Trust is the glue that holds marriages together. When marital trust erodes, so does the relationship. What results is a broken marriage. It is not unusual for me to be contacted by a client who is looking for help with restoring belief and confidence in their marriage. I remember recently hearing from a lady who seemed beside herself with frustration and dissapointment. She wanted to know why her husband lies so much. It seemed that she would constantly catch him in lies, though she emphasized it was the little, mindless deceptions that bothered her the most. She explained that her husband seems to have a default personality and it revolved around deceiving and misleading when it suited him.
She was quiet upset that her marriage seemed to rest on a foundation of so many little lies. She explained that in most cases, there was really no reason for him to tell these little falsehoods. It was as if he could not help himself. She felt conflicted about what to do about it.
Should she confront him and get it all out on the table? Should she simply ignore those occasions where he bends the truth and just stack it up as that is just the way he is?
Clearly, she was confused about why he felt compelled not to be fully honest with her on all matters involving their marriage. She explained to me that the more she thought about his deceit, the more angry she would get and it was becoming apparent to her that the resentment she had for her husband was growing.
You may be thinking what if one of the lies was his failure to admit to his cheating behavior. I weighed in on this topic in this post:
Let’s get back to our case study.
As his wife, she has every reason to expect that her husband should be full on honest with her on all issues and matters the two of them deal with. She was relieved to hear that because she was beginning to talk herself into just accepting his behavior as “par for the course“.
I explained to her that a marriage partner (whether it be a husband or wife) is walking a tight rope when they succumb to fudging the truth. Practically speaking, lying to your wife or husband amounts to a “negative sum” outcome.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Couples are constantly facing situations where they need to do or say something. I think of these as relationship transactions. What you want to do as a married couple is create a culture of love, support, and growth. The idea is the more positive transactions that occur between you and your spouse, the greater this positive culture can benefit. I would characterize that as a “positive sum” relationship outcome.
Now, on the other hand, if for example, your husband is frequently stooping to lies, mistruths, and deceptions, then the balance of these transactions will contribute to a negative relationship sum outcome.
This is what my client was dealing with. She told me that her marriage was not terrible and that she loved her husband very much, but it bothered her a lot that he would lie about the most ordinary of things. Even when his lie was exposed, he would awkwardly try to wiggle out of it, often offering lame attempts at rationalization.
So what we did was talk about some of the reasons why husbands lie to help her understand the possible catalysts that cause him to behave in the way he does. One of the more common things I see in relationships where the truth is regularly bandied around like a rag doll, is that there are seldom consequences for the lies, even the little, seemingly innocent mistruths.
I explained to her that I don’t advocate that she should immediately strike her husband with a lightening bolt of righteousness and outrage when she catches him in a deception. I think there first needs to be some groundwork laid down that clarifies expectations she has for her husband. I also believe there is an opportunity to employ some behavior modification tactics.
What does this look like?
How can you create an environment in which your husband is motivated to keep the truth at the forefront of the marriage?
Well, if the two of you are fighting all the time, you will benefit from some improvement suggestions covered in this post.
OK, so let’s get back to how to get the husband to change his stripes.
I believe it starts with small acts repeated over and over again and a large amount of love and support. I am not a big fan of sudden outbursts accusing one’s spouse of being a liar. That usually does not get you very far. Under that type of duress, the husband is unlikely to fall on his sword and tell the full truth and make that part of his future behavior. What usually plays out is some version of the blame game. You say this…..they say that. Before you know it, we have an unhealthy relationship dynamic of people playing blamer and victim, which is a zero sum game.
Nor am I a fan of threats because it often can lead to the nuclear option of couples fighting to the bitter end. Ultimatums seldom get you anywhere.
Also, ignoring the undesirable behavior (i.e. lies, deceptions, etc) is hardly a solution either. Constantly ignoring the lies your husband fabricates gives him an unspoken green light to continue with the routine of telling little lies.
So what is one to do to stem this tide of lies, particularly if they take the form of an abundance of mistruths which is the problem my client was experiencing? I will answer that but let’s talk a bit more about why lies emerge and which lies are worst.
We all lie, right?
It is true. I lie. You lie. Your husband lies. Everybody lies.
So what does that say about us all?
