By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Not all “truth” is created equal – Communication Skills part 2.
As children most of us were taught we should always tell the truth, even when we knew the adults around us were not being truthful. In relationship counseling, we spend a lot of time on communications but improving communication does not always improve the relationship.
People who say they are “just telling the truth” find that their relationships suffer. Truth and honesty can build trust in a relationship but there are times when telling the truth can be both harmful and misleading.
Some people can say the most hurtful things, only to excuse what they have said by reporting “I am just being truthful.” People who use the truth defense are usually not so very receptive to having their partner reply with similar truths.
While telling the truth is a very desirable characteristic here are sometimes when the truth may damage relationships and may not be the “whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
When your version of truth is an exaggeration.
Common statements, especially during arguments are “You always – You never, you are totally.”
Categorical statements are rarely, if ever, true. This way of saying things is meant to put the other person down and is criticism for criticism’s sake.
Criticism is a way of being hurtful and may cause permanent damage to the relationship. You don’t get to do this and then play the “I was only being truthful” card.
When you say it out of anger the truth is you are angry.
Things said out of anger are meant to hurt. Even if you avoid the exaggeration trap you are likely to say things laced with sarcasm and personal attacks. “Truths,” said in anger, are going to damage not improve the relationship.
Having hurt the other person they have no incentive to work on changing anything. When you are saying things in anger you are lashing out not looking for constructive resolution. Even if the statements were true, when you are full of anger, this is not the time to have that frank talk.
The truth-telling was all about you.
Sometimes “being honest” is about pointing out all the possible flaws in the other person in order to make yourself feel better about you.
Being honest is one thing, but there is no reason to blurt out every single defect you see in the other person. No one needs or wants that much honesty all at once. Think about the purpose behind telling someone the things you see wrong with them.
Is your honesty really about helping them improve or is it coming from a place of selfishness on your part. Honesty like meals needs to be spaced out over time as the need arises.
If you really want to be helpful talk only about as much of the person’s faults as they are ready to hear. Be sure you are not just doing these things to make yourself feel superior.
If the Honesty talk is all about the other person’s faults and you are not ready to own any of the faults this is not real honesty.
You can’t sleep at night or have an emotional hangover after truth-telling.
If after a binge of “ruthless honesty” you find you are unable to sleep at night. If you are emotionally drained for a while after the conversation then you might be experiencing an emotional hangover.
Telling someone off, like drinking too much, may feel good at the time but it is likely to come with the cost of an emotional hangover.
If you find you regret what you have said after an episode of “being honest” You know that the reason is the damage that what you said has caused to the relationship.
Excess of negative emotions, especially anger and fear will lead you to do things while emotional that you may regret afterward.
“It was true” may be a defense in a court of law but it will not make for happy relationships.
The other person is not ready to hear it – you need to use compassion.
Yelling at the deaf and showing pictures to the blind don’t aid communication. Telling someone more truth than they are ready to hear is only going to harm your relationship.
If you really want to end the relationship you don’t need to catalog the other person’s faults to justify your decision.
Remember to practice your compassion skill first and the honesty will have a place to grow when needed.
More on communication skills can be found at:
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