Tag Archive for honesty

The Power of Speaking with Vulnerable Honesty

Every married couple will experience disagreements and conflict. However, how we say what we say can calm a conflict or escalate it, arouse defensiveness or cooperation. It can push away or draw near, disempower or empower. Consider these statements and possible alternatives.

“I hate staying in every night. We never do anything together.” That feels like an attack. It will more easily push the other person to defensiveness or shutting down. On the other hand, imagine how different a response you might receive if you start from a place of vulnerable honesty, making a less harsh statement while communicating your deeper desire for connection.

  • “I miss spending time with you. Would you like to go to dinner and a movie tonight?”

“Do some work around the house, would you? I’m not your servant.” Once again, the harshness will likely arouse defensiveness from the other person. And the attacking statements do not address the deeper desire and need. Once again, a statement from a place of vulnerable honesty might get a better response.

  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs done. I really need your help. Could you clean the…?”

I think you get the idea but let me share one more just to make sure. “What’s your problem. You haven’t touch me in months.” Unfortunately, a statement like this pushes the other person further away. Try starting from a place of vulnerable honesty and clearly state your desire and need.

  • “I miss hugging and snuggling with you. Let’s snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie or read books while snuggling tonight.”

Notice the differences? The first statements were harsh, accusatory, and attacking. The alternatives speak from a place of vulnerable honesty by clearly expressing a true need or desire. Then, they offered a simple solution, empowering both people to take action to meet the need. As a result, the alternative statements will more likely motivate a positive response and lead to a better end. But it all beings with speaking from a place of vulnerable honesty.

The Vulnerability to Invite Intimacy in Conflict

We all know words are powerful. They can encourage or discourage, offend or mend, pull together or tear apart. In families especially, we want to use words that encourage, mend, and pull together.  Unfortunately, we often use words that divide, discourage, or offend. We may not say such words with the intent to divide, discourage, or offend. Instead, we often say them mindlessly, with little or no thought to their impact. Or, we might say them impulsively when we are anger or upset. Like a toddler throwing a tantrum in an effort to get his parent to stay close rather than leave him with the babysitter, we might say words that offend, divide, and discourage in response to feeling our relationship threatened or in an ill-conceived effort to “get the other person to listen” and draw near to us. It doesn’t work. In fact, these words are often dishonest; they don’t communicate what we truly believe or feel. They hide, even betray, the love we feel for our family.

To develop the habit of saying words that encourage, mend, and pull family together, we have to pay attention to our words, listen to ourselves and the words we use. As you listen to yourself, pay attention to how others respond. Remain mindful of the impact your words have on the people around you. Then, do two things:

  1. Become honest and vulnerable enough to take ownership of your feelings and communicate them to those around you. Don’t blame them. Be honest enough to state your deeper need.
  2. Offer words that can encourage, mend, and pull together—words that connect. This can prove challenging when you have a genuine disagreement. Realize, though, that the ultimate desire is not to be proven right at the cost of the relationship but to connect in an intimate and meaningful way.   

Let’s consider a few statements I have heard families say and what might be a more honest and vulnerable statement that invites the other into a deeper relationship. I hope these will simply help you think about how to use words that encourage, mend, and pull together. They are not simple rote statements that solve a problem. Use them as a starting point for any specific situations you might encounter in your family.  

  • “You never listen.” This statement reveals a fear of being unheard and thus unvalued by the one we love. Stated as is, defensiveness is sure to follow. “What do you mean never? I always listen to you. I’m listening now, aren’t I?” Instead, you might say, “Sometimes I can’t tell if you take what I’m saying seriously. Maybe I didn’t state it clearly enough to be understood. Can you tell me what you think I said so I know you heard and understood me?” Rather than accusing the other person, this offers a possible explanation that even takes at least partial responsibility for the problem. Also, it offers a solution, a way to enhance communication, a way to pull together.  
  • “You’re such a nag” or “Alright already. Man, what a nag!” Hear the discouragement, offense, and divisiveness of this statement? Make a change in your response. Begin by taking a look inward; then take the honest and vulnerable step of giving voice to your deeper feelings and concerns. “When you keep telling me over and over again, I begin to think you don’t trust me” or “When you continue to tell me to (whatever task it might be) over and over again, I don’t know if you really appreciated what I have done.” Once again, offer a solution with each of these statements by adding, “It would really help me if you let me know when you notice other things I’ve done.”  
  • “You are so selfish. You think the whole world evolves around you.” Consider the fear being communicated in this accusation—the fear that “you” won’t “be there for me,” to “love me” and “care for me.” It feels very vulnerable to communicate that fear, but doing so may bring you closer rather than pull you apart. Try saying, “Sometimes I feel like you’re so caught up in the things that interest you, that you won’t be there for me when I really need you…like I’m not important to you. ” Then, finish the self-disclosure with a request, “Could you tell me how important I am to you? And could you reassure me more often in the future?”

