The Honesty Exchange (Revisited)

I wrote a post many moons ago about this concept, but it was through the lens of two back-to-back relationships ending. The concept behind it was sound and something I continue to practice in my daily life, but the examples I used to present it back then were, in my opinion, too personal and not the most effective ones to get the message across. This is my attempt to do it better.


In the world of kink and BDSM, we talk about the “power exchange.” I love to focus on the word “exchange,” not as a “one gives and one takes,” but as a mutual give and take between the people involved. It looks a little bit like the symbol for recycling – not a one-for-one exchange, but symbiotic exchange running on a continuous loop.

This particular post isn’t so much about the exchange of power in BDSM, but about the give and take that happens in relationships (I’m more focused on romantic, but this is really a factor in all relationships) when it comes to honesty.

So many people say they want honesty. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and responding to people who are sharing some of their difficulties navigating (mostly) polyamorous relationships in advice forums. A common thread I see is that the person posting feels that they have been lied to in some way by their partner, and want to know what to do to recapture the trust in their relationships.

I hit a wall when I see those posts, because for me lies are a hard limit. I don’t make a habit of giving people a second chance to lie to me, so I just back away from responding because my response tends to be “Walk away from this – the trust is broken.”

But, I also realize that it’s easy for me to expect honesty from the people in my life because I make it very easy for people to be honest with me. That’s part of the Honesty Exchange that I’m talking about.

Expecting honesty from your partner isn’t only about wanting them to be truthful at all time, it’s also about learning to accept honesty graciously when you don’t like what you’re hearing, and learning to give honesty tactfully when it’s not what they want to hear.

I’ll start with that first part. Learning to accept honesty graciously is about not flying off the handle, or abandoning rationality in favor of knee-jerk emotional reactions when your partner tells you something you didn’t want to hear.

I have a very simple default response when I’m being told a truth that I don’t enjoy hearing. It’s similar to that commercial for the candy bar (Twix?) where someone is asked a question or put on the spot and they shove the candy in their mouth to give them a few seconds to come up with something to say….

When someone gives you information that you know to be true, but that is causing you some emotional distress – the default response is to say the following:

Thank you for your honesty.

There it is. That’s all you have to do. Breathe deeply, let your lip quiver, feel the feelings that you feel – but do your best to hold it together long enough to remember that you asked them for the truth.

And thank them for it.

Then, assess your feelings and give them some measured honesty back. Feeling like you’re too angry to discuss it? Say “Thank you for your honesty. This news is a bit shocking. I’m feeling a lot of mixed emotions, and I’d like to ask for some time to process before we talk about it further.”

Feeling like your world is falling apart? Say, “Thank you for your honesty. I’m feeling really anxious about this information. What does this mean for us going forward?”

The result of having a measured reaction to bad news is that the next time your partner has something to tell you that you might not want to hear, they’ll feel less hesitant to share it with you than they would if you’d responded to them with white hot anger followed by three to five days of passive aggressive silence or unfiltered snark.

But, just like the recycle symbol, this feeds back into another benefit for you. If you know that your partner is willing to tell you the not-so-great things because they don’t fear you’ll have an extremely negative reaction, that means you can actually believe them when they tell you the super-fantastic things. What reason would they have to lie? The good news gets that much sweeter when you know it’s true.

There is so much relief in just trusting someone. But in order to reach that with someone whose default setting isn’t “be completely open and honest regardless of feelings or consequences” you have to let them know it’s safe for them to give you bad news sometimes.

Otherwise, you’re asking them to tell you the truth only when it’s pleasant, and that just leads to questioning if everything they tell you is 100% honest.

Now to the other part of this equation. The giving of truth when it’s not a pleasant truth to give.

This is sometimes called “diplomacy,” and not everybody is very good at it. Some people are really good at honesty, and go so far as to brag about their ability to be “brutally honest” with people.

I don’t like to be “brutally” honest.

I prefer to be “tactfully” honest, or as some people recently described it, I practice “gentle” honesty.

It’s the type of honesty that is compassionate in nature. It’s a type of honesty I’ve learned is best shared when requested, because not everybody is as good at receiving the bad news – and when they ask for advice, what they really want is pity.

