WHAT HE DOESN’T KNOW WON’T HURT HIM
WON’T HURT HIM
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’.”