You get the idea, I’m sure. Statements that encourage, mend, and pull together in the midst of disagreements or tensions represent a step of honesty and vulnerability. However, the closeness they invite and the intimacy they nurture are well worth the risk. Will you take that risk today?

The “Benevolent Lie” that Destroys Your Marriage

Obviously, lying to your spouse damages your marriage. It destroys trust. It drives a wedge of secrecy between you and your spouse. But, what about a “benevolent lie”? You know, those little lies that hide your need from our spouses. After all, we don’t want to burden our spouse with our needs. We don’t want them to worry about our concerns. We don’t want them to see us as “too needy” or weak. So, we withhold our suffering, our pain, our need for emotional support or physical help with a little “benevolent lie.” Unfortunately, this “benevolent lie” will also destroy your relationship. Let me explain.

First, our spouse very likely recognizes our struggle, but they don’t know what it is. If we do not share the details of our struggle or our need, our spouse does not have to “guess what’s bothering us.” They will begin to make assumptions about what our need might be…and you know that they say happens when we “ass-u-me.”

Second, we enhance trust when we become vulnerable enough to express our need and then accept our spouse’s help. By doing so, we offer them the opportunity to know us more deeply, which builds trust.

Third, a strong marriage involves interdependency and mutual support. How can we develop greater interdependency if we do not express our need for support? Expressing our needs, on the other hand, opens the door for greater interdependency and support.

Fourth, by expressing our needs, we make it possible for us to meet the need, fix the problem, and work on a solution together.

Finally, expressing our need allows our spouse to love us by supporting us through our needs.

Do not let the “benevolent lie” interfere with your marriage. Instead, express your emotional needs to your spouse. Doing so will help you build a stronger, healthier marriage in the long run.

“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say”…& Other Nuggets of Wisdom

Do you remember any sayings and proverbs you learned in childhood? They may have come from Aesop’s Fables or a children’s story like Pinocchio or Proverbs in the Bible. Maybe you heard them from teachers, your parents, scout leaders, coaches, or any number of other adults. They were proverbs that encouraged certain behaviors…behaviors that promoted personal character and corporate civility. Several such sayings came to my mind the other day as I listened to the daily rhetoric of the news. I felt a twinge of sadness and realized how desperately we need the wisdom of these proverbs in our world today. With that in mind, maybe we need to start by reviving them in our families. We begin by teaching them to our children and modeling them in our lives.  In case you need a reminder, here are just a few of my favorites.

  • “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Ironically, this saying seems to have two meanings. One, if you live in a glass house (are vulnerable) don’t throw stones at the guy who lives in a brick house. In other words, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” (which is another saying). On the other hand, we all live in glass houses, don’t we?  We all have our own vulnerabilities. Before we start casting stones at another person’s faults, we need to take a good look at our own. Or, in the words of another saying, “Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in the other guy’s eye.” We desperately need to consider all three sayings in our world today.
  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Other than hearing it from my mother, I heard it first from Thumper on Bambi. (By the way, Thumper also has a nice quote about “families that play together.” See them both in this short clip.) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a little more of “saying nothing” today?
  • Another truth heard in a Disney movie came from the Blue Fairy. She told Pinocchio that “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as clear as the nose on your face.” You’ve heard the flip side of this proverb in the more popular “honesty is the best policy.” A little more truth and a few shorter noses on the faces of our local Pinocchio’s faces would definitely improve our lives around here.
  • Of course, we can’t forget “Actions speak louder than words” or “He who does a thing well does not need to boast.”  Aesop’s fable of The Boasting Traveler drives this point home. Tell it to your family over dinner or watch it in ChirpyStory. It’s a great reminder to not boast.
  • “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I’d always heard “there are two sides to every story” to encourage me to listen to other people’s ideas.  But experience has taught me the rest of the saying, that “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.”  Our extremist world would definitely benefit from learning to listen to both sides of a story and then seeking the whole truth.

