The Truth is Terrifying: My Tenuous Relationship With Being Rigorously Honest

I have learned that if I want to be true ot myself, I must start by telling the truth to my husband

I have tailored the truth to my audience for as long as I can remember.

And it started with peanuts. I attended a non-denominational Christian elementary school. One day when I was in the fourth grade, I had to stay in from recess for a reason I don't recall. To ease my pain and disappointment of missing out on the best part of the school day, my friend told me that I could have some of the peanuts she had in her lunch box. So, while the class was outside, I helped myself to some. However, I wasn't the only one who had to stay in that day. When two of my fellow sequestered classmates saw me snacking down on the tasty peanuts, they wanted some too. Now, my friend didn't give me permission to share with anyone else, but I decided, without much thought, that it would be ok if I did. Before I knew it, we had cleaned out my friend's stash. Upon returning from recess and realizing that all her peanuts were gone, my friend was rightfully angry. She told our teacher that I had eaten "all" her peanuts. I defended myself by saying that I did not eat "all" the peanuts, because the two other kids had some as well. So, the three of us were sent to the principal's office for stealing. I pleaded that I was innocent because my friend told me that I could have some - which was technically the truth. However, I did not stand up for the other two girls by admitting that I told them they could have some peanuts - as if they were mine to give - which made them also seem guilty of stealing, when they really weren't. We all three ended up being paddled, and I was left feeling that "the peanut incident" had been a great injustice to me. The takeaway for me was that I told the truth from my point of view - I did not eat all the peanuts - but it did not matter. I got punished anyway.

What I didn't take away from the incident was the deception and betrayal that were at play in my personality when I was a mere 9 years old. I didn't see for many, many years that I betrayed my friend's trust when I gave away her peanuts. Yes, I had agreed to only eat some, not all, of her peanuts, but that didn't mean that I could then give the remainder to others, causing all of her peanuts to get eaten. In reality, it didn't matter whether I actually ate all the peanuts or allowed others to eat them all. She trusted me to make sure that there were some left for her. I also never realized that I had a duty to tell my teacher/ principal that I told the other two girls that they could have some, and that they did not actually steal them outright. They were innocent. They should have never been punished. By remaining silent and withholding information, I got them a paddling that they did not deserve.

It was eye-opening, while reflecting on this past incident, to realize that a lot of my behavior hasn't really changed much since elementary school. Since then, I believed that the truth is fluid. It is mine to mold to fit my purposes. It should be spun in such a way as to avoid any negative emotional backlash. Honesty is moot unless it benefits me and the person I'm telling. I am conflict avoidant by nature - I hate being in the hot seat. I'm a pleaser - I want everyone to feel ok. Therefore, I started to devalue honesty and place more importance on my self-image. I controlled how I felt about myself by controlling how others felt about me. How I appeared to people and how much positivity they felt about me became paramount. I selectively used truth as one of many tools to get the outcome I wanted, instead of using it to reveal what I was responsible for. These ideas about the truth have led to deceptive and secretive behavior that has incredibly damaged my character. It follows then, that I have been a nightmare to be married to. I had the perfect storm of character flaws to be unfaithful.

My infidelity occurred while my husband and I were dating. We were exclusive, but I chose to have a one-night stand. I told my husband right after it happened. I knew the consequences it would have, but I really didn't want to lose him. I also wanted to get credit for being honest. Selectively using pieces of truth to craft the outcome I wanted, I spun a story that would soften the blow and still have me telling my husband that I had sex with another man. I told him that the sex wasn't consensual - that I really didn't want to, but was forced. Truth, but tailored to my husband's feelings. He would be upset, but spared the worst. Actually, I was able to get sympathy from him, due to my convincing portrayal as a victim. With the affair put in this context, he was able to forgive me, and we went on to get married a short time later. When I finally did tell the whole truth to my husband 27 years later, I still could not see that it was the right thing to do. In theory I knew it was right, but in reality, the pain he experienced, fully knowing what had happened, was horrible. It was devastating. His world was turned upside down, and he no longer knew what to believe about the woman he married. He realized that our marriage had been built on a lie. Who he had become as a husband was built on a lie. I had deceived him wholly. His reaction was proof that the truth had, once again, caused bad things to happen.

