If you’re a publicly traded company there are strict laws that you must follow regarding full disclosure of relevant information. When you’re in a relationship the rules of full disclosure aren’t as clear. Am I saying that lying to a spouse or dating partner is ok? Well, it depends. What?!?! Yup, you heard me correctly. Let me elaborate.
There are different types of lies. There are what they call “white lies” or good lies, and bad, deceitful lies (black lies?). When you’re a guest at someone’s dinner table and your hostess asks if you liked the soup, it’s obvious to all that even if you didn’t, you lie and say you did. You might not want to be too enthusiastic about it though, because she might make you eat another serving.
The Sages of the Talmud actually discussed a similar scenario. The question was how to praise a bride. One sage said that you should say that she is beautiful even if she isn’t. Another sage demanded that you be totally honest and simply praise something else about her that you honestly believe. For example, you might praise the bride’s gown or her personality instead of her beauty to avoid lying. Obviously, by following the latter opinion you probably will make her feel bad, but you won’t be lying. The first sage’s opinion ended up winning the Talmudic debate. In other words, a “white” lie to make someone feel good is fine. There are actually a few more scenarios where the sages of the Talmud permit “white” lies. In all cases, the lie is to protect someone from embarrassment or loss.
I think we can all agree that when your wife asks you if she looks fat in what she’s wearing, you should NEVER say yes even if it’s the God honest truth. However, in your desire to make her feel good you might actually be harming her by letting her believe that she looks good when she really doesn’t and exposing her to nasty comments and ridicule. The right thing to do is to suggest something else that you think will be more flattering for her. You might say, “I think you look nice in this but I think that other outfit you wore last week looks much better on you.” You’ve told her she looks nice and shown a sincere interest in her appearance, and you’ve given her some constructive advice that she will appreciate. You’ve triumphed where most men have failed.
Sometimes not saying something that you really believe to be true and simply remaining silent is the right thing do to. Let’s say your husband is working as hard as he can but isn’t making as much money as you think you or your family need to live the kind of lifestyle you desire. By reminding him of this situation, which he is undoubtedly aware of, and fully disclosing your feelings you will only succeed in making him feel like a loser. Your financial situation won’t improve, but I can assure you that your relationship will suffer. If you feel so strongly that you MUST disclose your feelings, then speak to a friend or a counselor, but not to your husband and certainly not to your kids. If you want to be helpful, think of a way to make some extra money and offer to do it sincerely because you want to and not because you feel your husband isn’t capable of supporting his family.
What about when your dating? How much do you need to disclose about yourself, and your past? It depends on how long you are dating for. If you’re on your first few dates, you really shouldn’t have to disclose anything too personal unless, of course, you want to. When you feel that things are becoming serious then you must disclose things that will have a direct effect on your partner if the relationship progresses.
For example, if you’re suffering from a serious medical condition that can severely effect your life or your ability to bear children, I believe that your partner has a right to know. But if you did things in your past that you are ashamed of and that you’ve totally given up, I don’t think that you need to tell your partner. According to Jewish philosophy, when a person sincerely repents and pledges not to repeat the offense, he can no longer be reminded of his sin. It’s as if it has been wiped clean from his past. Therefore, you don’t need to tell your partner that you experimented with drugs in the past or that you once worked as an exotic dancer to pay your way through college, unless you’re planning to continue taking drugs or stripping. It’s non of your partners business because it has no effect on him or her today or in the future. What happened in the past, stays in the past.
Now what if your partner directly asks you if you ever did such and such? Can you lie and say you didn’t? Based on what I just said, the answer should be yes. However, there’s another factor that comes into play. Why is this person asking you this specific question? If it’s because she heard a rumor or has suspicions, then I think you might want to bring it into the open and come clean. Not because you have an ethical obligation to disclose everything. I believe that you don’t. But you want to be with someone who appreciates you for who you are, not for who they want you to be. Everyone makes mistakes. You probably will make mistakes in the future. You both will. If your partner can’t accept you, regardless of what you did in the past, then he or she is probably not the person you want to spend your life with. Making mistakes is part of life. So is moving on.
There’s obviously a lot more to be said about this topic, but for now, here are some basic rules to follow:
- White lies to avoid hurting someone are ok.
- Sensitive, constructive advice is even better.
- Full disclosure is only required when it’s about something that effects the person you are disclosing to. If it doesn’t, then it’s your choice whether to disclose or not.
What are your thoughts on full disclosure? How much do you think you need to disclose to a spouse? A Dating partner? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.