I feel like the best way to go about being gentle with your honesty is to put yourself in the position of the person who has to hear what you have to say. Figure out how you would want to be told and do your best to be direct, but kind in your delivery.

I’ll give a really basic example. You go to your partner’s place for the first time and they want to cook for you. They spend a few hours preparing a meal and they’re very proud of it. You take a bite and…well, it’s not edible.

They ask you “How do you like it? Be honest.”

Do you lie? You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to be an ass and just say “Oh, this is disgusting.” That’s honest, but rude.

So put yourself in their position: How would you want someone to tell you your food isn’t great? How would they tell you this so that your reaction wouldn’t be defensive or self-hatred? (And if you think there’s no way somebody could be honest with you without pissing you off or making you hate yourself, work on that whole “Thank you for being honest,” trick).

Personally, I’d find something good to say about it – “The meat is well cooked, but it’s a little salty for my taste.” Or “The flavor is great, but I prefer it a little more rare.” Or “Well, it’s not what I’m used to…I think I might like it better next time if…..”

What do you do if they’re hurt by your honesty? Be compassionate. Show them that it upsets you to hurt them, but it would hurt you more to lie to them. Give them the space to feel how they feel, and let them know that you aren’t going to react negatively to their negative reaction.

Again, earning the reputation from the people in your life as someone who won’t lie to them and won’t fault them for having reactive emotions has really excellent benefits. People tend not to ask me what I think unless they really want to know. Most of the time, I just listen.

And people respect you because they trust you.

Trust and respect are sexy as hell. I think they’re the best aphrodisiac and my top two kinks of all time.

So, well….hopefully this is a more accessible and comprehensive understanding of the Honesty Exchange as I see it. If you want people to be honest with you, you have to be able appreciate their honesty even when it hurts; and if you want people to trust and respect you, you have to be honest with them and give them the space to react however they’re going to react, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Vignettes in Perspective

I cried at a silly love poem yesterday in which a Dom loved his Brat with all her bratty ways.

There are reasons why things like that trigger me.

Here are some of them:

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Conversation with my Husband:

“I can’t remember the last time we had sex.”

“It wasn’t that long ago.”

“It hasn’t happened since before my last birthday. That was six months ago.”

“No, it hasn’t been that long.”

“It has.”

“Maybe this weekend.”

“You said that last weekend.”

“I’m a failure as a husband.”

“You’re a wonderful husband. But it makes me feel like you don’t want me.”

“Of course I want you. You’re the sexiest woman I’ve ever known.”

“Then why don’t you ever want to touch me?”

“I love you. I love you so much. I know you’ll leave me some day.”

“I’m never going to leave you. Never. I just want to feel wanted.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“You won’t ever be without me.”

Tags: dead bedroom, neglect, emotional manipulation, depression, communication, marriage, sex, codependency

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With the first guy I rebounded with after Husband passed away: 

“Are you going to be there?”

“I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be there.”

“I know sometimes you don’t feel up for it, but I’d really love for you to be there.”

“I’ll be there. Nothing could keep me from being there.”

Tags: neglect, lies, depression, broken promises, rebound romance, grief, needy, clingy, disappointment

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The day I knew it was over with that guy:

“Where is he?”

“He’s probably not coming.”

“Has he called?”

“Nope.”

“It’s your birthday.”

“Yeah.”

Tags: neglect, sadness, friendship, breakup

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With the second man I’ve ever loved – the one who shattered my heart:

“Say it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Say it.”

“Please don’t make me.”

“Say it, now.”

“I love you.”

“I don’t know how to respond to that.”

“You don’t love me.”

“I don’t know what love is. I don’t know if I love you or not. But I’ll promise you this – no matter what, I will always be your friend.”

“Then just acknowledge my feelings. Tell me you know.”

“Okay.”

“I love you, Sir.”

“I know.”

Tags: emotional masochism, doormat, BDSM, love, emotions, vulnerability, fear, communication, long distance relationship, star wars

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“I want to talk to you about something.”

“What’s up?”

“How would you feel if I took on a second sub?”

“Online?”

“Yeah, just online only.”

“I guess that’s fine. I love you, but you’re on the other side of the planet. If you need more than I can give you, I don’t want to stop you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Just promise me one thing….”

“What’s that?”

