How to Deal With Lying in a Relationship

Published 10/14/2021

Relationship experts agree that when asked which qualities people value in a romantic partner, respect and honesty predominantly take the tops spots. Moving through your relationship with fondness and faithfulness allows you and your partner to work together to build a foundation of safety and trust towards a healthy relationship. Once a partner lies, they directly act against honesty and respect, resulting in cracks and deterioration in your foundation. This loss of honesty can lead you to experience similar thoughts and emotions to the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In order to create a space for recovery, you must know what you are facing and why. This article will explore the different types of lies in a relationship, some common reasons for lying, and how to determine if you can forgive your partner or if you should move on.

4 Types of Lies

Lying is a deviation from the truth, and lies hurt. Lies are commonly used as tactics to mislead the other person away from shame, guilt, blame, and conflict. While some lies may be told in attempts to protect, others can be used as an avenue for control and manipulation. If you know the type of lie that is being used, it can be easier to decide if the trust can be repaired or if the relationship will need to end.

Fabrication

A fabrication lie can be an intentional modification of the truth or an invention of misleading information away from the truth. Fabrication lies are strategic and are considered big lies. They require structure, planning, and imagination to create an interwoven nature of deception. As a result, these lies will usually lead to more lies since the liar will need to consciously and constantly track their untruths to continue it’s concealment. Continuous fabrications is often considered a deal breaker in a relationship, and rightfully so.

Intentional Omission

Omission lies consist of deliberately excluding key parts of history in the retellings of situations and actions. Since these type of lies only censor part of the truth, the liar may justify the deception by telling themselves that they had told “mostly” the truth. Omission lies are primarily used to avoid the fear, shame, and guilt from telling the full the truth and taking responsibility for their actions.

Denial

Denial is very similar to defensiveness in that it is a declarative counterattack to further conceal the truth and avoid conflict or uncomfortability. A lie by denial can use deflection, ignorance, or blatant refusal to acknowledge or believe the reality of the action or situation. However, attempting to block the reality from the other person’s awareness is not full-proof, and the truth usually finds a way to reveal itself.

Minimization / Exaggeration

Minimization lies are very similar to denial in that they attempt to lessen the severity of their behaviors to detract from accountability. These lies are used to breeze past wrongdoing by downplaying the situation of deception. Minimization can also be used to deviate from punishment by claiming the lie was an unintentional mistake, or that it’s not a big deal.

Alternatively, exaggerations are amplifications of the truth by escalating events, emotions, or experiences in the re-telling. Exaggerations can also be used to boast and highlight contributions or spotlight someone else’s perceived imperfections to detract from what they are concealing.

Why do people lie in relationships?

Lies are common in everyday life, but the reasonings for dishonesty vary in their complexity of intent and application. Lying in a relationship may be used to avoid pain, punishment, humiliation, or arguments. A partner may lie to save another’s feelings, lean into the safety of self-delusions, or protect themselves from losing credibility. Lying can also stem from mental health issues. If you discover lying in your relationship, considering exactly what or who the lie is attempting to protect or conceal can help you decide if you can forgive or not.

Desire for Control

Delivering a believed truth holds power and can result in less questioning, faster acceptance, and a low risk of conflict. Lying for control puts the liar in a position of superiority and a believed advantage when an argument arises. Lies for control are damaging because they shift the balance of the partnership. A common form of control lying is gaslighting, an act of molding and manipulating a partner’s perspective of events and emotions, which puts the liar in a powerful position of “all-knowing.”

Guilt / Avoiding Embarrassment

Guilt and embarrassment are grouped together because they both carry the central feeling of shame. Lies culminated from guilt use tactics to dodge discovery and further hide wrongdoings of harmful behaviors like infidelity and cheating. Lies of embarrassment are acts of self-preservation to avoid awkwardness or to gain social acceptance. The lying partner in the relationship may reason that telling the truth will hurt their partner, so they feel they must lie to protect their ego and preserve the relationship.

Insecurity

Some people lie as a safeguarding tactic for their self-esteem. They may embellish or exaggerate their successes and accomplishments to overcompensate for their insecurities. Little lies like saying they know what a word means or pretending to have more experience than they do are used to shield feelings of inadequacy or ignorance. It can be beneficial to have conversations with your partner about how each of you feels in the relationship’s roles and expectations to help to alleviate any perceived need to lie based on insecurity.

Nervousness and Fear

Fear and anxiousness are similar in their physiological effects on the body: increased heart rate, sweating, and pressured breathing. People who lie from fear may be attempting to avoid conflict, consequences, or bringing the situation to light for the both of you. Lies can hurt, and sometimes it’s not the best time or place to be totally honest. Some partners may feel nervous during requests for evaluation, and may use “fake positive” lies that praise for an element of appearance or accomplishment. While lies based on nervousness and fear may be intended to prevent arguments and maladaptive behaviors, they more accurately do the opposite and create barriers away from authenticity in the relationship.

Common relationship lies and how to handle them

In many instances, lying in relationships is used as an attempt to preserve peace. By withholding, denying, or falsifying, the lying partner may feel that they are preventing pain and arguments. Listed below are the most common situations and topics where couples typically lie in their relationships.

