The Toll Lying Takes on Lovers

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Mark Twain

Lying begins early in life. Children as young as two begin lying when they discover how powerful their words are. Lying can come naturally; you say your friend’s favorite shirt looks great, knowing how much she loves the ugly thing. You lie in job interviews to increase the chances of being hired. You lie to your children, promising ice cream later if they eat their meal first (although you have zero intention of following through). While this type of lying is relatively benign, prolonged lying can undermine the glue that holds relationships together…trust. Trust is the expectation that another person will not hurt you when you are vulnerable, and humans thrive on having meaningful relationships founded on mutual trust. Take that trust away and you have an unsteady relationship. 

Let’s classify what a lie is. I see it as intentionally deceiving someone, omitting important information or only telling half of the truth. A wife may lie about how much money she spent. A husband may lie about what really happened on his boys night out. The husband I referred to in my previous blog post on gaslighting lied to his wife about turning the lights down (thus creating an alternate reality). A lie can be about anything–from what a person said, to what someone did (or did not do); from whereabouts to motives to goals to grades. The bottom line about a lie is that the truth is purposely left out. 

If you have been lied to by your partner, you likely feel anger, shock, resentment, disappointment, sadness. The whole thing leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. You might have a hard time saying it, but you also feel disrespected, humiliated…even violated. You have been because lying is a violation of your trust! Obviously, some lies are bigger and more devastating than others, but even small, little white lies that accumulate over time can make you feel like a punching bag.

Why do people lie?

According to Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a psychology instructor and clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health, misrepresentation and fibbing in relationships happens more often than you would think. Studies have shown that people lie frequently to those they care about most. Couples are telling each other little white lies all the time. But why? For starters, they have learned that telling the truth can sometimes start a fight. Although a little lie can avoid a fight temporarily, it is not worth the trust that is broken. Some people lie to save themselves from punishment or conflict, or to gain acceptance from a group or get something else they want. Others lie as a form of self-protection; they want to maintain their image or avoid blame or criticism. Sometimes it might just be easier and require less explanation to not give the full story.

You’ve been lied to. Now what? 

Let’s say you just found out that your significant other has been lying to you. You may wonder how to bring it up. Or if saying anything will even make a difference. Figuring out what the “right” thing to do in the moment is hard because you have been betrayed–which puts you on the defensive. Your instinct may be to lash out, or to humiliate them by calling them out on their lies. Although responding in these ways may give you temporary pleasure, they will not help in building the long-term trust you desire and deserve. Instead, try the following when responding to a partner who has been lying:

  1. Calmly point out the incongruity. Let them speak without becoming reactive and refrain from commentary until they have fully expressed themselves.
  2. Consider the why. Although you are understandably angry, instead try empathizing. See where your partner is coming from. People lie for a reason: insecurity, fear, shame, or because historically this was their way to survive and manage other past relationships. While none of this justifies the lie, trying to understand their perspective can help calm your own emotions and help you decide how best to proceed. 
  3. Establish boundaries. If you do choose to continue in the relationship, you have now established that lying is not acceptable.  Make it clear to your partner that you will only accept honesty. Encourage your partner to always tell the full truth, even if the truth may result in some hurt feelings (and then)…
  4. …Practice what you preach. Make honesty with your partner a conscious decision and a habit. Model the behavior you want your partner to exhibit. If you are ever tempted to fib or give an impartial truth (because many individuals tell small lies at time), don’t! Then give reason: “I am afraid you will be upset with me, but here is what I really think…” or, “It feels like it would be easier to lie to you, but the truth is…”; “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but since you asked, here is what I really think…” Talk it out. This will honor the boundaries you have established and create an open, safe environment. Hopefully this will inspire your partner to be truthful, too.
  5. Be consistent and patient. If your partner has been lying to you, remember that change is possible, but with time. Be patient with him/her and remember that consistent efforts to be truthful, even with the small things, will help telling the truth come more naturally. Continuing in this pattern will form a habit. When appropriate, remind your partner that the consequences of lying will never be worth the risk of being entirely truthful. For many people, finding a good, trusting relationship is a monumental life task. So if you have it, honor it, stick with it, be true to it, and be patient with it. 

