The Openness Myth

couple-disagreeing

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.

Constructive Openness

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?

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37 thoughts on “The Openness Myth

  1. I have always believed that there is a distinct difference between being honest and being unkind. Honest is answering questions and sharing information others want/need to be in relationship with you. Being unkind is telling your friend you think their husband is unattractive. Every thought you have is not so important it needs to be shared.

  2. i agree with sherry….there comes a time in life where one needs to know how to have tact or when to lay things out.

    Some things just aren’t important to know the aspects of with a partner (I have a bowel movement x amount of times a week O_o, I think your brother is hotter than you, etc) and should be kept to oneself as a private (there’s a concept) thought. We are all much to overexposed to everything with folks saying every little minute thought on twitter and knowing the tiniest of details about every celebrity that we as a culture can’t just stfu sometimes and overshare.

    communication is key to any relationship, let others know your wants, dislikes, desires, needs, but damn! just think before talking.

  3. Sherry,

    “Every thought you have is not so important it needs to be shared.”

    Indeed.

    But what if your thought is not unkind, but merely too much information? Like the porn star example.

  4. Vonnie,

    “I have a bowel movement x amount of times a week O_o, I think your brother is hotter than you, etc”

    LOL. Yes, that’s the kind of too much information I was referring to.

    “communication is key to any relationship, let others know your wants, dislikes, desires, needs, but damn! just think before talking.”

    Yes. Two of the criteria I use to determine whether or not to tell a friend or partner something is (a) is this crucial to or will it seriously affect our relationship and (b) will my sharing this hurt the other person or our relationship?

    If the answer is yes to (a) I will share, using much tact if the answer is yes to (b).

  5. I don’t have much of a tact, I’m afraid. I never know what’s considered TMI, so I often end up not sharing anything with people. Not my husband (or closest friends), though. I’m all TMI on them.

  6. I meant to say: I never know what’s considered TMI, so in order not to embarrass myself, I go to another extreme and don’t share any personal details (which makes me appear “cold”).

  7. Mira,

    Well, I guess under-sharing is better than over-sharing. Except that you over-share with the closest people to you, which is kind of what this post is all about not doing… ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I agree with Sherry, you have to choose wisely what you share and with whom you share. I read something in Psychology Today a few months ago that spoke about women maintaining 10% mystery in their relationship, by not sharing things like bowel movements, farting, burping, getting ready in the morning…because it can be a turn off and take away from a relationship instead of adding to it. Just something I remembered and wanted to add :).

  9. Nikisha, I wonder how you hide all of those things when you live with someone [for a long period of time]? Must prove to be difficult. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Sherry, does that cover your burping, having things stuck in your teeth, waking up with your hair tangled, farting sounds, etc? ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Alee,
    I never hid those things in my past relationships…lmbo!!! I do it now though, but my boyfriend still comes in the bathroom when I’m getting ready sometimes and I have to shewww him away. It is hard to hide those things all the time, all I can do is try my best :).

    Sherry,
    LOL…right ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Nikisha, I remember you had that satin bonnet on in one of your videos. I thought, “She doesn’t even look that bad in a satin bonnet.” So I’m sure you/your boyfriend are okay with your level of openness.

  13. I have a positive feedback system with trust and openness; the more I trust you, the more open I become.

    Since Joseph and I both have a “No Bullshit” policy, it’s very imperative that we’re open with each other. The truth is going to come out as a result of being open, and even though the truth might hurt, it’s better than living a lie within a relationship. We both have learned to adopt thick skin when we’re disclosing some very open/honest opinions.

    At the same time, within a relationship, the individuals need space, and this space isn’t limited to the physcial; for, it also includes the mental. Sometimes, you just want to sit, think, and “vent” alone (or with your besties…which I prefer). With that being said, you’re not going to be open 100% of the time, but you should save your “open” concerns with your mate when it’s affecting your relationship.

  14. I believe in being honest, but there is no reason to share thoughts that may be hurtful to another person, with them or anyone else — because it will get out. Openness to me means sharing the positive whenever possible, and the negative only when I have a solution. In a relationship, you can easily talk your partner out of love with you. So if there is no solution to what bothers you about them, and you can live with it, keeping your mouth shut is the way to go.

  15. Eliss,

    Lol at “No BS” policy. You don’t have to BS… you can just not put your foot in your mouth. ๐Ÿ™‚

    ‘With that being said, youโ€™re not going to be open 100% of the time, but you should save your โ€œopenโ€ concerns with your mate when itโ€™s affecting your relationship.’

    Yes, that’s when openness is a must.

    Hi Andrea,

    ‘Openness to me means sharing the positive whenever possible, and the negative only when I have a solution.’

    That’s a great stance to have. Thank you for mentioning solutions, because it’s seems that’s what’s often missing in those “here’s what’s wrong” talks.

    “In a relationship, you can easily talk your partner out of love with you.”

    I’ve never heard it put that way. But that’s true. Very, dangerously true.

  16. excellent summation Andrea. I have to agree with it and say that is, in general, my policy as well. occasionally something negative will come out (usually in the context of asking for “advice” or an opinion) and that can go terribly sideways if one isn’t careful…but not usually….

  17. I don’t really believe in that whole “keeping the mystery” business (especially applied to women only), but general etiquette says don’t burp etc.in front of others so be mindful and avoid it as much as possible. Also I believe that every individual needs some form of privacy, even when they are part of a couple, so establishing those boundaries is important.

