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.
Well, keeping Robert’s email a secret couldn’t possibly have been a worse decision. I should have said something to Kiran right away and asked him if he was okay with the platonic rendezvous. If he had been hurt, if he had gotten jealous, I could’ve handled it. If he had said “No, don’t meet Robert for coffee,” I absolutely would have respected his wishes.
But I waited until the day before Robert was coming to town before I said something. When I did, Kiran was upset, wanting to know when I had made these plans. I was honest and admitted it had been several days ago. We got into an argument. In the end, Kiran was far more upset that I had explicitly violated our Radical Honesty rule than he was about Robert contacting me or my agreeing to see Robert for coffee. Kiran felt betrayed that I had kept a secret from him for days.
I felt horrible, apologetic, and dishonest. And I ended up canceling on Robert, because repairing my relationship with my one true love was more important to me than making a social visit with an ex. Everyone lost out due to my own reluctance to confront the situation fearlessly and with integrity.
On the contrary, every time I have shared my vulnerabilities with Kiran, he has responded with such tenderness and compassion that I am blown away. He meets every embarrassing memory or urge with love, respect and understanding—and I do the same for him.
Because of this—our ongoing policy of Radical Honesty—I know beyond a doubt that our marriage will endure. It’s not an easy practice, and maybe it never will be, but it works for us.