Little White Lies: When Dishonesty Might Be the Best Policy

Earlier this week, my husband called to tell me he'd be working late and not to rush home. When I talked to him again later that evening, he admitted he'd fibbed earlier. He wasn't working late; he'd taken our cat to an animal adoption center to see whether she was ready for us to bring home another little feline companion. (For the record, she wasn't.)

My husband had lied to me, but I wasn't upset. In fact, I was excited and flattered that he'd done this behind my back! But knowing that honesty is the cornerstone of a good relationship, this led me to wonder... when exactly is it OK for couples to lie to each other? I would propose these four instances would be an exception to the rule that honesty is the best policy.

To cover up a surprise

As in the case of the surprise kitten expedition, it can be OK to lie to cover up a surprise. I mean, my own sweet grandmother lied to keep me from knowing about the surprise party my parents threw for my 10th birthday. When it comes to gifts, trips, parties, and other surprises, I would say a little lie to throw your partner off base is fine. As long as the lie doesn't result in harm to anyone, the resulting joy will likely outweigh the supposed immorality of the lie.

To eliminate unnecessary bickering

I have found myself guilty of contradicting my husband when he is telling a story in public. He'll say a story went one way, and I'll argue over an insignificant point in the name of accuracy. In my opinion, in this case, a lie - or at least a lie by omission - is the best policy. So what if he turned left on a certain road instead of right (unless he's giving directions)? Going along with details that aren't exactly correct, when they don't compromise the integrity of the story, will ultimately keep you from a lot of unnecessary squabbling, demonstrate support of your partner, and allow conversation to go along a lot more smoothly.

To maintain the peace in public

You might find yourself in a situation where your partner is pushing your buttons in such a way that you want to scream at him right then and there - but that wouldn't be appropriate in public. If he asks you, "What's wrong?" or "Are you OK?" it would be fine to lie and tell him everything is all right to keep from getting in a public argument. Bring the situation up later, when you can address and rectify it in private, and implore him to refrain in the future from whatever he was doing to bother you. He will likely appreciate that you lied at the time when the alternative was getting into a fight in front of other people.

To avoid embarrassing him

If my husband got a necklace for me and it wasn't my taste, he'd rather I tell him the truth so he could know what sort of jewelry I prefer. If I cooked a dinner and he didn't like it, I'd rather he tell me the truth so that I can tweak the recipe or remember not to make it for him again. But if either of these things happened in public, we'd prefer the other not express our distaste in front of everyone. It would embarrass him for me to turn up my nose at his gift in public, as it would hurt my feelings for him to criticize my dinner. If it would preserve your partner's feelings, it might be better to lie about a matter that is relatively trivial than to tell the truth and embarrass him in front of others.

In most situations, I would agree wholeheartedly that honesty is the best policy. But once in a while, telling a "little white lie" in the moment will preserve your partner in some way. You can always go back and correct discrepancies later, but you can never go back and relive a moment.

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