Lies often start as self-preservation but generally turn to self-destruction. It is a fallacy to think that the consequences of telling the truth outweighs the risk of telling a lie; lies damage relationships. Research shows that small lies make it easier to tell bigger lies, which lead to more trouble. No matter the motive behind a lie, deceit is damaging to any relationship. Where lying creates distance and inauthenticity, telling the truth fosters trust and bonding, which strengthens relationships. So where trust has been lost, the most effective way for it to be regained is for the offender to understand the error of his ways, the vital need to be honest, and then to speak honestly, knowing you would rather have the ugly truth than a pretty lie. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is struggling to tell the truth , please do not hesitate to contact me personally. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

The Power Behind Vulnerability

The Power Behind Vulnerability | Marriage & Family Therapy Dallas, TX

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen… to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’”

-Brené Brown

Vulnerability is a powerful, yet misunderstood concept. In our society, vulnerability is viewed as a weakness–something we should avoid and not learn about. When I think of vulnerable individuals, however, I do not think of downtrodden, susceptible, needy, or neglected beings. Instead, I think of my amazing clients: a husband leaning on his wife for support while he battles debilitating depression; sex-addicts relearning how to have an emotionally intimate relationship with their partners; battered women re-adjusting their paradigms to see themselves as valuable; or teens challenging peer pressure to realize their worth. I see those who are “vulnerable” as brave, open, and authentic; willing to be comfortable in their own imperfect skin and take life on as they are. It is this vulnerability that allows these individuals to have meaningful, honest relationships–both with themselves and with others. I refer to vulnerability as the “underlying, ever-present, under-current of our natural state,” as David Whyte puts it; the ability to show our raw, true selves–flaws and all. My purpose of this post is to explain how welcoming, instead of numbing, vulnerability can cure most relationship ailments.

Brené Brown did a quick poll on Twitter asking people what made them feel vulnerable; within 90 minutes, she received 150 answers of common situations we can all relate to–having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. You will notice that each of those are interpersonal examples–meaning each is an instance where at least two people are interacting. This is because vulnerability is at the very core of relationships! Unfortunately, too often we become consumed by how others perceive us or how we measure up compared to those around us…so we let our automatic defense mechanism kick in: we numb our emotions. We block out painful feelings like embarrassment, grief, shame, fear, and disappointment to combat being vulnerable. The issue with doing this, however, is that there is no such thing as “selective numbing”–it is physically impossible to block out only negative emotions without blocking all emotions. Brené says, “When we numb those [hard emotions], we [also] numb joy, we numb gratitude,…we numb happiness.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one of my areas of expertise is relationships; I find fulfillment in helping my clients strengthen and improve their relationships with others and with themselves. I have seen countless clients who have resorted to numbing their emotions because they do not know how to care for themselves when they experience pain. Consequently, they miss out on the full spectrum of feelings that meaningful relationships offer, including and especially positive emotions. Yes, being vulnerable opens us up to feelings of hurt, rejection and sadness, but it also means we can have more happiness and satisfaction in our relationships. Our relationships can be so much more fulfilling as we welcome our imperfections and allow ourselves to truly be seen!

How does one begin to welcome vulnerability? First, adopt the unquestionable notion that you are worthy of love. There is nothing you had to do to earn it, and thus there is nothing you can do to take that worthiness away. Second, know that you (and your friend/sister/partner/spouse) are imperfect beings, prone to mistakes, misdeeds, and miscommunication; expecting perfection is the quickest way to extinguish vulnerability. I will expand on these ideas further in upcoming blog posts.

Brené says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” Believing this will give us the courage we need to be authentic (read: vulnerable) in our relationships–to be honest about who and how we are. I have seen firsthand how numbing emotion to curb vulnerability stifles relationships, whereas welcoming vulnerability makes relationships thrive and progress. If you would like to learn how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, contact me today to set up your first session.

Additional Resources:
David Whyte, “Vulnerability”
Ted Talk: Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability