some things close to your chest?

Even if you reckon the se­cret is unim­por­tant, ask why you’re hold­ing back. You’ll want to fig­ure this out be­cause you could be “block­ing a chance for real in­ti­macy”, says Vanessa von Auer, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at VA Psy­chol­ogy Cen­tre in Sin­ga­pore. “Keep­ing se­crets can sug­gest that two part­ners have not ar­rived at a place of trust.”

So clear the white noise of “I can’t tell him”, “he doesn’t need to know” and “it’s a harm­less white lie”, which might cloud the facts about what’s re­ally caus­ing you to be a Pinoc­chio. And if de­cep­tion is point­ing to big­ger prob­lems of jeal­ousy, in­se­cu­rity, or ig­no­rance, the two of you might need some heavy­weight con­ver­sa­tions soon.

There are lies we tell on the spur of the mo­ment, and then there are lies that have be­come al­most se­cond na­ture. We may con­vince our­selves that they’re to­tally jus­ti­fied (like when you call in sick for a big fam­ily gather­ing be­cause you re­ally don’t want to spend two hours mak­ing small talk with peo­ple you see once a year), but Kenneth ad­vises us to look out for how quickly we turn to false­hoods.

“Hav­ing lit­tle se­crets is fine as long as they don’t be­come a de­fault op­tion,” he says. Are you se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing at­tend­ing the fam­ily din­ner, or is try­ing to get out of it your first in­stinct? When ly­ing be­comes the first line of ap­proach, this can be­come a slip­pery slope – es­pe­cially when you’re get­ting away with it. The dan­ger, Kenneth says, is that peo­ple not only con­tinue in the lie but may start jus­ti­fy­ing other ten­den­cies to em­broi­der the truth.

An­other tell­tale sign is who you’re shar­ing the se­cret with. Com­mon jus­ti­fi­ca­tions like “I just want my pri­vacy” or “Why can’t I keep some things to my­self?” are to­tally fine – if you’re be­ing hon­est with your­self.

The tricky part is dis­cern­ing whether you truly prize that pri­vacy or are just evad­ing a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. If the se­cret is some­thing you share with ev­ery­one else but your hus­band, it could be a prob­lem, says Kenneth. Is your un­hap­pi­ness with your mother-in-law con­ver­sa­tion fod­der for the girls, and ev­ery­one knows the truth but him? That’s not want­ing your own space – it’s a se­lec­tive omis­sion be­cause you’re not keen to ruf­fle feath­ers.

The time bomb

So if you’re tick­ing the boxes of 1) ly­ing be­ing your de­fault op­tion, 2) telling ev­ery­one but him, and 3) fall­ing back on “I don’t want to hurt him”, aban­don your os­trich men­tal­ity. Bury­ing your head in the sand is a short-term so­lu­tion that Kenneth likens to a tick­ing time bomb. Ellen echoes the fear of be­ing caught in a lie. “When I meet up with my male friends, I get stressed that we might run into peo­ple who know my hus­band,” she says. Call­ing the cur­rent ar­range­ment a “stop-gap”, she’s aware that she needs a bet­ter so­lu­tion.

An­other rea­son be­sides the anx­i­ety of be­ing found out? You’re also go­ing to cause long-term prob­lems in how you com­mu­ni­cate with your part­ner, says Vanessa. “If you pre­fer to avoid con­flict, it sug­gests that this will be how you com­mu­ni­cate in your re­la­tion­ship per­ma­nently,” she cau­tions. Once you get into the habit of omit­ting facts and keep­ing track of what in­for­ma­tion was hid­den, “it could en­cour­age un­healthy, dis­hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion”.

But of course, if it was that easy to broach the topic, there wouldn’t be a need to throw up the white lie in the first place. “It’s go­ing to be a grad­ual, long process that re­quires a lot of courage,” says Kenneth. “And it could cre­ate shock waves.”

Not only will you have to con­fess to ly­ing, you’ll have to ex­plain why you felt it was nec­es­sary and how you’ll be mov­ing for­ward. But once you’ve started the con­ver­sa­tion, you’ll have to see it through. If you’ve at­tempted to be hon­est and de­cided it’s too hard for your hus­band to come around, un­for­tu­nately, the ad­vice is to stick it out. Laps­ing into ly­ing only “deep­ens the vi­cious cir­cle and in­curs in­er­tia”, says Kenneth. “If one party thinks, okay, I tried and I failed, he or she will be re­signed to a lack of change.”

So if you don’t want to take two steps for­ward and one step back, grit your teeth and start be­ing hon­est even if you feel as if it’s go­ing to kill you. White lies are like weeds – no one cares about the odd few, but too many and your gar­den gets over­grown. You’ll need to start yank­ing.

“That’s ac­tu­ally code­s­peak for ‘I over­slept’.”

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