By: Richard Nicastro, Ph.D.
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-serving 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
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
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self-defense: Control the way you argue before your arguments
Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who
is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their
relationship. Rich and his wife Lucia founded LifeTalk Coaching, an
internet-based coaching business that helps couples strengthen their