Quick Answer – To avoid the consequences!
As a couples counselor I encounter the issue of lying on a daily basis. When you know the truth will hurt you, or hurt your partner or others, why not lie?
Lies can be big, like the kinds that are told when there are affairs, or they can be small, like the “white lies” we tell when someone we love asks, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” and you say, “Of course not, honey, you look great!”
The problem is – once your partner finds out that you have not been truthful, faith in their ability to trust the safety of your responses has been shaken. After all, if they can’t trust you to say how it really is, who can they trust? And, can they believe lots of other things you have said?
People usually lie in order to avoid conflict. They tell themselves (and sometimes other people as well) that they are really lying to protect their partner. After all, what good does it do to tell your wife that the jeans they just bought, and really like, aren’t flattering? They say their partner doesn’t really want to know, or even need to know. But is that true? Or are they really lying because they want to protect themselves from having a fight, from their own anxiety about disappointing their partner, or from some other potentially unpleasant consequence that might result from telling the truth? There are kind and respectful ways to communicate the truth. It doesn’t have to be abrasive, harsh or mean.
Small lie – you go to dinner at a friend’s home. They have obviously taken a lot of trouble with the preparation of the meal, but you just don’t like the main dish. They notice you haven’t eaten much, and ask “What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?” Do you say, “No, it’s not that, it’s great. I’m just not very hungry tonight”, or do you give an honest answer, and say something like “I really appreciate all the effort you put into this, and it looks great, but I’ve never really cared for steak very much”. What would your motivation be for lying. if you chose to do so?
Big lie – you go shopping and buy yourself an expensive purse, and pay cash. You hide it in the trunk of your car so your partner won’t see the bag. You know it has cost more than the two of you have agreed would be spent for such an item this month, but you really wanted it! When you finally use it, and your partner asks, “Hey, is that a new purse?”, you answer, “No, I’ve had this in the closet forever, I just dug it out.” What would your motivation be for lying?
If one or both partners are conflict avoidant there is usually some kind of belief that says conflict is dangerous (and sometimes it is, or has been) and cannot be managed in healthy ways, or a belief that the partner is so fragile they can’t handle the truth.
One of the many problems with lying is that it destroys the possibilities for safety, trust and intimacy.
As a couple’s counselor, I help each partner learn how to communicate in ways that allow for healthy and manageable conflict. Marital counseling won’t make you like conflict – after all, who likes conflict? But it should teach you the skills to be truthful and be able to successfully manage the consequences.
Thanks for reading!