5 Ways Lying Destroys Marriages
Dishonesty has wrecked so many relationships. Over the years I have worked with many couples and have seen the impact that lying has on their intimacy and connection. At times it troubles me what they must go through and how they feel. It’s too common. So many spouses would love to solve this problem. I would love to solve this problem. You want to solve this problem too. You want to know and understand this better and find a way to stop the pain. I want to help you recognize how a person’s dishonesty does not get the results they were hoping for. What if you could find and learn healthier patterns of behavior that don’t erode trust?
You may be reading this because of your own dishonesty. Has it destroyed or is it destroying your marriage? I’m guessing, like me, you are hoping to figure out why. You may be searching for ways to change your behavior for the sake of your relationship. If this is you, then you are in the right place.
It’s important to find insight into how lying affects your marriage. Understanding what lying does to relationships is pivotal to stopping this toxic behavior. You need to know how it destroys your intimacy and connection to understand how to change your situation. Continue with me as I lay out how destructive dishonesty is to marriage.
What is the definition of a lie?
I want to clarify what the definition of a lie is before we move forward. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a lie as:
- to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive
- to create a false or misleading impression
One aspect of lying is to verbally say something false or intended to deceive. The intent of something we say matters. Something is a lie based on the meaning we are trying to show behind it.
This leads us to the second part of the definition of the meaning of a lie: creating a false or misleading impression or narrative. People give false or misleading information in different ways. Sometimes it happens either when information is left out or when information is twisted to sound different than the real version. When examining yourself, what do you do to mislead people or give the intent that you don’t want them to know something?
Three Types of Lies
There are different types of dishonesty. It’s important to be able to recognize when someone is lying and knowing the different forms of dishonesty can help. I want to focus on 3 types of lies.
- Keeping secrets can be a form of dishonesty. Secrecy deliberately keeps information from your loved one so that they do not know what is real or true about the current situation.
- A blatant untruth is another form of a lie.
- Twisting the truth is when we give a little bit of a “twist” to the real version of what happened or the story. Leaving out bits of information can be deceiving and intended to mislead others.
Examples of Lying
As we saw above, the types of dishonesty people can show tend to reside in how much truth they reveal and their intentions. Several ways we witness dishonesty are when people cheat, steal, plagiarize, commit adultery, or just do something they shouldn’t do. People usually lie to not get in trouble, gain power or control, increase financial status, or get something they want without upsetting another person.
Lying is a tool people use that focuses more on selfish desires, although it has been used as a justification for protecting loved ones. Even so, a dishonest person is not loving others or thinking of others. In the next section, I want to discuss white lies as an example of lying.
Examples of White Lies
A white lie is “a lie that is told in order to be polite or to stop someone from being upset by the truth” and “that is about a subject that is not very important or one that is told to be polite or kind” per Cambridge Dictionary. An example is when a husband leaves out a small detail of what happened during his day that he knows his wife would not like, but seems unimportant to him. Maybe he bought a snack for himself or a soda, but the budget it tight. His thought is that one or two dollars is not that big of a deal.
Another example is when a wife may have briefly had a conversation due to work purposes with a guy that her husband doesn’t like. He asks her later that day who she talked to at work today and she leaves that little interaction out. One more example of a white lie is when a teenager says he took a shower and washed up, but left out that he forgot to wash his feet.
Examples of white lies can be around almost anything that a significant other does not usually approve of. General examples are spending money when budgets are tight, talking to people even though it is short and not intimate, or not being thorough in something where the spouse desires a greater version of completion and attention to detail.
Lying destroys marriages in the following 5 ways
- Lying destroys trust.
- Lying prevents deeper, empowering conversation.
- Lying leads to more lying and deception.
- Dishonesty extends healing time
- Lying portrays selfishness
What lies do to a marriage
This may seem obvious, and maybe it is. However, knowing why lying hurts relationships can help to prevent dishonesty in the first place. The reason lying destroys relationships is due to its nature of creating distrust. When a person lies to you, you automatically become offended and feel hurt. You may also in some ways feel fearful. We are not talking about the type of fear where you are scared for your life, but fear in the form of losing something important and emotional safety in the marriage.
Importance of trust in a relationship
When two individuals enter a relationship, they trust each other. You would agree that you trusted your partner when things started, at least as you got to know them. Your faith in them continues until they hurt or deceive you. Trust is important because it provides safety and certainty in the relationship.
