Here are the five things your partner is trying to get you to believe about yourself, them, and your relationship when they lie to you.
Liar, liar pants on fire! If only that saying was literal and you could boldly see your partner lying.
Instead, like Miss Clavel in the Madeline children’s books, you have the vague sense something is not quite right. Your partner’s unclear explanation for being late doesn’t add up. But his staring directly at you as he explains away his tardiness feels intimidating, and you feel pressured to go along with his reasoning and not make a fuss.
Most people lie. And people lie, on average, once or twice a day. These lies are often white lies—trivial. Perhaps, in the spirit of maintaining a friendly relationship with your next-door neighbor, you reply “Yes, it’s really different” when she asks if you like her new burnt orange rug. No harm done.
But when you are in a relationship with someone who habitually steers clear of the truth in unhealthy ways, you may experience a loss of trust in your partner, and you may be feeling angry and confused as to why they lie to you.
Why Your Partner Is Constantly Lying
1. They want you to think well of them. People who lie compulsively are deathly afraid you will think the worst of them if you find out they acted badly. They want your love and approval. This person doesn’t want to be found out or discovered, so they cover up their actions with a lie.
2. They want to think well of themselves. And they will weave an inflated narrative of their self-image to appeal to you. Once the narrative is in place, they believe they are a certain kind of person. If they act in a way that isn’t consistent with this self-image, they will tell a lie to fit the image they are trying to uphold.
3. They want you to believe they are in control of their actions. Telling the truth makes them feel out of control. Your partner doesn’t want to disappoint you or lose your respect. If that happens, you will have reasons to distrust them and you may end the relationship.
4. They want you to believe their memory is accurate. Memories are not reliable. If you ask a couple to share what happened on their first date, you may get two versions of the same story. Whose recall is accurate? Probably neither, as memory is notoriously faulty. The partner who lies to you wants to believe their lie is true. In their mind, the version of the story they tell you is not a lie to them.
5. They want you to trust they are looking out for you. Liars will justify their deceit by reasoning they are protecting you from being hurt. If they acted contrary to principles which uphold trust in the partnership, they may convince themselves their lie is a one-time mistake and will never happen again. So why tell their partner what really happened? In reality, the partner who lies is not protecting you or the relationship. They are protecting themselves from any fallout their harmful actions bring.
People who lie about things that matter lose sight of the big picture in relationships: Both partners will make mistakes along the way and a loving relationship offers the chance for redemption. They don’t understand that honesty is what builds trust.
How to Respond When Your Partner Lies
If you are in a relationship with someone who lies to you, give that person a chance to come clean. Ask them what they are afraid you would say or do if you knew the truth.
If you want to discuss a topic that may implicate them, slow the conversation down and do your best to stay calm and alert. Sometimes, a partner will feel cornered and confess to something that is worse than what they actually did.
For example, if you ask your partner how long they talked to an attractive friend, your partner may not know, and then may exaggerate the time in case phone records prove the conversation was longer than they remember.
If, in addition to lying, your partner lacks empathy, shows no remorse, and tries to control you, then your relationship is likely destined for failure. And, unfortunately, your mental health could be the casualty. Dr. Scott Peck, author of People of the Lie, says these characteristics (among others) may indicate a person whose personality has an evil, harmful basis.
If you are concerned you are in a damaging relationship, have courage and reach out to a competent therapist. They can assess what is happening in the relationship and suggest ways to preserve your mental health and wellbeing.
A partner who lies may still be a good person underneath. But someone who habitually lies with an intent to harm is one less person you need in your life.