Why Do People Lie?

Dishonesty complicates life. It requires keeping track of falsehoods so as not to get caught; and he consequences of being found out in a lie can be the loss of relationships, respect, standing in the community and jobs. So why do people fail to tell the truth?

There are many reasons, good and bad, why people lie:

• It’s customary in our culture to tell “little white lies” to spare someone’s feelings, such as praising an outfit or a meal when it’s not the truth.

• People lie about little things like their age, their weight or their job history to avoid embarrassment or save face.

• Manipulative people lie to coerce others into giving them what they want, thus taking advantage of another person.

• Self-indulgent people lie to get away with things they know are wrong.

• Low self-esteem causes some people to keep secrets to make themselves look better to others.

• Some people lie because they believe no one will accept them if they tell the truth, especially truths like: I love someone else, I have a prison record, I’ve been raped, I have a violent temper, or I have a history of mental illness.

• Some people lie because they cannot help it, it's an illness or a symptom of addiction.

Cultural Differences and Definitions of Honesty

Different cultures feel differently about lying. In some cultures, people lie to be polite, because it’s considered rude to say “no” directly. As a result, people become vague, make excuses and say things they don’t really mean, hoping the real answer of “no” will eventually be realized without being said. Thus, if your partner comes from a different cultural background, you might think he or she is lying, when it’s actually an attempt to be caring.

For example, most Americans are uncomfortable talking frankly about sex or bowel movements to people other than their most intimate relationships or to doctors, but other cultures talk openly about both. People from each of these cultures think the others are wrong or strange, which can lead to difficulty if they are in relationships or extended families.

Anonymity and the Temptation to Lie

The Internet is the perfect medium for lying; because there is no body language and few visuals to betray the untruths. The eagerness to make a good impression or be entertaining, coupled with the impression of safety and anonymity can easily lead to exaggeration and outright lying. The unrealistic expectations encouraged by the Internet can prompt lying about weight, age, accomplishments and feelings. In a charged environment, feelings of insecurity and low self-worth can prompt people to exaggerate their positive qualities, or even pretend to be someone else. It‘s a form of fear of rejection. The problem is when you only feel you’re acceptable when you lie, you feel in danger of being rejected anyway as soon as the truth comes out, and that fear can intensify the original insecurity, creating a vicious cycle.

Social Influence and Changes in Values

As the society becomes more impersonal, and people don‘t know much about others, lying has become easier. For example, the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” ads (among many others) make lying seem like fun, and even though it’s a joke, people are influenced by it.

With so many corporations, politicians and even priests recently exposed as cheats, there is a growing sense of entitlement that encourages people, especially those without a moral compass, to feel comfortable cheating. The ruthlessness of corporate greed, political hubris and even religious charlatanism seems to demonstrate that cheating and lying are OK, and people get away with it. Many celebrities and politicians seem to be able to get ahead by boldly lying, and they don’t seem to suffer any consequences.

Children, unless carefully monitored, learn early that denying guilt often gets them out of punishment. The Internet made cheating on term papers easy for high school and college students until teachers learned to run all papers through software that catches plagiarism. People who spout strict moral standards are frequently exposed by the media as obviously not living up to their own standards.

Fortunately, the average person has a lot harder time feeling comfortable with lying; and is less likely to get away with it than powerful bank executives. It’s much harder to successfully lie in an intimate personal relationship than in an impersonal public forum.

What’s Important about Honesty in Relationships.

A significant other is supposed to be someone you can trust, and who can trust you. Honesty in relationships essential, because being truthful nurtures and supports trust and respect, which are the foundations of lasting love.

Honesty begins with self. Understanding your own feelings, desires and motives makes it much easier to be honest with your partner. When you and your partner are continuously honest with each other, you are reliable, and you soon learn that you can trust each other. In a trusting atmosphere, both of you can feel safe and relax.

Being honest with each other allows you to get to know what you really think and feel. This leads to feeling loved for who you really are, not for someone you’re pretending to be. The security of knowing that there’s at least one person in the world who understands your shortcomings and faults, and loves you as you are is one of the great benefits of an intimate relationship. When you both feel understood and loved on an honest basis, your relationship will feel very solid and secure.

