In the workshops I conduct for couples, I often ask if anyone has ever lied to their partner (the couples respond anonymously). Usually more than half (sometimes as many as 90%) admit to having lied to their spouse or partner at some point.
More than half the people who said they lied to their partner also reported that the lying had a negative impact on their marriage or relationship. Since lying can have such a detrimental impact on your relationship, it’s important to understand the reasons why you might lie and how to overcome the need to lie.
7 reasons why lying can creep into your relationship:
1. Self-esteem lies. Some people lie to bolster feelings of self-importance. In this case you might lie to your partner about your achievements and accomplishments. Your goal is to look good in the eyes of your partner (and others). At its extreme, deep-seated feelings of inadequacy can lead you to become a chronic liar.
2. Avoidance lies. The motivation for this type of lie is to avoid your partner’s reaction– such as disappointment or anger. You may feel that it’s easier to lie rather than experience/endure your partner’s emotional reaction. You may be someone who has considerable difficulty tolerating any perceived negative reaction. At its worst, your deceit is self-sermving and hides relationship-damaging behaviors (e.g., an affair).
3. Self-denial lies. People lie to themselves all the time. It’s a form of denial–refusing to accept a reality that is too painful. All you have to do is watch American Idol to realize that this kind of self-deception is alive and well. People with absolutely no vocal ability refuse to accept the judges’ critical (and often harsh) feedback. Instead, they proclaim that they are excellent singers and will someday be wildly famous. Self-denial lies stand in the way of the openness needed for intimacy to grow in your relationship.
4. Hide-and-Seek lies. The impetus here is to hide parts of yourself from the world. Painful life experiences have caused you to feel unworthy of love to such a degree that you feel it is necessary to lie about yourself or your experiences. When you feel exposed, feelings of shame overcome you and act as a powerful motivator to hide from others (including your partner).
5. Saving-Face lies. While closely related to avoidance lies, saving-face lies are created to help you cover up your original lie. When it starts to become apparent to your spouse or partner that you’ve lied, you concoct a web of more lies to avoid the embarrassment and repercussions of having lied in the first place. This is one reason lies can quickly multiply.
6. The Compassionate lie. Sometimes the motivation to lie is altruistic–you don’t want your partner to get hurt. In this instance, you’re not protecting your partner from something that you’ve done that might be hurtful to him/her. Rather, you’re trying to shield your partner from something you discovered (e.g., you overheard a neighbor say he doesn’t like your wife) or an opinion that you believe would be upsetting (your wife asks if you like her new haircut and despite her uncanny resemblance to one of the Three Stooges, you respond with a definitive, “I love it!”).
7. The Spiteful lie. In this case lies are used as weapons to hurt someone. Schoolchildren often do this, fabricating rumors that are designed to put down others. In social settings such as school this is sometimes done to ostracize someone from a peer group while solidifying the liar’s position in the group. When this occurs in a marriage or relationship, it’s usually when anger is at an all-time high or the relationship is being dissolved. It’s less common for this type of lie to occur while the couple is committed to a future together, although some couples do report “fighting dirty” and saying hurtful, untrue things while they argue.
If you’ve lied to your partner recently, feel the urge to lie, or if lying has been a problem for you in general, begin to question your motivation for spinning these tales. Check your reasons with the list above to gain further clarity.
It’s obviously best that your relationship be built on a foundation of honesty. Honesty is the backbone of trust–once trust is compromised, your relationship can begin to spiral out of control. But the reality is that many partners do end up lying to one another, and while your motivation to lie might be benign, lies seem to have a viral-like capacity to spread. Have you ever noticed that once you’ve gotten away with a lie or two, it seems to get easier to lie in the future?
Be aware of that fact and of the reasons you may lie, and you take the first important steps toward a healthier, more honest relationship.