Brutal Honesty In A Relationship Isn't Always A Good Thing

In most circumstances, the old adage "honesty is the best policy" is a good rule to follow. Lies, deception, and withholding the truth all tend to be bad signs in a romantic relationship, but also just in everyday life. We all know that someone who pathologically or compulsively lies to us every day is someone that should be avoided or kept at arm's length. When it comes to romantic relationships, having a partner who is honest will help us better communicate our needs and wants together. Even when what we or our partner have to say could potentially be painful — maybe we don't see a future together, maybe we aren't in love, maybe we just disagree with their choices — speaking your truth is always better than never communicating it.


However, the game changes significantly when we weaponize honesty. That means, when we take an honest thought, turn it into something nasty, and then hurl the unfiltered thought at our partner with the sole intention of hurting them. Daniel Craig's iconic detective Benoit Blanc put it best in "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" when he said, "It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth." Indeed, Mr. Blanc!

This tactic even has a name: brutal honesty. And here's why you should be aware — and wary — of it. 

Brutal honesty is not objective truth

What is brutal honesty, and how is it different from tough love? Clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow says that brutal honesty, "shift[s] the honesty from a helpful act made from a place of caring towards what could be considered [lacking compassion,] mean spirited, and, in some cases, abusive," per Bustle. In many cases, when someone delivers a brutal blow of honesty, they tend to follow up with, "I'm just being honest!" So if you feel disrespected, the onus is somehow on you to deal with it, rather than them choosing their words more carefully, or adjusting their tone. Quite often, brutal honesty can feel undignified, in that it robs you of your dignity and self-respect, all in the "noble" pursuit of truth and honesty. It doesn't have to be that way. 


Let's not forget that the person being "honest" could quite easily be mistaking their truth for the objective truth. As we all know, their opinion isn't an objective fact. As The India Times points out, their truth isn't objective, it's just judgmental. If you feel like someone's "brutal honesty" is setting off red flags and red alerts, don't ignore them. In a romantic relationship, those warning signs could signify gaslighting or even emotional abuse. 

Brutal honesty could be a form of gaslighting

Gaslighting in a romantic relationship is a serious red flag. It occurs when your partner tries to make you doubt something you know to be true, like your experience, or even your own eyes. Originating from the 1938 play "Gaslight" per Metro, where a husband tries to convince his wife that the gaslit lamps aren't dimming, even though she can see it happening with her own eyes. In today's world, we use the term much the same. When your partner mistreats or disrespects you, they will try to convince you that you're crazy or overreacting when you call them out on their bad behavior. They will even go so far as to insist your experience isn't valid. They'll tell you that you're too emotional, and then feign ignorance as to why you're calling out their disrespect. The goal is to make you doubt your sanity, and according to experts, brutal honesty often finds its way into gaslighting, and vice versa. 


Psychologist Dr. Michele Leno says that partners who regularly tell you the supposed gossip and bad reputation you might have amongst your social circle are using brutal honesty as a form of gaslighting. "Partners may use this tactic to 'encourage' you to doubt yourself and change for them," she told Bustle.

Brutal honesty in a relationship could signal emotional abuse

One of the most important lessons we all learn in romantic relationships is that not every thought needs to be shared. When your partner is being rude or inconsiderate, it can be awfully tempting to hit them where it hurts by blurting out a brutal thought that seems definitively true. Jason Whiting, Ph.D., wrote in his assessment on Psychology Today that he encountered a husband who blurted at his wife, "You've gotten old. You don't take care of yourself, so good luck finding someone who will want to snuggle up to your deteriorating body." The husband later admitted he said it just to hurt his wife.


"Abusers may sometimes do this to keep their partner's self-esteem low; this way, they feel that nobody else could ever love them and, therefore, staying with their abusive partner is their only option," neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez says (per Well and Good). This, Dr. Hafeez says, is brutal honesty veering into emotional abuse.

Our advice? If someone you're dating is exhibiting these toxic tactics, best to walk away before it becomes serious. And if the relationship is already serious, talk to them about it in hopes to effect positive change. If they refuse to change, put your walking shoes on.