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The case for radical honesty: Is a little white lie a bad thing?


Most of us aren’t taught to be honest communicators. When I recently searched “honesty and why it is so hard?” it brought up a bevy of articles on the psychology of lying. Discussions included: why we do it; can we stop?; should we stop?; when is it justified and when is it not?; is it okay in business?; and, is it ok when everyone else is doing it? I even learned a new word for using truthful facts to deceive: paltering. It’s a bit of a mess out there. As a culture we have become quite sophisticated in the art of not telling the truth.

From a divorce lawyer’s perspective, when I see a marriage coming apart it’s often a basic lack of trust and accountability between the spouses. Honest communication, if it was ever there, has broken down, or perhaps stopped. Eventually, there is no point in lying anymore or trying to hide the fact that it is time to separate. When someone finds the courage to use their words and ask for a divorce, this is a profound and often emotional moment in time. It is a brave act of radical honesty. If you are about to make this request or if it was recently asked of you, I suggest that you both agree to sit with that profound admission and not overreact. Lack of accountability, lack of trust, and an inability to communicate honestly about your needs and wants can make the challenging divorce situation even harder.

Give yourselves some time to process. This could be the best gift you have ever given to each other-- the gift of a pause. Make an agreement to take whatever time may be necessary to get your heads around this new challenge. View this time as an opportunity to do it right so that everyone’s needs can be met, and you both can emerge healthy and whole, instead of bitter and resentful. Many people are taught from a young age to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. It is ok to tell a “white lie” to spare someone’s feelings. We lie to our children when we tell them stories about tooth fairies, for example. I remember the shame I felt when my daughter realized that I was the one leaving her little glitter sprinkled notes and answering all of her poignant questions about where her tooth fairy lived, and if she had siblings, and whether she liked her job. I’ll never forget the disappointment on her face when I tried to apologize for and justify the deception. I knew I blew it. Concerned that she would never fully trust me again, I decided to start a practice of radical candor adjusted for her developmental stage. This allowed me to reestablish my trustworthiness in her eyes.

How many of us avoid having difficult conversations where we speak our truth and ask for what we need in fear that the other person will be upset? It’s natural. We can all use some practice in how to approach such conversations and how to set boundaries so that we do not feel selfish for asking for what we need to grow and feel alive. This is especially true in the context of the difficult conversation with your spouse about getting divorced.

When you are ready for that conversation, plot it out carefully. How can you have an authentic, open and honest conversation that takes ownership for your own feelings, thoughts and needs? Write down what you want to say in advance so that you can “say what you mean, mean what you say, and not say it mean”. That’s a great first step. Be mindful. This writing exercise is more challenging than one might think.

I encourage you to remember that divorce is not the end of your relationship. It is the beginning of its transformation into something else. If you take the time to think about how you want that relationship to look in the future, you will have a better chance of manifesting what you want. This is a much better choice than defaulting into a deeply wounded, bitter, and resentful ex-spouse. The choice is yours.

As a divorcing couple, you both can address your intense emotions in a healthy and professionally supported way. This does not mean becoming (or remaining) the emotional go-to person for each other anymore. It means gaining clarity, moving through your pain, and preparing yourself to make decisions for your children and your financial future. Use this time to develop the ability to communicate effectively and honestly with your former spouse so that you do not ruin your own lives, or those of your children.

A healthy way to move forward is through the Collaborative Divorce process or structured mediation. Responding in a knee jerk reaction by running off to the courthouse to start an adversarial divorce process may not afford you enough time to process your emotions and learn to speak honestly with your spouse or yourself.

Each of you needs to take time to process your emotions. That is a better time to show up to address the details of your divorce negotiation. Move forward when you are no longer clouded by anger, fear, grief, jealousy, anxiety, or thoughts of revenge. Show up as your best self, even if you are still feeling your worst. Ask for time to process these emotions before starting down the adversarial warfare path. You can set the example for your children on how to resolve conflict with integrity. You can demonstrate how to be resilient in the face of change. You can show them what healthy, honest communication looks like, and how radical honesty is the path forward to getting your needs met.

What is a radically honest conversation that you have been putting off?

*All information displayed on the Nanci A. Smith Esq PLLC website is informational and shall not be deemed as legal advice. If you’re currently dealing with an individual legal situation, you’re invited to contact me through email or by phone. Until an attorney-client relationship has been established, I urge that you avoid sharing any confidential information.