I think it tells us that we have all learned to lie. The temptation to do so varies depending on many variables and factors. Sometimes a lie is constructed simply to avoid making someone feel bad. That would be an example of a white lie.
But my client was not dealing with white lies. She was dealing with a husband who habitually misled her or deceived her about things. This would include outright lies and fabrications or deliberately sharing of partial information in an effort to disguise the full truth.
Her husband, along with us all, learned to lie at a very young age. Studies reveal that children first learn to lie as early as age 3. By age 8, every kid has mastered the art of lying.
And it is not difficult to master how to lie. Though it can be difficult to disguise the lie as people tend to have also developed an innate sense of when they may be lied to.
So once again, what caused her husband to become such a habitual liar?
Well, right there is a clue. Lying can become a habit or routine if you do it frequently enough. You mind’s eye, which presumably weighs what is true versus false, can actually fool itself into believing things that simply are not true. In other words, some people can lie and hardly even be aware of it or have the capabilility of easily rationalizing the act of lying.
So this pattern of deception she is seeing from her husband could very well be partially a product of him consistently living his life with the proclivity to deceive and mislead. That does not excuse his behavior. But to change it, one must understand the genesis of the behavior.
What are some of the other reasons why her husband can so easily fall into the mode of deception?
Some of common catalysts include insecurity (i.e. fear driving their behavior), ego (i.e. build themselves up), and control (i.e. as in a control freak).
We also have pathological liars who actually have developed the brainpower to keep all of their lies properly assembled in the right order. Such folks actually have more white matter pathways in their brain which allows them to tell convincing lies. Their pathological lying behavior may be due to impulse control issues and/or the desire to control and manipulate everything around them. Sometimes these people are very self centered or suffer from a psychological condition called narcissistic personality disorder.
So what actions can a wife take to reverse her husband’s pattern of behavior in which lying and deception is too frequently practiced.
As I alluded to earlier, I think that negative forms of confrontation are counter productive. There is a psychological principle called reactance. For sake of this conversation, let’s stay with the husbands of the world. Your husband (just like yourself) values certain freedoms. And as crazy as it may sound, if your husband has become accustomed to bending the truth, then they may perceive that as a freedom.
If one tries to take away that freedom a person possesses to behave in a certain way, the force that is attempting to do so will be repelled. Indeed, in our example, the husband will work hard to regain that freedom. He will want that which he is told he can’t have or do.
Try and take away a perceived freedom and the person will react against that force, no matter how “right” and “justified” it is. So we have that phenomenon acting upon a person. We also have potentially other forces playing a role. Fear is a huge reason why people lie. Your husband could be lying partly because they fear being discovered. They may fear losing face. They may fear losing control. They may fear their ego will take a hit.
So taking into account this landscape of things that influence your husband’s behavior, I would recommend a more deliberate, long term strategy of breaking down the pattern of lies,
It starts with ensuring your husband has nothing to lose (with you) when it comes to telling the truth about those things he may fear to tell you about. If you catch him in an outright lie, go hug him and tell him (don’t confront) that you suspect you are not getting the full truth or the full story (whatever makes sense to say in the situation). Encourage your husband to simply open up. Tell him there will be zero repercussions. When he tells you the truth, reward him. Tell him how much you love him and how it makes you feel closer to him. Explain to him that the lies hurt you inside, but his truths lift you up.
Now here comes the hard part, you have to manage the conversations (note: you will be doing this frequently over time to break down his pattern of lying) in such a way that your husband actually comes to believe there will be no repercussions. That won’t be easy to do in the beginning because he has probably spent a good part of his life fashioning a world inside his head that rationalizes his deceit.
Now, of course, this approach will not always be successful for some lies because the lie itself may be so painful and upsetting that the very thought of being supportive and molding your husband to be a truth teller is the fartherest thing on your mind.
These are the Big Lies.
Such lies that break down the foundation of the marriage and significantly erode trust have to be dealt with over time. It involves your husband admitting to the breach of trust, showing genuine regret, and receiving forgiveness (both from himself and you).
Marriages can be broken swiftly through an act of betrayal or the foundation of the relationship can suffer from a multitude of negative acts over time that weakens and eventually breaks the marriage.
Please read my other posts on some of the things you can do to address the big lies. You will discover that the truth is itching to be set free.