There are many more proverbs we need to put into practice. We need to teach our children these proverbs and sayings. We need to practice them in our own lives in the presence of our children. As we do, our families will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps our children will carry these proverbs into their adulthood and our whole society will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Let’s start practicing them today. Maybe you have other favorites you think our families would benefit from practicing. Share them below so we can all learn from the wisdom of the ages.

“You Can’t Handle the Truth!” …Really?

People value honesty. Love rejoices in the truth. Married couples expect honesty. Yet how many times do we “fudge the truth” to avoid the conflict? Or, “tell a little white lie” to keep the peace? Think of the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Hmmmm…. We fear our partner will misread our intent and become angry in response to our honest reply. We avoid telling our honest opinion for fear it will damage our relationship. But, is it true that we “can’t handle the truth”? Well, a recent study suggests our fears may be unfounded. People may handle the truth better than we think. Specifically, this study revealed three findings about honesty in relationship.

  • Honesty leads to more social connection than simply paying attention to what we say. 
  • Honesty leads to more enjoyment than simply paying attention to our manner of communication.
  • Honesty leads to a greater sense of meaning than simply paying attention our manner of communication.

These results were not only true immediately after the interaction but remained true at a two-week follow-up. In other words, “You can’t handle the truth” is not true.

The truth is: honesty leads to greater social connection, more enjoyment, and a greater sense of meaning. If you’re like me, you want all three of those results (greater connection, more enjoyment, greater sense of meaning) in your marriage. So, be honest.  Tell the truth in love and grow a stronger, healthier marriage.

Why Do I Have To Do Everything?!

Have you ever asked this question? You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper. Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest. Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very words.  One day, however, I had an epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind. It’s my fault.  My frustration and fear about “having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,” I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me share what I learned.

  • I do not live with mind readers. No one in my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK, I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?” “I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.”  Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
  • I’m not called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family, but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know, radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell them.
  • It’s alright to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our household.
  • I need to be honest with myself. To be completely honest with you and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household.  I need to develop the habit of noticing what they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.

Four realization and four actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling too. 

A Slippery Slope Begins with Knockoff Truths

“It’s a slippery slope…” or so I’ve heard it said. But, now it’s more than just something I’ve heard. Research supports “It’s a slippery slope”…at least for the little white lie. Let me explain. A team of researchers completed four studies to explore how wearing “counterfeit sunglasses” impacted a person’s level of honesty and their tendency to judge other people as dishonest (Read the study in The Counterfeit Self: The Deceptive Costs of Faking It). In each study, the participants, believing they were participating in a study to evaluate types of sunglasses and were assigned to different groups of “sunglass wearing.” One group wore designer sunglasses. The other group wore knockoffs, counterfeits…you know, the ones that aren’t real but make people think you have the real thing. In essence, they wore a little white lie, a “knockoff” of the truth. In the first study, participants who wore the knockoffs were led to believe they preferred to wear counterfeit sunglasses for practical reasons. In the second study, they wore the knockoffs because the researchers assigned them to the group either wearing the “real thing” or the “knockoffs.” They had no choice. In both studies, the participants were given tasks in which they could cheat (or not) and opportunities to self-report on their performance. Those who believed they wore the knockoffs were significantly more likely to cheat and to inflate their performance when self-reporting than those who wore the designer shades.

In the third study, the researchers added a questionnaire related to judging other peoples’ tendency to engage in unethical behavior such as lying or behaving dishonestly. You guessed it. Those wearing the “knockoff” sunglasses were significantly more likely to assume others would engage in unethical behavior, lie, or behave dishonestly than those wearing the true blue designer shades.

Finally, in the fourth study, the researchers “teased out” what might mediate this “counterfeit sunglass” response. They discovered that feeling inauthentic led to the dishonest behavior and the tendency to judge others as dishonest. In other words, the “little white lie” of pretending to have authentic brand name designer shades when they did not, contributed to dishonesty and believing others to be more dishonest and unethical.

