Why people Lie in Relationships

This a BIG question, but there are answers. In fact, there are whole books written about this topic. Most of them center on affairs, but one I read recently talked about both affairs and lying in general. It’s called, “Tell me No Lies” by Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson. They run the Couples Institute in California. I did a year long training in couples therapy with them from 2017-2018.

Why Couples Lie

This is NOT an exhaustive list, but more of a summary:

  • To look good
  • Out of habit (the more you lie, the easier it is)
  • To avoid hurting or disappointing their partner (they think)
  • Telling the truth will lead to fighting or divorce
  • They feel foolish or ashamed of something
  • They have trouble expressing themselves, asserting themselves, or asking for what they want or need so they manipulate and lie instead
  • They’re hiding the bad parts of themselves for fear they won’t be accepted.

Whoa, huh? Think back to the last time you lied or was tempted to. Does it fall into one of the categories above?

There are all types of lies. Bigger ones are when someone lies about who they are (age, height, work, addiction history, finances, where they’re from). Smaller ones are the “I don’t mind” type (when someone truly does).

Most people assume that the lie is always the liar’s fault. But there is a type of partner called “The Lie Invitee.” This is the person that early on in a relationship ignores lies or makes it so awful for their partner to speak the truth that it affects the relationship. They put them down, they pout, they use sarcasm, they make the partner suffer, they attack them whenever the partner is trying to talk about something difficult. That’s the short list.

That doesn’t mean the partner’s lies are their fault – no, no, no. It does mean that both partners have a responsibility to create a relationship where honesty is heard, respected, and discussed.

So what should you do?

First work on your own honesty and integrity.

Then work on how to make it “safer” for your partner to be honest with you. That doesn’t mean that you’ll never get angry at a lie. But it does mean that you move more to wanting to understand why the partner lied or what they were fearful of. It means looking at what you can change yourself to help them. That goal can change a knock down fight to more of a conversation and deeper understanding of each other.

This is a complex topic! Check out the book to learn more about it or keep your eye out for another blog post – “9 Steps to Telling the Truth.”

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Yours in health,
Dr. Liz