Honesty in a relationship builds trust and intimacy, and if we get a feeling that our partner is not being entirely honest, or it becomes apparent has been lying to you, its serious.
However our expectations are high, and the fact is that we all lie a little some of the time. We sometimes expect that in trusting relationships both partners are totally honest and completely open with each other. But that’s a big ask, and we can accept those little white lies that we chose to ignore. For example if you ask whether your new jeans look great you know that they may tell you what you want to hear even if it is a lie.
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This is a big leap from major lies and deceptions. If one partner has secrets or withholds information from the other, it violates a deep expectation of trust and opens a rift of distrust which can scupper the whole relationship.
Studies show that most of us tell at least one lie per day. These lies may be small and harmless or they may be big and serious, but even minor ones can destroy a relationship if they become sufficiently frequent.
To start, it’s important to know why your partner is lying. Most of the time, it’s because we don’t feel safe telling the truth. We fear disapproval or rejection or believe that to be honest will open up a disagreement or argument, or criticism. So we think it’s easier just to avoid the truth. We may also lie out of embarrassment or guilt at having done something wrong, especially something we know violated their expectations of trust and commitment in our relationship.
Have a conversation with your partner – an ‘Imago dialogue’. Pick a good moment, without the distractions of children, television, or work, or make an appointment for a time later in the day to have a conversation. Go to your partner without judgment, criticism or shame, and talk about honesty, trust, and secrecy. Share your concerns and see how your partner responds. Really listen to what they say, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
The aim is to try to understand the possible reason behind the lie. This can be as important as the content of the secret or the fact of the deception itself.
It may be that the lie – or series of lies – makes the relationship untenable and becomes the reason for separation, however I would regard this as a last resort. By working with a certified Imago therapist you can have a structured, controlled conversation in a safe place and atmosphere which will help you both to understand the underlying issues and fears which led to the lies.
Questions that might be asked within the safety of an Imago dialogue are, ‘What needs to change for you to feel safe enough to tell the truth?’ and ‘What do you fear would happen if I knew the truth?’.
Some people are compulsive and pathological liars who are almost unable to tell the truth. They lie about small things for no apparent reason as well important matters. For these chronic liars, lying is a habit and everything is fair game. Hopefully, though, you know your partner well enough to know whether they are in this category. If they are, there is not much point in confronting them as they will just keep on lying, and an already strained relationship will take a turn for the worse.
Other people are so used to lying to themselves they find it difficult to be honest to their intimate partner. Again, there is not much point in challenging them because they will only continue to lie.
Then try and find a way to forgive. Once you understand the reason why your partner is lying – it may be fear or repercussions or a fundamental inability to tell the truth – it is not unusual to feel anger and frustration. All these feelings need to be discussed too, as you delve deeper into the underlying motivations and unmet needs. Forgiveness may be conditional for a while, and if there are more lies in the future, you both need to know the consequences.
Many people, when caught out in lies, will promise that it will never happen again, but this may be another lie. If you catch them out again, and perhaps again, the damage to the relationship can be deep and very hard to heal. Some people chose to ignore obvious lies because they feel that the relationship would not survive another confrontation, but in the long run this is not going to make things any better – its preferable to contact an Imago therapist and work out the underlying fears on the part of the liar, and strategies for forgiveness and future honesty.
So its largely a matter of recognising whether your partner just likes to sweet-coat the truth with a gloss of niceness or have an unconscious inclination to avoid the truth, or whether they are deliberately lying about major, important issues. If it is the former an Imago therapist will be able to help you, but if it is the latter, I’d suggest you need to consider whether this is the person for you – if they can’t stop lying about key matters, your relationship will be marked by evasion, betrayal and increasing lack of trust, and thats not the path to the happy, healthy partnership.
For more information and to get in touch with Annie, head to www.anniegurton.com