Secrets aren't often black and white. They fall on a continuum, with the most serious secrets having the potential to damage or even end your relationship.
If you're thinking about being dishonest, you may find yourself in a murky moral dilemma, questioning whether it's OK to lie to your partner—and what's the difference between a fib and a straight-up lie anyway?
Distinguishing something as a white lie from a big freakin’ deal comes down to whether your partner would feel betrayed by the truth.
Secrets may be the most damaging when they directly violate defined or perceived values and boundaries within your relationship. One big example that comes to mind is infidelity.
Couples have typically directly communicated about exclusivity and may have even talked through inappropriate behaviors of both physical and emotional infidelity. Other common issues that couples face may be left to each partner’s judgment.
Being in a healthy and happy partnership means prioritizing your partner’s feelings oftentimes over your own. This means when you’re thinking of keeping or revealing a secret, instead of focusing on how it will affect you, think about how it will impact your partner.
Ultimately you have to ask yourself whether this information will cause more unnecessary harm than good.
Research has found that it feels better to lie to your partner in order to spare his or her feelings (referred to as "benevolent deception") than it does to be lied to in the same situation. Not surprisingly, we prefer to tell lies than to be lied to.
Researchers found a gender difference as well, with men being more likely to tell white lies than women.
Interestingly, people who tended to lie also felt more positive about being lied to by their partners. Basically, it didn’t hurt or bother them as much. These people also reported lower relationship satisfaction, suggesting they lack intimacy and closeness with their partner.
Think about it. If you’re frequently fibbing to your partner in order to protect his or her feelings, you’re likely not putting yourself in the best situations that show respect for your relationship.
To avoid lying in the first place, it's best to step back and ask yourself if you’re behaving in a disapproving way that may hurt your partner.
With all of that said, when is lying OK? Here are four situations when a white lie may just be fine:
1. About your past sexual relationships
Oftentimes in dating and new relationships, you want to learn all about your partner’s past sexual experiences as a way to get to know him or her better, as well as a way to gauge how you compare. Keep in mind this information should be used to bring you closer together, not to cause jealousy or insecurities.
So, before you ask or answer questions such as "How many people have you slept with?", "How big was his penis?", or "Have you ever done anal?", think about what you’ll gain from this conversation.
Perhaps it’s best to reframe the discussion around how you can best satisfy each other and improve your own sex life.
Also, make sure your little white lies don’t get you into a sexual rut. For instance, boosting your partner’s confidence with a fib such as "You just gave me the best orgasm of my life!" is different than faking an orgasm every time and then paying this fake compliment.
2. About a tiny money splurge
One of the biggest conflicts in a relationship is overspending on frivolous purchases, especially if you and your partner have a strict budget.
In this case, a white lie or fib is relative. Did you splurge on a Starbucks latte, or did you come home with a new car? If you overspend by $5, it may not be a big deal. However, if you go over budget by $5K, that could cause a lot of tension and mistrust in your relationship.
A 2015 Money poll found that $154 is the amount people felt they could spend without telling their spouse. If lying about money has occurred more than once or twice, you could be heading down a slippery slope of dishonesty.
Consider sitting down for a chat in which you clearly define spending boundaries. You can even ask your partner whether it’s a firm number or if spending a few dollars over needs to be reported.
3. About him being right
Sometimes you just want to avoid a fight, so rather than preparing for battle you simply tell your partner that you agree, even if you don’t. This white lie works only when your actions go along in support of your verbal validation.
In strong relationships, it’s not about right or wrong or who scores the most points. It’s about putting yourselves as a collective couple first, which means sometimes you need to be supportive and let your partner shine or just concede to keep the peace.
4. About whether or not you like your partner’s friends
Your partner’s BFF may drive you nuts, but this person has likely been a huge support in his or her life since before you came around. The only time it’s appropriate to share your true, honest feelings is if you think your partner is being taken advantage of, such as in a relationship that's not reciprocal.
In this case, you don’t need to bash your partner’s friend; rather, highlight the ways in which you see your partner giving too much and not receiving enough.
Partnerships thrive when they are built on a foundation of trust, safety, and security, and your lies may be putting your relationship at risk. Ultimately, if you notice yourself frequently omitting things, struggling to tell your partner the truth, or feeling as though you can't be honest, then your relationship could be in serious danger.
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This article originally appeared on YourTango.