When the Truth is a LieWhat do you make of the following fun facts?[i]

  1. You could live the rest of your life without eating or drinking anything.
  2. Most people have more than the average number of legs.
  3. I’ve won as many Oscars as Glenn Close.

They feel a bit fishy, don’t they? And yet, every one of those statements is 100% true.


You could live the rest of your life without eating or drinking. You just wouldn’t live long. And most people have two legs, but some people have fewer. So the average is lower than two. Finally, Glenn Close has been nominated for an Academy Award numerous times. But she hasn’t won any.

Welcome to the subtle art of being deceptive and truthful at the same time. It’s called “paltering,” and it’s alarmingly common.

Paltering is easier to stomach than lying. You can mislead with a clean conscience, or so the thinking goes. Plus, we tell ourselves others won’t be offended by paltering. I mean, you are speaking the literal truth, right?

Well, I have some bad news about that. A recent study found that people react just as negatively to paltering as they do to lying.[ii]

In other words, deception, even if it’s technically the truth, hurts trust. If you want a healthy, fulfilling relationship, honesty isn’t just the best policy. It’s the only policy.

But what do you do when being honest means telling him something he may not want to hear? Or something you simply don’t want to share?

The following strategy will help you be as honest as a cherry-tree-chopping George Washington while minimizing any negative impact on your relationship.

Any time you’re tempted to deceive your partner, the best first step is to ask yourself WHY.

Paltering in relationship.What do you get out of hiding the truth? Are you embarrassed? Scared? Did you make a mistake? Or are you just not ready to share THAT yet?

If your motive is some form of embarrassment, either because the truth isn’t flattering or because you messed up, I advise you just to tell him.

Be tactful, but truthful. And also tell him you’re nervous about confessing.

That gives him the chance to talk it over with you if he feels the need. While the conversation may be a little uncomfortable, candid honesty goes a long way toward building trust.

But that’s the easy hypothetical. You probably didn’t even need me to tell you that.

The more difficult situation is one in which you’re not comfortable sharing. Maybe he’s asking about something very personal, like your religious or political views. Or maybe he wants to know about your romantic past before you’re ready to spill the beans.

Sure, you could dodge the question or palter, but there’s a better way.

When your man asks about something you’re not ready to share, tell him you’re not comfortable discussing that topic yet. If possible, tell him why.

Politics and PalteringFor example, if politics comes up on your first date, you might say, “I’m really enjoying getting to know you, but I’d rather steer clear of talking politics until we know each other a little better.”

If he asks about a previous boyfriend and you’d rather not tell the whole story, say this: “Can we shelve that topic for now? We can come back to it later, but I’m not ready to share that just yet.”

The key here is that you’re being completely honest, AND you’re establishing some really healthy boundaries. That’s a recipe for a mature relationship if I’ve ever heard one.

By contrast, deception in any form will only push you apart.

There are certainly times when it’s tempting to palter. Sometimes we use technical truth to save a little face, and sometimes we use it to avoid sharing personal information prematurely. But that’s not the best call.

Instead, fess up to blunders if/when you make them, and employ healthy boundaries if topics come up that you aren’t ready to tackle.

After all, you don’t want a “technically fulfilling” relationship. You want a knock-your-socks-off romance.

Being honest with each other is the way to make that happen.

[i] “What Is Your Favorite ‘technically Correct’ Fact?” Reddit. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. < http://bit.ly/2hCgiNE >.

[ii] Rogers, Todd, Richard J. Zeckhauser, Francesca Gino, Maurice E. Schweitzer, and Michael I. Norton. “Artful Paltering: The Risks and Rewards of Using Truthful Statements to Mislead Others.” SSRN Electronic Journal (n.d.): n. page. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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