Past relationships

Some people may avoid conversations about their sex life and prior companions because they do not want you to compare yourself or your current relationship to their past. They may also eliminate discussions of past relationships to avoid judgments or to prevent re-triggering any hurt and harm that may have occurred to them. This is a common lie for people who have experienced retroactive jealousy with previous partners. If a person lies or withholds information about a past relationship, it blocks that piece of their life from you. It’s important to discuss and allow the past to be known to help attune, support, and work towards a healthy attachment. By creating the space to discuss the past you will be presented with the opportunity for understanding with open communication and make it clear that you are a new person and this is a new relationship.

Interactions with other people

Sometimes, we may not get along with our partner’s friends, co-workers, or even family members. Because of this, partners may withhold the truth about their interactions to avoid confrontation or concern. For example, a partner may lie about spending time with a particular family member that you have a tumultuous relationship with or a friend that you may feel is a bad influence. If your partner is lying to protect your feelings, it may be easier to honestly discuss the concerns to diffuse future lies.

However, if your partner is lying to omit deceptive actions with another person, this is cause for concern. If you believe your partner is hiding someone from you, try asking for clarity in their retellings of events. If you encounter defensiveness, your partner may be hiding even more dangerous deceits like cheating or other deviousness. Learn when to walk away after infidelity and decide if the relationship is worth saving.

Money, finances, spending habits, & debt

Money and finances have been traditionally thought of as “personal matters.” Essentially, you don’t talk about it with others. Due to this social secrecy, we have a limited view of the issues and concerns other people may be struggling with within their finances. This can leave us vulnerable when discussing our money matters. Spending habits, debts, and even riches can be a high source of shame and guilt. Your partner could be hiding high spending, addictions, or evading conversations due to uncomfortability of expectations. It’s important to take notice of how your partner is approaching conversations about the checks and balances. If your partner is not being truthful about their finances, try to make space for an open conversation about money.

Life goals & ambitions

Personal and relationship goals may fluctuate throughout the relationship due to life’s transitions and evolving thoughts and feelings through experiences. To maintain connection and genuineness, continually check in with your partner on their dreams and ambitions. Some partners may lie about their passions if they feel it may hurt their partner or if it does not align with the agreed-upon goals of the relationship. Common lies and areas to check in may include stances for or against children, preferences to living in the city, suburbs, or country, or even deciding to alter their career or hobbies.

Personal values & beliefs

Values, expectations, and relationship beliefs can also change throughout our lives. Just like with goals and ambitions, it is beneficial to set aside time to check in with your partner about their values and beliefs throughout the relationship. You can utilize value inventories to rank and reflect on your thoughts to create an even ground for conversation. If your partner is lying about these areas, determine if their stances are ethical violations for you or if they are merely differences of opinion that will not disrupt the balance of your partnership.

Is it ever okay to lie in a relationship?

A partnership thrives on trust and honesty, but once lying enters the relationship, the reciprocal trust wavers and hesitancy with suspicion may follow. However, lying is situational, with a wide spectrum of reasonings and justifications. Be aware of the consistencies and causes of lies in your relationship and how you come together to discuss the deception, repercussions, and pathways to rebuild trust. Not changing after being confronted with the truth is a choice. If you are witnessing a continuing pattern of lying behavior and feel hurt, it might be time to end the relationship.

Are white lies okay in a relationship?

White lies are commonly known to be lighter and less harmful. Intentions are one of the most important specifics to clarify when deciding if white lies are okay in a relationship. In many cases, little white lies are not meant to injure and have very low violations against healthy values and morals. A white lie is commonly used as a pleasantry, to spare someone from embarrassment or discomfort. Because of their intentions, white lies may be easier to forgive, but it’s up to the partners involved to decide when and if white lies are okay.

What to do when someone lies to you in a relationship

Talk about it! If you find out that your partner lied, address it as soon as possible. Undiscussed lies can gain more negative associations when they fester, so it’s best to check in on the why’s before you build resentment. Ask for clarity to assist with allowing your partner the opportunity to provide the truth. Lying can create an environment of dishonesty, so it is important to communicate on if the trust can be rebuilt.

Should you forgive your partner for lying to you?

Ultimately, deciding to forgive or not to forgive your partner for lying will depend on the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occurred before, during, and after. Lying exists on a spectrum, so it’s important to discuss with your partner the permitted and non-negotiable boundaries of lies.

Consider these factors when deciding to forgive:

  • How was your partner caught in the lie?
  • Did they take accountability for the lie?
  • How did you receive the apology (if there was one)?
  • How are you feeling about your partner after the deception?

In rebuilding trust, attempt to diminish ambiguity by discussing the boundaries of acceptable and forbidden lies with your partner. This can prevent any future conflicts of uncertainty. Working with a relationship expert can help you work through forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean that the partner is now permitted to lie again, and it does not excuse the act. Forgiveness is an active choice to acknowledge the past, accept the present, and move towards the future for rebuilding trust. Make sure to clarify with your partner your definition of the forgiveness process, and what it will mean for the future of the relationship if it is granted. You may be able to move forward and forgive your partner if you are able to communicate compassionately, admit to the discretion, and both agree on forgiveness.

Bonnie Irey, Seattle Therapist

Bonnie Irey, Seattle Therapist

My therapeutic approach involves collaboratively cultivating open and non-judgemental communication with empathetic understanding and empowering active self-work through critical thinking and self-exploration.

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