What does this have to do with marriage and family?  Good question. Sometimes couples tell a “little white lie” to avoid a conflict or confrontation. One person stops to get a beer on the way home rather than drink it in front of their spouse because “they don’t want to hear it.” Or, they tell their spouse everything is fine rather than discuss some irritating behavior because “they don’t want the stress.”  One spouse withholds information about finances to limit their partner’s anxiety…or a spouse makes a purchase in secret because they fear the purchase will upset their spouse. All little things, but they’re actually “knockoffs” of the truth. Real truth, designer truth, does not withhold information to avoid a confrontation or hide behavior to avoid the conflict. Real truth addresses the concern rather than trying to avoid the stress with a “knockoff truth.” But, this is where it gets worse, a little white lie, a “knockoff” of the truth, opens the door for more lies. Sure, we all know the person telling the lie may have to expand the lie to cover the first. According to the research, though, telling that “knockoff truth” increases the chance of further dishonesty, more significant dishonesty, bigger lies and bigger coverups. And, it increases the chance that the person telling the “knockoff truth” will become suspicious and judgmental of their partner’s motives and honesty. In other words, they may judge their spouse’s sincere motives and behaviors as dishonest and unethical. The stage is set. The slippery slope is covered with ice. The downward slide of dishonesty, mistrust, coverups, and paranoia begins. It’s better just to avoid the whole thing. Avoid the “knockoff truth,” the little white lie. Stick with telling the real truth, the whole truth, the designer truth. Don’t settle for less. Be honest.

Powerful Hints to Build a Happy Marriage

Linda and Charlie Bloom recently wrote an article in Psychology Today describing essential qualities of happy marriages. They came up with seven qualities by interviewing “50 of the happiest couples” they could find. Their conclusions are very insightful…and I wanted to share a short summary of them with you.

  1. Happy couples appreciate the differences between them and their partner. In fact, many of the happy couples managed and enjoyed profound differences between them and their partner. They saw those differences as adding richness to their relationship. As a result, they could appreciate and express gratitude for their differences. (Appreciating your spouse holds other benefits as well. Read A Provocative Secret for a More Satisfying Sex Life to learn of one.)
  2. Happy couples found delight in bringing greater fulfillment and joy into their partner’s life. They did not consider it a sacrifice to promote their partner’s success and joy. Instead, they found it a pleasure to see their partner find fulfillment and success. (Discover how this attitude helps the family in The Lost Art of Sacrifice in the Family.)
  3. Happy couples kept short accounts of wrongs committed. They practiced quick apologies and forgiveness. They effectively and quickly dealt with any disappointments that occurred.
  4. Individuals in a happy marriage take responsibility for their part in any conflict. They do not blame, become defensive, or scapegoat. Instead, they take responsibility for the impact of their actions and words upon their partner. They acknowledge their responsibility and make amends as needed. (Taking responsibility for our actions may involve saying The Hardest Word.)
  5. Happy couples practice honesty. But, rather than practicing “brutal honesty,” they practice sensitive, loving honesty. They remained sensitive to their partner’s feelings and vulnerabilities when expressing their honest thoughts and feelings.
  6. Happy couples maintained a healthy balance between self-care and marital care. Happy couples saw each partner’s health and well-being as inextricably tied to the health and well-being of their marriage. So, they practiced healthy self-care and encouraged their spouse to practice healthy self-care.
  7. Finally, happy couples practiced gratitude on a daily basis. Gratitude seemed to contribute to an optimistic view of their partner and their marriage. Ironically, this optimistic view of their partner and marriage contributed to even more gratitude.

These seven points are excellent ways to keep your marriage strong. Read them over and talk about them with your spouse.  Discuss how you can begin to practice each one in your marriage. Start today. Your partner will love you for it, your marriage will be stronger for it, and you’ll both discover a growing happiness in one another. Who could ask for more?

Are Gentlemen an Endangered Species?

I work with several young, single women who are convinced that good men are an endangered species. As we discuss their belief I realize they are speaking of “gentlemen.”  I offer them an old definition (1869) of “gentlemen:”

“always truthful and sincere; will not agree for the sake of complaisance or out of weakness; will not pass over that of which he disapproves. He has a clear soul, and a fearless, straight forward tongue. On the other hand, he is not blunt and rude. His truth is courteous, his courtesy, truthful; never a humbug, yet, where he truthfully can, he prefers to say pleasant things.”