Safety and certainty are important in relationships because they open us up to deeper connection and love. Honesty and trust provide an atmosphere where safety and certainty thrive in a marriage. A healthy relationship grows because of safety and certainty because a person can be more and more honest and open without the fear of being hurt. This creates an ever-deepening cycle of intimacy and connection. To understand more about how honesty helps marriage, read my article about 5 ways honesty improves marriage.
Is lying wrong?
Most people agree that deception or dishonesty is wrong. A lie is a sin according to the Bible. However, many believe there are times when lying is okay. We have already said that dishonesty and deception cause a spouse to feel unsafe, hurt, and fearful. Is that ever okay? I am not arguing whether or not lying sometimes may benefit you. I believe that dishonesty has benefitted people, but at what cost?
Lying might be the sin that is committed most in life, except for pride. If you have lied, you know that dishonesty can permeate a person’s life. One lie leads to another. Sam Harris in his book Lying writes, “Every lie haunts our future,…There is no telling when or how it might collide with reality requiring further maintenance.” The need to cover up each lie leads to confusion. The result is paranoia.
On top of that, trying to keep all the lies intact causes a person to question everything. With all the evidence in your life and others that dishonesty has created much hurt, pain, and destruction, is it really a question of whether it is wrong? Some people even say it might be okay at the beginning of a relationship just to get your foot in the door. It’s not okay and can wreak havoc on the future of your wishful thinking of a relationship!
Count the cost of dishonesty to limit the consequences for you and your partner
Everyone in this world has experienced a form of dishonesty. Weighing the cost of dishonesty is important to determine what the benefits and risks are. If you are willing to accept the consequences, then I can understand the reason for your lie, although it may still not be right.
I am not permitting one to lie here. Just because you accept the consequence does not mean that you are fully aware of the extent of that consequence or how it manifests. I am not sure any of us can know the far-reaching result of our behavior. The lesson to be learned is to be careful in accepting the consequence of lying until after much consideration. Even then, it might be helpful to reconsider.
Just because something looks good or feels good, does not mean it is right. Lying will never be right in my book (Although after much research I have started to understand more about when lying might be permitted or accepted Biblically). There are many consequences to lying. In a relationship, dishonesty has costs that can result in you losing trust, safety, respect, and more.
Make room for grace and mercy for those who have been dishonest.
Although I think lying is wrong in many cases, I have done it too. If dishonesty can create this much trouble in regular relationships, committed marriages don’t stand a chance. Devastation arises with just one little white lie. However, grace and reassurance are needed for those who have chosen to be dishonest. Giving grace should not be done flippantly. We all have fallen short.
I remember early in my marriage when I told my wife a lie. (We can get into the specifics of why people lie later.) Anyone who knows me, knows I do not have a poker face. You can see it on my face when I try to make a joke.
Needless to say, it did not go well. It was the first time my wife realized she didn’t know if she could trust me. Unfortunately, it was probably wishful thinking that I could be perfect in the first place. However, when she was able to forgive me and provide grace, it was a gift of love to me. It allowed me to see that I can be honest, even if I mess up because she is willing to give me grace and forgiveness. Forgiveness is so important and I do not have room to cover more, but another place to get a thorough understanding of general forgiveness is reading about it at Focus on the Family.
Dishonesty may have a permanent effect
My dishonesty was a huge mistake for me. I would give anything to get back that day. It not only hurt her, but it also hurt me. She questioned whether or not I was a safe person (more about safety in another blog…). I knew that I did not have her faith any more.
One little white lie did all that damage in seconds. Wow! Just thinking about how easy it was to do so much damage scares me, even now.
I am not saying that a couple can’t repair their marriage (as was alluded to above), but I encourage preventing the destruction from happening in the first place. You might even start thinking about some boundaries that could help prevent dishonesty.
I want you to know how lying damages relationships. You can prevent this if you start by understanding how harmful dishonesty can be to your marriage.
5 Ways Lying Damages Relationships
So, let’s clarify the ways lying destroys marriages in a more detailed fashion. This way you can be aware of how dishonesty can damage your relationship.
Lying destroys trust.
