The One Radical Rule That Saved My Relationship

love, relationships, radical honesty

It's not easy, but most things worth having are worth fighting for.

When my husband and I first came together as a romantic couple three years ago, we agreed to practice Radical Honesty in our relationship, meaning he and I wouldn't keep any secrets from each other bigger than a surprise party. The rule can prove more challenging to abide by than you might suspect at first. But both of us feel it's well worth the occasional angst we experience in order to enjoy a romance that lets us feel totally connected and utterly trusting of each other.

What does Radical Honesty mean? It means, quite simply, that you tell the your partner everything that's going on in your life. Everything. Not just where you're going that evening and what you'll be doing at work that day and with whom, but also mentioning when someone you meet gives you butterflies. When you feel an urge to reach out to an ex. When you get overwhelmed with guilt about someone you hurt years ago.

It means sharing when someone at the office gets flirtatious with you—even if you don't reciprocate his or her advances. Or telling your partner you find someone—even a movie star—sexy. In sum, it boils down to full disclosure and keeping zero secrets in an attempt to ward off any potential trouble further down the road.

My desire for Radical Honesty runs deep. I was married for six years and in a nine-year relationship prior to meeting and marrying my current husband, Kiran.

Back then I was married to Sid, who was not the love of my life by any means, but we did have a caring, fun relationship—until it all fell apart. I gradually discovered that Sid had been lying to me. First about small things, like running into an ex at an event and grabbing a quick drink with her. Then about big things, like hitting on a mutual friend of ours, telling her how much he wanted to sleep with her. After we divorced, the walls came tumbling down. Other people shared their stories about Sid. Turns out my ex had been dishonest about who he was at his very core. It took me a long time to forgive him—and myself.

What I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt from my first marriage was a gift. I came to see how lies, no matter how tiny, can snowball into grander and far more humiliating deceptions. Lies completely undermined my relationship with Sid; I was not about to allow the same thing to happen with Kiran.  

Of course, practicing Radical Honesty can be tough. It forces you to confront tough emotions head on. In a society that teaches us to avoid conflict as much as humanly possible, to make amends, smooth things over, and tell white lies, Radical Honesty is the opposite policy. It's all about diving headfirst into sticky situations in the name of love.

I'll give you an example. I have promised to tell Kiran whenever I hear from an ex-boyfriend, just as he will tell me whenever an ex-girlfriend contacts him. I personally don't think there's anything worse than glancing at your partner's cellphone when it rings or buzzes and seeing that heart-pounding, knee-shaking, jealousy-inspiring ex's name on the screen. What could more instantly and assuredly inspire a total mental breakdown? At least this way, I know that if Angela or Katy (not their real names) reaches out, Kiran will tell me about it—pronto.

And yet in spite of our Radical Honesty commitment, I had trouble practicing it in the early days of our relationship. One day, I got an email from an ex (let's call him Robert) saying that he'd be in town, and asking whether I'd like to get together for coffee. It was a totally innocent request. Robert knew that I was blissfully married to the love of my life, and he himself was in a new, seemingly happy relationship. Furthermore, we had only spent six months dating, and things had ended amicably when we decided to go our separate ways.

But for some reason, I didn't tell Kiran right away. I wrote back to Robert, saying sure, I'd be happy to meet up for coffee that weekend. Then I waited. And waited. Again, to be clear, I didn't have any intentions of infidelity or any lingering feelings for Robert. I always was going to tell Kiran about my plans to meet up with my ex. But I didn't act immediately to share the news. I was hiding Robert's request for a meeting from Kiran because the prospect of discussing my ex with my current love made me uncomfortable. I worried that Kiran would get jealous. That it would just upset him. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I wanted to protect him.  Keep reading...

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