Most of us try to be as honest as possible as often as possible. Doing so is good for our relationships—including platonic ones, familial ones, and romantic ones—and also for our consciousness. But sometimes, telling a fib is necessary. For example, when your friend asks if her shoes match her dress once she’s already arrived at an event or when your mother asks if you received her five-page email (“hm, it must have gone to my spam folder”). Still, keeping secrets in your relationship is often taboo. However, a recent study found there’s one thing that is OK to fib about. In fact, it could even strengthen your bond. Ahead, discover the study’s findings, as well as therapists’ views on the issue.

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Sometimes, white lies are OK in a relationship.

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White lies, by definition, are harmless and trivial and are often told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. In a relationship, they may look like telling your partner you love their tie (even if you feel meh about it) or that their bridesmaid’s dress is stunning (even if it bares a striking resemblance to a sack).

So, how do you know when you’ve crossed the line from a white lie to a harmful one? “If you find yourself feeling anxious about the level of transparency around certain issues, you may need to come clean with your partner,” says Trisha Andrews, licensed marriage and family therapist and sex therapist based in Denver. “I use the pillow test: if you lay your head on your pillow at night and you start replaying an interaction with your partner that you’re feeling guilty or regretful about, you should probably revisit it with them in the morning.” Your feelings of unease could be a sign that you’ve gone too far.

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A recent study found lying about this to your partner is totally fine.

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Lying about major purchases can hurt your relationship. But, according to one 2022 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, lying about insignificant ones—such as candy or a shirt that’s on serious sale—could actually benefit your relationship.

“In our study, we found that 90 percent of people have recently kept everyday consumer behaviors a secret from a close other—like a friend or spouse—even though they also report that they don’t think their partner would care if they knew about it,” says co-lead study author Kelley Gullo Wight, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University, in a university release. “Even though most of these secret acts are quite ordinary, they can still—positively—impact the relationship.”

So, how’s that work? The researchers found that these small, sneaky purchases often result in slight feelings of guilt. Those feelings can push the secret-keeper to invest more in their relationship. For example, they may spend more on a Valentine’s Day gift or go all-in on planning an anniversary dinner. You get the gist.

Therapists agree that hiding some purchases is acceptable.

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Hiding some purchases is fine, but you’ll want to set a benchmark for them early in your partnership. “I recommend couples come up with an agreed-upon number ($50, $500, $5,000) for purchases that they don’t need to discuss with their partner,” says Andrews. That way, you’ll be able to feel confident in purchasing that new cell phone or cute decor item without wondering what your partner will think.

This should be part of a larger conversation about finances. “Most couples come into their partnership with varying relationships with money, budgets, and spending,” says Andrews. “It’s important to talk about where each of them is coming from mindset-wise: did they grow up with an abundance mindset or a scarcity mindset? This is going to affect how they show up with purchase boundaries.” From there, you’ll be able to discuss money from a more empathetic and understanding point of view.

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But you should be transparent with most purchases.

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Ultimately, you’ll want to share most of your purchases with your partner—especially the big ones. “Purchases you never hide from your partner are ones that would put the couple in financial jeopardy, ones that you know your partner would disapprove of, and lastly, I will go back to the pillow test: if you feel guilty at the end of the day, trust your gut, be brave, and admit to your partner that you made a unilateral decision that needs to be discussed,” says Andrews.

While that might be uncomfortable, it’s something you’ll want to do quickly. “It’s better to be honest early than to repair the breach of trust later,” Andrews notes.

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read
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