  18. Well, I guess under-sharing is better than over-sharing.
    It depends. It can make you seem cold and distant. Many believe that sharing certain amount of personal details brings people together. I guess I can see the idea behind it, but I can never tell what amount of details or what approach is acceptable at a given situation.

    Except that you over-share with the closest people to you, which is kind of what this post is all about not doingโ€ฆ ๐Ÿ™‚

    I guess I do over share certain things (mostly TMI ones), but not when it comes to potentially hurtful stuff such as “I think your sister is fat” (who cares what I think about it?)

    I guess closeness, to me, means that you don’t have to restrict your behavior or to constantly remind yourself what kind of stuff is not appropriate to share. Because people close to you won’t get mad even if you go TMI or if you lack tact (though my lack of tact does annoy my husband from time to time).

    But I don’t want to be annoying, so I ask him (and other close people) to tell me explicitly what kind of stuff is ok and what kind of stuff isn’t ok to talk about. I guess I’m not good at guessing.

  19. Sherry,

    You’re right about everyone needing some privacy, but it’s difficult when you’re a couple. And a lot of older couples don’t care about “letting it all hang out”.


    Mira,

    Sharing details does bring people together, especially when they are initially getting to know each other. But you can talk a lot without sharing much.

    “I guess closeness, to me, means that you donโ€™t have to restrict your behavior or to constantly remind yourself what kind of stuff is not appropriate to share.”

    Ideally, that’s what it would mean. But in reality, if you’re too open, you run the risk of hurting people you’re close to. They may not saying anything, but they might build up resentment over time, or just decide to spend less time with you.

    It’s kind of like those parents (especially mothers) who tell their kids everything that is wrong with them, under the idea that they are parents so they are allowed to say whatever they want to their kids. They don’t know how much psychological damage and/or resentment they are causing.

  20. Well that goes without saying, you don’t tell your partner everything lol
    A white lie here and there don’t hurt anyone and can be good for the relationship or just not open your mouth about a thing in the first place ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Mira, so many people have mothers like that, unfortunately. I hope I never become a mother like that…

    Nkosazana,

    “Well that goes without saying, you donโ€™t tell your partner everything lol
    A white lie here and there donโ€™t hurt anyone”

    Of course you’d say that. You seem like the type to keep many “little” things from your partner. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  22. Nkosazana,

    “Did you just call me a sneaky woman?”

    Interpret my statements as you will. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Just kidding, but you seem more like a traditional woman (or a woman who has learned traditional values), and many traditional women believed in keeping certain things from their husbands.

  23. Like what? Just out of curiosity ๐Ÿ™‚

    I can’t think of anything ‘little’ atm but maybe I do keep something from him..

  24. I believe that many people do need some mental and emotional space in a relationship to avoid feeling suffocated by too much of the other person’s ‘stuff’ or ‘issues’.

    A lack of openness is one way to achieve that, but there are others. Physical space via having your own room in the home or even living in seperate houses, can allow people some breathing room.

    Not everyone wants their romantic relationship to result in a sort of psychic merging where you become a single unit even if our society seems to cultivate that.
    It’s the same reason why I don’t believe in taking on the man’s name on marriage or sharing bank accounts. I would personally always choose to uphold the integrity of the individual.

  25. Everything I think he does not need to know. Everything he thinks I don’t need to know. My first marriage was flawed b/c we had atrocious communication skills and miscommunicated frequently. I wanted more open communication but I knew also that we had to set some boundaries. I think that’s where some folks go wrong, in all relationships there should be boundaries, with your partner, friends, family, co-workers there should always be a line that shouldn’t be crossed and should be respected. Too much openness can lead to conflict but so can be too closed off. It’s a balancing act.

  26. Nkosazana,

    Hmmm, like maybe if your kids were having personal issues, would you tell him immediately or try to resolve it yourself?

  27. Kat,

    Do you believe society encourages psychic merging as a single unit? I always thought our society (well, I’ll speak for mine — the U.S.) cultivates individuality and independence, even in a romantic relationship. I agree though in the idea of some space.

    Eugenia,

    “Too much openness can lead to conflict but so can be too closed off. Itโ€™s a balancing act.”

    Right!

    I guess the second time is the charm, huh, Eugenia? ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Hmmm, like maybe if your kids were having personal issues, would you tell him immediately or try to resolve it yourself?

    Depends if it’s girls issues I can deal with it myself and maybe tell hubby later. If it boys issues I would send him to daddy.

  29. Alee, for me it is. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think mostly b/c I learned something. I learned quite a bit about myself, men, marriage, communication in my first marriage. I had to learn, that’s the key. I once heard ‘there are no good or bad experiences, only learning’ I’ve taken that in my own life. If the experience is good, I learn what I need to do to get those results again, if it’s bad I learn how to avoid that result or change things in me where that result won’t happen. If I hadn’t learned anything from my first marriage….man, I don’t even want to think about it but I learned a lot more than I ever want any of the young women in my family to have go through to catch a lesson.

  30. Eugenia,

    “I once heard โ€˜there are no good or bad experiences, only learningโ€™ Iโ€™ve taken that in my own life.”

    This is very true, and I might have to weave that into my everyday mentality.

    Feel free to pass on more of your marriage wisdom to me. ๐Ÿ˜€

  31. I’m going to write a blog about my past marriage and what I learned from it. It’s taken some time for me to come to the point where I can write about it, b/c some of it was really painful. But I want to write about it and I think I will, it may cathartic for me. I hope someone can learn something from me. What I have learned for sure is that a true loving relationship is about giving not getting and if I give to someone and they give in return, I get everything I need from the relationship.

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