Yep, that’s the guy. They believe he is an endangered species if not already extinct.  They support their argument with the fact that I offered a definition from 1869! So, we discuss a more modern definition, one from the Urban Dictionary:

“the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”

I like that definition better than the old one but, alas…they still insist this man is possibly extinct.  I will not accept such pessimism. I am sure “gentlemen” exist today. The news may highlight those who are not “gentlemen” and sitcoms laugh at men who are not “gentlemen” but I believe “gentlemen” still exist…and in rather large numbers. I’ve seen them and met them on multiple occasions, more numerous than I can count. With that in mind, I think it is time for all true “gentlemen” to make themselves known to the people around them. Of course, this can only be done in the true manner of a “gentlemen” so let me suggest a few methods for making your status as a “gentleman” known.

  • Build a reputation of integrity. Speak the truth but do so politely with kindness. Let your word be your word. Be on time. Keep your promises. Communicate your commitments and your intents clearly. Then let your actions prove your words. Never lead anyone on.
  • Practice chivalry. Hold the door open for others. Offer to get the car rather than assuming the women and others in your life will run through the rain. Be courteous to all. Stand boldly for what is right. Advocate for the vulnerable and underprivileged. Seek justice for all. Never criticize or insult; compliment and encourage instead.
  • Be courteous. Stand when a woman enters a crowded room and offer her your seat if none is available. Never criticize a homemade meal or a gift but show gratitude instead. Walk beside your spouse rather than ahead of her. Offer her the support of your arm on precarious terrain…and the strength of your character in difficult times of life.
  • Listen intently because you know the value of the person speaking and want to know them more intimately. Etiquette tells us that “to be a good listener is indispensable” to be a “gentleman.”
  • Promote other people’s dreams and goals, especially those of your spouse and children. Gentlemen serves others graciously, not only in daily life but in their pursuit of dreams.

I do believe “gentlemen” still exist. In fact, I know they do! I know you are out there. Join me in making the presence of “gentlemen” known in our families and our world today. And let us teach our sons to do the same.

Your Nose Is Growing…& Your Brain Is Declining

Remember what the Blue Fairy told Pinocchio? She said, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” A research team from University College London recently observed that a lie also results in a declining response in our brains (Read more in How Lying Takes Our Brain Down a ‘Slippery Slope’). Specifically, they discovered the amygdala, a brain area associated with emotional response, reacted strongly when a person first lied for personal gain. However, with each subsequent lie, the amygdala response declined and the magnitude of the lie increased. In other words, one lie Dancing Marionetteset the person on a slippery slope. With each lie, the person lying experienced smaller and smaller negative emotional reactions in response to the lie. This seemed to allow the person to tell more lies and lies of greater significance. That is one slippery slope I want to keep my family off.  Unlike Pinocchio, I want to keep noses short and brains active in my family by promoting honesty…and here’s how to do it.

  • Model honesty. Whether you are speaking to your spouse, your child, or a friend, speak the truth in love. Our children follow our example more easily than they follow our teaching. So, model honesty.
  • Avoid setting your children up. Don’t ask questions that invite your children to lie, especially if you already know the answer. For instance, if you know your child did not take out the garbage, don’t ask “Did you take the garbage out?” If you already know they broke the dish, don’t ask “Did you break the dish?” Don’t invite the lie. Simply state the truth in love.
  • Reward honesty; discipline the lie. When your children tell the truth, acknowledge their honesty. Let them know how much you value their honesty and respect the courage it takes to state the truth. You may still have to discipline misbehavior. However, even while disciplining misbehavior, you can still acknowledge your children’s honesty. On the other hand, dishonesty may result in further discipline. After all, honesty betrays trust and damages relationship…which brings us to the last tip.
  • Teach the value of honesty. You can do this in a number of ways. Talk about a character in a story or movie and discuss how their honesty or lack of honesty affected them. You can talk to them about their own experiences or their friends’ experience of honesty or dishonesty as well. You may also discuss the role models of honesty such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or other people you know from history or current times.

These four tips can promote honesty in your home…as well as shorter noses and more active brains. So remember, a lie is as plain as the nose on your face. Practice honesty.

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