Since D-Day, I slowly realized that I needed to change my relationship with the truth if I wanted to stay in a relationship with my husband. Through AR, I learned that it was my actual actions that caused bad things to happen, not the telling of them. In the early days of recovery, however, I regressed. I went from soft truths and fibs of omission that were common for me, to outright bold face lies. I could not stand to feel the pain brought on by 'fessing up to behavior that did not fit into the false image that I had of myself or that would cause a negative reaction in my husband. I had trouble accepting that my actions were what was harmful. I had it backwards. I was too weak to take on the burden of the truth at that time. To mitigate, I would try to be perfect. I thought that if I didn't ever commit hurtful acts, I would never be in a position where I was compelled to lie. It's easy to take ownership of good behavior. After a deceptive incident, I would try to just be good, but of course I was doomed to fail. And I did - a lot.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for my actions, no matter what they were. Since I was never going to be a perfect person, I needed to develop the character to tell the truth instead. If I honestly own my thoughts, feelings, and actions in my heart, telling the truth will be an extension of that ownership. Easier said than done, for someone who has a malleable relationship with honesty. I needed to learn to sit in reality and deal with it like a mature adult. Sadly, at 51, I didn't know how. To help me navigate this uncharted territory, I started thinking about whether my husband would approve of my actions - all of them. Even ones that seemed insignificant - like how I talked to the Starbucks girl if she got my order wrong. I couldn't use my fluctuating emotions as a guide. I could always excuse my own behavior and soften the effects of it with a lie. Doing this exercise helped, but I realized that I also needed someone whose character I trusted and whose integrity I respected to help lead me to new, transparent behavior. Someone to be my guide.

My husband served as this guide, and I used his ability to live in the truth as a template to rebuild my dishonest character. He gave me this wonderful visual that really changed my perspective and helped me to integrate honesty more readily into my life. He helped me view the truth as something that exists outside of me. Truth is its own entity that just "is" - whether I like it or am comfortable with it; whether I regret it or am ashamed of it. It is there waiting for me to accept it and take it in my hands for what it means in reality. He suggested picturing it in my mind, looking like a "thought bubble" above my head. When my husband (or anyone) wants to know the truth so that he can better understand me and my actions, it is my duty as a wife, as a friend, as a fellow human being, to present it to him without expectations or strings attached. To present it without ego. I give him the whole "truth thought bubble package" in its entirety, because he can't get to it any other way. When I hand it to him, I must accept that once it is in his hands, he does with it as he sees fit. It is no longer solely in my keeping. If I tried to alter it or place requirements on it, the process just takes longer and hurts more. The truth doesn't need instructions. In his hands, the truth will find its own way to make sense to him. I can't possibly know how truth communicates itself to my husband in a way he can understand, but it does. It takes time, but truth finds a way to make all who want to hear it, understand what it is saying. All I can do is slow the process with distortions, or prevent the process by keeping it inside. It's really that easy, and that hard. Simply give my husband the truth and it will do all the work necessary for him to eventually understand, if he does the work to hear it. My job is to nurture and support him during this process.

The thought bubble seems cartoonish, but it works for me amazingly well. When I think of telling the truth in this way, the abject fear of the repercussions - the pain caused by hurting my husband's feelings, ruining a date, making me look bad, or not pleasing and meeting expectations - is muted and more tolerable. I can do the right thing more often, which builds much-needed trust with my husband. I am far from being rigorously honest. I still struggle with deceptive thought patterns and wanting to please and not cause friction. But I have learned that if I want to be true to myself, I must start by telling the truth to my husband. It is so basic, and something I should have taken seriously starting in elementary school. I can't avoid the truth and be in a healthy relationship, and I can't be dishonest and be the woman of integrity that I strive to be. I am now learning that to believe, and live otherwise, is what is truly terrifying.

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Being reminded

When he thinks of our 25 years together and how I lied to him, because my story is extremely similar to yours, he ask me if I planned to lie to him. The problem with me is I start justifying and explaining and it infuriates him. Then he accuses me of more lies. We are stuck in this cycle. I have taken the course. I am so alone. He is so angry and distant. I don’t know why it is so hard for me to take ALL of the responsibility for the way he feels. What is wrong with me?

jaha

I am sorry to hear that you and your husband are stuck- I know how desperate and lonely that feels. In my experience, movement forward cannot come without taking full responsibility. Whatever we as the unfaithful are trying to hold onto- dignity, pride, ego- blocks our ability to empathize with our spouses. They have to feel that we can work through our shame and guilt on our own time (this needs to be done) and can be fully present with them during their pain. Justifications and explanations tell them that their feelings are not important and that they themselves are not important enough for us to shift the focus off of ourselves. Empathy is so crucial. It is hard when spouses are angry. Anger usually masks pain but can pass quickly when met with undersatnding and validation. I write all this like it is easy. I know that it is not. It is so very hard. The fact that you have found AR and have done the course says so much about your willingness to save your marriage. Keep doing the work. I wish healing for you and your husband.

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I would highly recommend giving this a try.
 
-D, Texas