How Honest should you be in a Relationship?

A thoughful, insightful guest post by Jonathan Jay Esslinger 

Healthy relationships have a lot of honest self-disclosure.

The topic of honesty comes up enough in our clinical settings that it is worth exploring deeper.

This post offers a sort of primer on things that relationship experts would encourage you to consider around honesty and self-disclosure.

This is the kind of relationship advice a professional relationship counsellor would give to you.

How honest should someone be in a relationship?

The short answer is that relationships are definitely more fulfilling when you and your partner are able to be almost completely honest.

There are huge, priceless benefits of being more honest in relationships. One could say that honesty is at the foundation of any healthy relationship. 


A goal in your relationships could be to honestly self-disclose your true self to your partner.


Do you know all the benefits to being honest in a relationship?

It allows you to be loved for you, not someone you are pretending to be. It is painful to watch from afar someone loving you for something you are not.



Research shows that when you are honest, you psychologically value your partner more. When you are dishonest, it makes you psychologically devalue your partner. You end up thinking less of them each time you lie to them. It is an insidious problem that will eat apart a relationship.


  • Being fully honest allows you to learn more from your journey of life. Being dishonest prevents you from being able to get feedback from someone who cares about you. If you lie about what is actually going on, then you are not benefiting from your partner the way that healthy relationships benefit each other. In the healthiest relationships, partners utilize each other to navigate the trials and tribulations – both big and small aspects of life.


  • Being honest takes less energy. There is no lie to remember or versions of reality to keep track of.


  • Being honest avoids risking the entire relationship. Trust and Love are both necessary for a healthy relationship. Trust is not risked when you are able to self-disclose everything to your partner.


  • Those in the healthiest relationships take the risk to honestly self-disclosure. For them, it is the reason they are in the relationship. Healthy partners share their most intimate thoughts and behaviours with their partner in order to get the benefits of love.


The greater your level of self-disclosure, the closer you get to the full benefits of love.



Can Honesty be bad for a Relationship?

Yes, there are some risks to being honest in a relationship. Your partner may not like what they hear. Their reaction may be intense enough that it costs you the relationship.

We understand that at times being honest seems too risky. Especially if it is something you have been lying about for a while.

You may have secrets? You may have behaviours you are engaged in that you have been keeping hidden. Perhaps you have already been denying your behaviours?

As clinician’s,  we often encourage people to consider the worst case scenario that could occur with telling the truth. It is true that in some situations, being honest will destroy the relationship. In other situations, it can destroy livelihoods and lifestyles.

We would be remiss if we didn’t encourage anyone to consider the grave impact honesty could have. Still, relationship experts would encourage you to consider what you are actually gaining if you choose to be dishonest about something in your relationship.

When you are dishonest in your relationship, then you are not engaged in a deep and meaningful relationship. When you are dishonest in your relationship, it becomes less deep and meaningful to you.

It keeps you at a distance. It only saves you a relationship that now has less value to you than it did before you were dishonest. Being dishonest is the act of not being in a relationship. An affair or cheating is a common challenging lie. 


So, yes honesty could sometimes be bad for a relationship, but dishonesty is always bad for relationships.




How many lies in a Relationship are caught?

About twenty percent of lies in a relationship end up being discovered. If you are telling a lie then you lose either way: You lose your partner’s trust if you are caught or lose your own love for your partner if you aren’t caught.

Instead of taking the risk to lie, take the risk of having a deeper and more meaningful relationship. It’s the braver path with the greater reward.


Is there a time to not be honest in a relationship?

There are times when honesty is not helpful. One type of honesty that is not helpful is the so called brutal honesty. It is something that does not belong in a relationship.  Brutal is not synonymous with healthy relationships.

Brutal Honesty 

An example of Brutal Honesty would be telling someone you “never were very attracted to them”. Yes, it may be honest. No, its not helpful. It’s just cruel. Being brutally honest is just that, brutal.

The End of a Relationship 

Another place where honesty is often not helpful in relationships is when a relationship is ending.  If the relationship is coming to an end, there is no reason to say any truths which are really just opinions or criticisms.

Some honest truths are best left unsaid when you are no longer interested in improving your relationship with someone.  

Professional Relationship Counselors suggest that you not tell a parting lover that “you should know, I hate your mom”, “you need to not be so anxious all the time”, or “you don’t know how to love”. Under the circumstances of a breakup, these are at minimum rude. 

The relationship is over. You are biased. Your view of this person came from how they behaved in a failed relationship they had with you.

You don’t really know how they would be in a different relationship. Avoid the temptation to believe that you are just being helpful. There may be some things to share, but challenge yourself to consider if it is more hurtful than it is helpful.

Another time to not be honest is when it puts at risk your safety or the safety of someone else.

How do I be more honest in my relationship?

  • Make a private list of all the things you are dishonest about.

  • Run some honesty experiments to see how it goes.

  • Journal for a while about your thoughts about some of the ways you are dishonest.

  • Remind yourself of the benefits of a relationship.

  • Instead of taking the risk to lie, take the risk of discovering a deeper and more meaningful relationship. It may be the braver path, but it has the reward we are all seeking. A deep and meaningful connection.


Learn to trust that you can handle however your partner is going to react.

By Jonathan  Jay Esslinger of