Is Honesty Always The Best Policy?

Let’s tackle a reader’s question from Formspring!

Question: I have a best friend, Jenn, that’s been dating her boyfriend, Joe, for about six years. He’s in jail. It’s been one year, and Jenn has been waiting for him. She moved in with Joe’s parents. She told me a month ago that she slept with another guy. Jenn asked me what should she do — help!

Answer: Thanks for your question. This is definitely a tricky situation. I’m typically of the mindset that honesty is the best policy, even if negative repercussions ensue as a result of being honest. I’m also a huge advocate of open communication since that’s a key component to a healthy relationship.

I find myself wondering, though, if there’s a prison exception to these ideals. Joe is in jail, and that experience will have an enormous impact on his sexuality, his self-esteem and his relationship with Jenn. You didn’t mention how long Joe will be in prison so there’s also the issue of the growing emotional and physical distance between them

It sounds like Jenn needs a listening ear and support at this time. When Joe is released from prison, Jenn and Joe can figure out what the future holds for them and their relationship. I’m not one to advise lying by omission, but it might make sense for Jenn to wait and see what happens before adding further stress to an already difficult situation.

There’s a separate issue here relating to how friends interact with each other. If you feel strongly about whether or not Jenn should tell Joe what happened or stay with him in the long run, you need to broach those topics delicately. Let her know that you love her, appreciate what a tough situation this is, and will support her no matter what decision she makes. If you believe she should tell Joe or not wait for him to get out of prison, don’t phrase those things directly or bluntly. Express your concerns to her and indicate why you’re worried. Remind her that you’re telling her this as an over-protective friend, but that you will continue to stand by her as you always have.

The reason that I’m emphasizing what you say and how you say it is because friendships can be irreparably damaged when people are too direct with their thoughts about partners, parents or children. It's also rare that tough love between friends will change someone's actions. Jenn needs to make her own decisions and mistakes, as she takes comfort in knowing that friends like you will have her back.

Good luck to Jenn, Joe and you! Please keep me posted.

So, readers, did I miss anything? What boundaries do you set in terms of what advice you give your friends?

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