Honesty is supposed to be the cornerstone of a healthy relationship, and lying, an automatic deal breaker.
But should it be?
It’s one of the things we teach our kids from the time they’re old enough to talk: always tell the truth.
We repeat the story of young George Washington, who used his shiny new hatchet to chop a chunk out of his father’s cherry tree and immediately fessed up when the damage was discovered.
“I cannot tell a lie,” the six-year-old supposedly said, and his honesty was rewarded with an embrace from his father, who said that the truth was worth more than a thousand trees.
Never mind that this story itself is a lie, completely made up by one of Washington’s biographers, Mason Locke Weems, who was trying to sell as many books as possible and thought readers would want to hear about how virtuous Washington was.
Still, honesty is supposed to be the cornerstone of a healthy relationship.
Lying is an automatic deal breaker for many people. But should it be?
Or is it possible that relationships actually need a dose of dishonesty in order to survive?
Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies
“Love is a greater good than the truth,” says philosophy professor Clancy Martin, author of Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love.
He argues that lies are essential to a partnership.
“If you want to have love in your life,” says Martin, “you’d better be prepared to tell some lies and to believe some lies.”
He goes on to point out that famous philosophers Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, both sticklers for complete honesty, were single.
The question is, what kind of lies are okay, and which are toxic to a relationship?
White lies, like “no, you’re not interrupting me, I want to hear about your terrible day,” or “I didn’t notice you’d put on any weight,” are generally acknowledged to be necessary, if you don’t want to hurt your SO’s feelings and foster a constant state of hostility between the two of you.
Researchers Bella DePaulo and Deborah Kashy, who extensively studied deception, called white lies ‘compassionate offerings’ and said they serve to keep relationships going.
Bigger lies, like telling your partner you were working late when you were actually having hot sex with your coworker, obviously fall into a different category.
And telling the difference isn’t really very hard.