(My original title for this post was “Tying the Gordian Knot: How dishonesty corrodes choice, agency, cooperation, authenticity, connection, and the deep sense that someone is genuinely looking out for you and your best interests.” But it, like the post itself, got too long. I’ll be posting the other two parts after they’re more polished. )
Trust and honesty are the watchwords of successful, healthy long-term relationships. Everyone knows this, but we know it in a way that we fail to fully understood what trust and honesty are in a relationship. For me, the ideas lived in the realm of stereotype, taken for granted and caricatured. I could never put into words quite why honesty was important in an intimate, long-term relationship. I had been taught since childhood that honesty is crucial, and I had been rewarded for honesty, but I had lied on occasion too. Every child does. I knew vaguely, though, that honesty promoted trust and integrity. I also knew that on some level if I was honest with my parents, more specifically my dad, that he would have more trust in me and that that would in turn allow me greater freedom. I could also sense his pride in me when I was honest with him despite the trouble I might have gotten into by telling the truth. So I knew that trust and honesty were linked somehow and that personal authenticity and integrity were also located somewhere in their midst.
It wasn’t until my trust in my husband was completely overturned that I began to ponder and fully understand how honesty and trust thread their way through nearly every aspect of our lives. At a very basic level, trust is required for us to operate in the world. When we are babies, we must trust that others will take care of us. Our survival depends on it. When we are driving, we trust that the other drivers on the road will not endanger us. When we go to a public venue, a store, a school, we trust that people will generally behave in a courteous manner or at the very least not violate our person. When these trusts are broken, various traumas ensue. I won’t delve into these. However, I do want to extrapolate two very important points 1) that our ability to function in the world depends on our trusting other people and 2) that when trust is broken so are many other aspects of our lives.
In the context of my relationship with DH, I realized that trust and honesty allow us some very important things. When people in a relationship are honest with each other and trust each other, they have choice, agency, cooperation, authenticity, connection and the deep sense that someone is genuinely looking out for them and their best interests. These things ended with DH’s betrayal.
When DH decided to pursue a relationship with someone else, he began his betrayal. He did not explicitly lie to me to begin with, but he was dishonest. He did not communicate with me. He specifically chose not to communicate with me because he knew that he was betraying an explicitly expressed trust. I had told him that, in my view, polyamory was fraught with potential dangers and that I considered my relationship with him too valuable to chance someone’s interference else destroying it. He disregarded my thoughts and beliefs and pursued extramarital relationships anyway. He did not give me a choice. He never told me he had began a romantic relationship with someone else. He made the decision on his own for himself. I had no say in the matter. I had no voice. I could not say, “no” or “yes” or “what do you mean?” I was given no choice, and I had no voice. I had no agency. In his choice, casually or deliberately made, DH had diminished my personhood for his own personal pleasures.
The moral philosopher Emmanual Kant proposes a few ideas about what absolute moral laws might be. In other words, he inquires as to what social values can be considered universally applicable and absolute, things that everyone should do in all situations. One of the principles he establishes for assessing whether a moral value, specifically truth, might be universal is that its opposite, lying in this instance, takes away from people’s humanity. He finds that dishonesty is a violation of others’ humanity because dishonesty takes away people’s ability to make informed decisions for themselves. In my case, since I had no choice and no voice, I could not make informed decisions in my best interest, nor could I make them in my child’s best interest. I could not say to DH, “hey, let’s go to counseling. I think we might have a few problems to work out.” I could not say, “you get the mistresses or you get me. Not both. Not ever.” I could not say, “The way you are treating me, the things you are doing, these are destructive examples to set for your kid.” I could not say, “Do not send pictures of my child to the women who are betraying me, her mother.” I had no agency. I had no self-determination. I had been made less of a person.