Lying in intimate relationships - what's the harm?

Most of us would say we want our partner to be totally honest with us - that's what builds trust, right?

Finding out that my partner has spent time with someone else behind my back, and perhaps even 'crossed the line' with them into emotional or physical intimacy may be a deal-breaker.

It's important though, without excusing the real hurt that can be caused when someone has been dishonest, or at least withheld the truth about what they are doing, to understand what function lying serves not just the person doing it, but your relationship.

Here are some of the reasons people might lie:-

* shame about what I have done, what I am thinking about doing, or what I want to do (so if I don't admit this, even to myself, then it may seem like I have more control over not letting it happen)

* I am scared of my partner's reaction, which may simply be my fantasy about how you will react, or based on your reactions to other times I have disappointed you in the past. I lie to spare myself that reaction, and convince myself I am also lying to spare you further pain and disappointment.

* Lying has become a habit - I developed this habit earlier in life to deal with difficult situations and/or people (e.g. being bullied), and now it has become my 'default position' when I feel insecure, criticized or attacked.

Without understanding why I or my partner lies, we can fall into the trap of insisting that the way to repair our relationship after a breach of trust is to simply make an agreement of full disclosure, that we will be open and transparent with each other no matter what. This will work fine until the next time the 'liar' feels ashamed, insecure or criticized (which will inevitably happen to anyone dealing with the normal relationship challenges that come along!).

Inoculating your relationship against dishonesty and breaches of trust involves looking at how you as a couple manage disappointing each other, how you give and respond to criticism, and how you create emotional safety for difficult emotions and thoughts to be expressed and received. The following questions may start you on a conversation about making agreements that can make it more likely you will both be able to stay open and honest.

* How do you let your partner know that you need her/him to change something? How does s/he respond when you do this? Ae you prepared to modify the way you ask for change, based on what your partner tells you they need?

* How do you let your partner know that you have done something you are not proud of? How does s/he respond when you tell them? Are you prepared to change the way you do this, based on what your partner tells you they need to be different in how you do this?

* How do you apologize? How do you respond to your partner's apology? How do you repair your relationship when you have caused hurt?

These questions may still lead you back to the need to make an agreement that you will guarantee to be open and honest with each other in all circumstances. However, when open communication happens in a context where each partner feels confident they will not be further punished or hurt for being open and honest, this agreement is more likely to stick.

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