Communicate and Work Toward a Healthy Relationship
People lie for all kinds of reasons but when you are on the receiving end of a lie, it rarely feels good. Sometimes people lie because they are afraid of the other person's reaction, they feel they are not good enough, they are protecting another person's feelings or they are enabling their own or another person's addiction. Lying can also be related to attachment difficulties from early childhood. Whatever the cause, learn how to work through the lies in your relationship and move toward a healthier place.
Who You Can Control
The only person you can control is yourself. You are in charge of your own thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions. No matter how much you want to make another person tell the truth, it needs to be her own decision to do so. When your emotions, desire to control or sense of self-worth are particularly tied to another person's behavior or feelings, it could be helpful to seek out therapy or a support group for possible issues with codependency, attachment or trauma.
Communicate Your Experience
When you suspect someone is lying, it is important to communicate what you know to be true about the situation, as well as your thoughts and feelings. Instead of talking in "you" statements, which place the blame on the other person, use "I" statements to communicate your own experience. For example:
- "When I found this empty alcohol bottle that was still wet on the inside, then I thought that you had started drinking and I felt afraid that the kids and I would lose you. I feel scared that the future I envision for us will not be possible."
- "When you said you would have no internet service but I noticed you talking with Joe online, I thought that you really just wanted me out of your hair and I felt hurt, rejected and abandoned.
- "I noticed that you had texts coming in from your ex and I thought that maybe you were still interested in her, and I felt unsafe, hurt and afraid."
Remember to maintain a calm, compassionate tone of voice and keep eye contact. When you talk about your own observations, thoughts and feelings, you make the conversation about the thing that you can control: you. It seems less threatening to the other person, who can choose to put you at ease, or admit to any wrongdoing. He might also get defensive or angry, but remember that his response is his own responsibility, not yours.
Remember that the other person may or may not be honest about her actions, even when you have been transparent and honest about your experience. Listen actively to her response by paying attention to her tone, the emotion behind what she is saying and whether or not the facts line up and make sense to you. Breathe deeply, stay calm and repeat back what you hear her saying to make sure you are hearing what she intends to communicate. For example:
- "I hear the struggle and pain in what you are saying. It seems like you are afraid that I will be upset with you and not believe you. I can understand your fears. You are saying that you brought Fred home from the meeting to help him sober up while I was out of town and that the bottle is not yours. Is that right?"
- "I hear that you are overwhelmed and were afraid to hurt my feelings by telling me you needed a day off from our conversation. You thought you were protecting me. I still feel hurt, but I understand where you are coming from. Is this correct?"
- "I hear that you are afraid that I will blow up at you about your ex and that you are feeling ashamed of your behavior. You know it is wrong, but do not know how to stop. Is this correct?"
Set Proper Boundaries
Once you have heard the other person's response to your concerns, tune in to your own emotional condition. Do you feel angry or are you experiencing overwhelming feelings? Perhaps it is time to set some healthy boundaries to look out for your own best interests. The boundaries to set will vary based on the history of your relationship and whether or not you are satisfied with the other person's response. If you feel he is still being untruthful and there is a history of lying in your relationship, you might need to set more rigid boundaries than if this were a one-time thing and your partner admitted to the wrong and is committed to making it right. Here are some ideas on how to set boundaries:
- "As soon as I can talk with Fred to verify that he was here over the weekend, I am willing to let this go and move on. I want to trust you and need some reassurance. Would you like to call Fred, or shall I?"
- "I am still hurting and dealing with feelings of rejection that I know do not reflect how you really feel. I am choosing to stay offline while you are taking your breaks to focus on self-care, so that I do not take it so personally."
- "I hear you saying that you want to stop communicating with your ex but do not know how, and I feel so confused and do not know how to respond. I need some help processing this and I am going to see a personal therapist to sort it out. I hope you will consider coming to couple's therapy with me, too, but I promise to take care of myself either way."
Once you set a boundary, make sure to follow through with it. Continue your own healthy communication patterns and self-care, regardless of what the other person does.
Relationships can be challenging, and lies complicate things even more because trust is broken. Each person in a relationship comes to the table with her own strengths, weaknesses, history and dysfunction. When things feel overwhelming, hopeless, desperate, or you and your partner seem to be going in circles, therapy can be immensely helpful. If the lies in your relationship are putting you or anyone else in danger, seek professional help in creating and acting out a safety plan. When lies are connected to addiction, groups like Al-Anon provide community and coping skills for moving forward. No matter what is happening with you or your relationship, you never have to face it alone.
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- Psychology Today: Lying in Relationships: 3 Steps to Making It Stop
- Good Therapy: "I" Message
- Psychology Today: The Missing Piece in Intimate Communication
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Everyday Lies in Close and Casual Relationships
- Attachment and Human Development: Truth, Lies and Intimacy: An Attachment Perspective
- Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly: Measuring Codependency
- Psychology Today: 7 Tips to Create Healthy Boundaries With Others
- Listen carefully when the person talks. Liars sometimes overly exaggerate their stories or change details when retelling the tale. Sometimes they have a nervous tic. Watch for any of these signs, especially if the person acts really defensive. Reconfirm everything this person says with someone trustworthy, especially if the tale sounds too outrageous to be true.
- Reassure the person that everything is okay and you won't tell anyone else or get mad if the person tells you the truth. Promise this only if you can handle your emotions or you'll be a liar too.
- If your friend is constantly lying to you without a good reason, then perhaps you should reconsider your friendship since he obviously doesn't trust you.
Anne Kinsey is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and missionary, residing in rural North Carolina. She is the founder of Love Powered Life, a nonprofit organization with the mission of creating loving community for trafficking survivors and their families. Anne has enjoyed writing for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, Bizfluent and Career Trend. She resides in rural North Carolina with her husband, three children and a house full of furry friends.