If there are secrets between you, it may take some work to achieve honesty, but it will be well worth the effort.

How Honesty Relates To Intimacy, Love and Sex

There is a direct relationship between honesty and intimacy. The more honesty in your relationship, the closer and more intimate you can be. This is because when you’re not protecting secrets or telling lies, you don’t need to be defensive and guarded. The more open you are, the more available you are to connect intimately with your partner.

If you’re lying or keeping things from your partner, no matter how much you are loved, you won’t feel secure. As long as you think your partner doesn’t understand you or know who you really are, you’ll feel that your partner loves a false image of you. If you felt worthy of being loved for who you are, you wouldn’t be dishonest. Also, if you are giving your partner confusing information about you, your partner won’t be able to relate to you in a satisfying way.

Sexual honesty leads to sexual satisfaction. Couples who can talk about their sexual needs and wants become more effective at pleasing and enjoying each other.

Problems arise when couples don’t recognize it is natural and normal to be different in personal space requirements. If one of you thinks there’s a 'rule’ about how close a couple should be, or how much privacy one should have, and the two of you differ, then struggles can arise. Understanding your own need for personal space can greatly ease, and even eliminate, this problem. When you are able to explain your needs for space and privacy and to understand your partner’s you may be surprised to find out how different your needs are, but that will give the two of you a much better chance of working out agreements which meet each other’s needs.

Personal space and privacy differences can be resolved with understanding and communication. There are many creative ways to meet different needs, and by acknowledging and meeting each other’s needs your relationship will be strengthened. For example:

1. If your partner needs more alone time than you do, you can go out for dinner with friends (or join a club, work late, go to the gym or to choir practice) one or two nights a week, while your partner stays home.

2. If your partner wants to discuss the relationship a lot, and you don’t like to, you can agree to half-hour discussions of the relationship once a week, which will honor your partner’s need for discussion, and has a limit you can manage. You can also set other rules, such as no fighting or badgering.

3. If you want lots of friends and family around, and your partner is uncomfortable with groups, you can negotiate to spend some time alone with your family, or have your family over when your partner isn’t home, or you can even be in the living room with everyone while your partner cooks, barbeques, works on the computer or makes the drinks to keep some distance.

Accepting that you and your spouse may have differing needs for personal space, learning to identify your own needs and communicate them, and finding out about your partner’s needs gives you the information that makes it possible to use the power of personal space to help, rather than hurt, your relationship. When personal space and privacy needs are honored, it is much easier to be honest with each other.

When Dishonesty Is a Good Thing

There are good reasons to lie to your spouse (no, dear you don’t look as if you’re getting older) and bad reasons (I have no idea how that happened to the car.) The trick is to know which you’re doing. Telling the truth is not always easy, and, in rare cases, not wise. But, we should all learn how to do it, and know when to ’fess up, and when to keep your lip zipped.

Loving secrets, like what you’re getting for gifts, or a surprise party or getaway, can be fun, but it’s important to make sure the secret will be fun for the recipient. For people who hate parties, being ambushed with a party won’t be a good surprise. Guessing wrong about what kind of surprise your partner will like can backfire badly, so always check out beforehand whether your partner likes what you want to do. You can just ask generally how he or she feels about certain events without spilling the surprise secret.

The Problems of Dishonesty

Lying to your partner about whether you have broken an agreement does more damage than breaking the agreement. When you’re a child, it seems like a good idea not to admit you’re at fault, but it doesn’t work well for grownups. If you slip up, tell the truth. If it’s your partner who has slipped, be open to listening to him or her without blaming or getting upset, so the two of you can negotiate a solution to the problem. If you or your partner frequently break agreements, hurt each other’s feeling, or cause mistrust, suspicion or jealousy, you may have learned some dysfunctional relating in past situations, and need counseling to help you solve the problem.

© 2016 Tina B. Tessina adapted from: It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (Kindle and Paperback)

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction;The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step and her newest, How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Dr. Tessina was the CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina

Phone: (562)438-8077  | for permission to reprint, email: tina@tinatessina.com
All material copyright ©2017 Tina Tessina. All rights reserved.