“I get to be your favorite.”

“That will never be a problem.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

Tags: poly, long distance relationships, broken promises, communication, emotions, regret, love, submission, idealism, emotional masochism, unrealistic expectations, doormat, codependency

_____

“I’m coming to meet you.”

“How long will you be here?”

“Three months is as long as I can legally stay.”

“I love you.”

“I know. Look. I can’t promise you I’m going to love you when I meet you.”

“I understand.”

“And I’m not sure if I’m comfortable having sex with you.”

“I understand. I love you, Sir.”

“I know.”

Tags: excitement, anticipation, fear, emotional masochism, unrealistic expectations, doormat.

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“She’s coming to visit here a week before I fly out to you.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll call you every day.”

“Okay.”

Tags: No he didn’t.

_____

“I have something to tell you.”

“What’s up?”

“I told her I loved her last night.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“You are?”

“Yes. Because now you know how love feels, and you’ll know if you love me too when you meet me.”

Tags: This is not going to end well

______

“I unpacked your suitcase.”

“Good girl.”

“You should have told me yourself.”

“What?”

“You left the open box of condoms in it.”

“Oh.”

Tags: That was fucked up.

______

“Why are you crying?”

“Because you’ve been here three days and you still don’t know how you feel about me. I think maybe you just don’t love me. I really thought you did. I felt like you did. But you love her. Not me. You’re living in my house, sharing my bed, and you go downstairs each night and tell her you love her. And all you can tell me is that you know.”

“You’re silly.”

“Let’s just go home.”

“I brought you here because I wanted to tell you somewhere special. I do love you. I’ve always loved you. I will never stop loving you. I loved you before I flew out here, and I knew it the moment I saw you at the airport.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.”

Tags: timing, vulnerability, emotional sadism, fear, catharsis, vindication, relief

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“I’m in pain. It’s really bad.”

“I need to drive her back to her car.”

“It’s REALLY bad. I don’t know if I should go to the hospital.”

“I need to drive her to her car and I’ll come right back.”

*30 minutes later*

“I’m sorry. I have to drive her all the way back home [350 miles away]. She’s distraught and she can’t drive herself.”

“I’m still in pain. The cramps are horrible, I think it’s going to kill me.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll get a bus or a flight home tomorrow.”

Tags: That wasn’t even the first time.

______

“I don’t feel comfortable being myself when she’s around. She gets uncomfortable when you kiss me. She doesn’t even like it when you look at me.”

“Don’t worry about her. I’ll handle her. You be yourself.”

“It won’t end well. She’ll throw a tantrum like she always does.”

“I told you I’ll handle it. You don’t have to worry about it.”

Tags: unrealistic expectations, communication, emotional manipulation, I told him so

_____

“Look, maybe just don’t be so touchy feely in public.”

“You told me I should be myself.”

“It makes her uncomfortable.”

“You said you would handle it.”

“You were grinding on me.”

“I WAS NOT GRINDING ON YOU. That’s not even a phrase you would ever use. You got that from her.”

“It doesn’t matter. You do as I say.”

“Apparently, I’m the only one who does.”

Tags: Straw, meet camel’s back.

_____

“It’s over. When you come back, your stuff will be packed.”

“Okay.”

“I can’t believe you’re choosing her over me.”

“It’s for your own good.”

“You never loved me.”

“I will always love you. I keep hurting you, and I can’t keep doing that to you.”

“Then why are you picking her? Because she’s more of a challenge? Because you have to work harder to get her to do what you want?”

“Maybe.”

“I gave you everything you wanted, and you held back everything I wanted. You wouldn’t even fuck me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be.”

“I am.”

Tags: I should have started letting go then.

______

“Hey. You called?”

“I hadn’t heard from you in a week. It’s Christmas. I thought you’d have reached out.”

“So, nothing is wrong?”

“It’s my first Christmas without him. I’m not doing well emotionally today.”

“You should reach out to your friends.”

“I thought you were my friend.”

“I’m tired. Going to bed.”

“Fuck you. Goodbye.”

Tags: broken promises, asshole behavior, last time we ever spoke.

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And I haven’t gotten to the recent¬†stuff.

There’s a reason why I’ve spent the last few days choking back tears.

Because the good girl never wins.