The ‘Truth’ About Healthy Relationships

An interesting research, undertaken in the UK recently, has found that, on an average, men tell a lie three times a day while women lie only twice a day. That may seem a lot, but when you include ‘white lies’ told to spare another’s feelings, they quickly add up. If your child asks whether the tooth fairy is real, or your partner wonders if they look overweight, would you honestly answer truthfully? 

You may lie with the best of intentions to protect yourself or others, but it still feels wrong. And, according to psychologist Professor Anita Kelly of the University of Notre Dame, lying – even for someone’s good – can harm your relationships and possibly also your own health. When researchers set out to convince people to tell fewer lies in their day-to-day relationships, then observed the effects of doing so. The study’s 110 participants were either instructed to stop telling lies – both major and minor – for ten weeks, or given no particular instructions but had a weekly polygraph test in which they had to confess how often they’d lied over the previous seven days.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both groups lied less throughout the trial, and the group instructed not to lie told the fewest untruths. But the more interesting findings lay in the effects on their relationships and health. Professor Kelly said, “Our findings support the notion that lying less can cause better health through improving relationships … In a given week, if they told fewer lies, they also reported their health was better.” The connection between lying less and improved health was most noticeable in the no-lie group.

Common sense suggests that avoiding lying to each other will improve bonds of trust, but it seems to go deeper than that. When you lie to someone, you not only breach their trust in you, you experience guilt – even if only subconsciously – which can harm both the relationship and your own health. In a separate study, Dr Sally Theran, assistant professor of psychology at Massachusetts’ Wellesley College, points to a link between honesty in relationships, and greater self-esteem with a reduced likelihood of depression. She observed that openness and honesty may initially lead to increased conflict, but overall contributes to better a quality relationship. She also notes that lying increases your sense of shame and adversely affects your self-image.

So is the solution to stop lying entirely? Perhaps not. Psychologists generally accept that white lies may be a necessary part of how we interact with each other. But lying to protect a child’s sense of magic is quite different from telling your boss you’ve completed a project when you haven’t. Before you let that lie come out, think twice. Are you doing it with good intentions or are you trying to cover your own back? More importantly, will the lie cause more problems in the long run? Could it be that, on this occasion, honesty really is the best policy?

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