Just when you thought complete honesty was a good thing.
Honesty and openness are taught as good relationship behavior — the foundation of a good relationship is sincerity and truthfulness, they say. But just how beneficial is total openness, really? The myth of openness holds that while transparency is valuable at the outset of a relationship or friendship, complete openness is not only harmful but usually doesn’t exist in an already developed relationship.
Creating versus Maintaining Relationships
At the beginning of a new relationship or friendship, openness is necessary — it is essential to a forming relationship. For each person to get to know the other and create a relationship, people must be open about their background and past experiences, and thoughts and opinions.
However, once a relationship is formed people are rarely as open. They tend to be less direct about their true thoughts and feelings. Sometimes they believe the other person already knows what they think and feel, other times they simply don’t want to share. Despite this lack of openness, relationships are maintained for long periods of time with no greater issues.
Keeping Your Flaws to Yourself
Another facet of the openness myth contends that less self-disclosure helps relationships by allowing partners to hide unfavorable attributes and opinions which would jeopardize the relationship. Interpersonal relationship expert Mac Parks states that,
“…Privacy and secrecy maintain relationships by allowing individuals to hide their inadequacies, thereby making themselves more attractive to their partners…Moreover, deception can promote intimacy by protecting others and avoiding tension and conflict.”
Does your partner really need to know that you seriously consider becoming a porn star and does your neighbor really need to know that you hate her home-made cookies she sends you every Christmas?
Deception is Reality
Much research suggests that while openness is touted as the ideal, few relationships come anywhere close to true openness. Close relationships include habitual intentional miscommunication, secrecy, and suspicion. In intimate relationships, partners show only around 25 to 50 percent of their behavior to their partners.
Despite openness and its benefits being greatly exaggerated, some openness is needed for a relationship to continue to thrive. If you have serious issues with your partner or relationship or if your thoughts and opinions could affect them, being honest about your feelings could help.
The key to beneficial openness is discretion and tact. Choose when and what you reveal with careful consideration. Honesty is not beneficial to a relationship when it will likely cause problems.
How open are you in relationships? Do you think your level of openness is helpful or harmful?