Trust is pivotal to all relationships. If a marriage does not have trust, it cannot function properly. Dr. John Gottman, a long-time researcher of marriage, describes trust as one of the walls to his Sound Relationship House Theory along with the commitment to help a relationship thrive.
Trust and commitment serve as the sheltering walls that keep outside gusts of negative thoughts and circumstances from affecting the rooms and the rest of the pivotal parts of the relationship.
Trust is the basis of good and positive communication. If there is no trust, an individual may not listen to or take heed to anything their partner says.
When a spouse lies, the person being lied to feels hurt and betrayed. A sense of devastation sometimes arises, and withdrawal from the dishonest spouse begins. The hurt spouse tends to start to question everything the deceiver says. If questioning persists, the dishonest spouse usually becomes angry and defensive because they cannot express their wants or needs due to repetitive questioning of the facts.
The hurt person at that point shuts down, or may not believe the answers of the dishonest spouse. This sequence of events creates a nasty cycle of distrust, defensiveness, and blame.
Lying prevents deeper, empowering conversation.
Have you ever found out a loved one was lying to you? What did you do? How did you feel? You may have felt angry, disappointed, frustrated, or some other intense feeling. You probably stopped communicating effectively due to fear, anxiety, or distrust. Sometimes a loved one withdraws and creates emotional, relational, or physical distance.
Married couples need to communicate on deep levels to feel the bond that keeps them together. When dishonesty occurs, a break in the relationship is inevitable, which hurts clear, loving communication. But, if you are not able to communicate because of anger, hurt, or fear, deeper levels of communication cannot be reached. Can you blame your spouse for creating distance after a lie? Would you want to get hurt again? They have so many questions and feel betrayed when they have been lied to. Don’t get mad at them, embrace their pain, and repent.
Lying leads to more lying and deception.
As alluded to above, once a lie is formed and emitted, a cover-up begins in an attempt to not get caught. Some people go to great lengths to cover up a lie because telling the truth can have very serious consequences.
For a dishonest individual, it becomes important to cover up the lie so they don’t lose their standing with their spouse, to avoid an upset spouse, or possibly lose their marriage and much more. Deception can become very complex and twisted, but to avoid the consequences, what other options does a person have?
Dishonesty extends healing time.
One of the consequences of lying to your partner is that they will feel hurt. The depth of the hurt depends on the type of lie, what the lie was about, the length of time the lie has been covered up, and whether or not the lie is dealing with a sensitive subject (ie, sex, finances, family).
As a professional, I have many couples who ask how long will it take to fix this. I have never been able to give a good answer on how long the healing process takes. It has been said that hurt takes time to heal. The amount of time to heal depends on the depth of the hurt.
Unfortunately, depending on the depth of the hurt, healing may be a spouse’s last thought. They may, instead, choose to not attempt to start the healing process at all. When you trust someone with your life and you are vulnerable and open with them, dishonesty crushes you. Some may focus on just getting away from the pain.
When lying is found out, multiple issues arise. It feels like you can’t trust your partner anymore. It also feels like the deepest parts of you (the most vulnerable and most sensitive parts) were abused and not taken care of. Your spouse trusted you with some of the most sensitive stuff in their life, and lying spits on that trust they had in you.
Lying portrays selfishness.
When a person lies, they are most likely thinking about themselves. It may seem they are doing it for other reasons and maybe even to protect another person. Some circumstances might seem selfless, but if you dig enough, you will realize that their actions are selfish. Selfishness is not a loving action, and if that is the message you send when you are dishonest, then you are damaging the marriage.
As we said, lying is usually to cover something up. Why would someone cover something up? To keep it secret? To not get in trouble? To not hurt another person so the relationship does not change? Could be any other number of reasons. No matter which way you swing it, ALL of these reasons point back to selfishness.
You can almost hear a resounding, “I…” if the person were asked why they lied. Defensiveness is a good test to determine if a person is thinking about themselves or others. I hate to be so abrupt and harsh on this last point. I know people will try to argue they were doing it to protect someone or something.
There are always good reasons for doing anything that you do, BUT was it the best, most beneficial choice? I think if we look at every angle and all the possible consequences with the benefits, we would find that lying destroys relationships. Although at the time it seemed like you were protecting others, the selfishness of the decision leads to greater hurt in the future.
What can you do to stop lying?
Finally, how do we use this information? The following portrays a few simple steps to help you to know what to do after you have been dishonest. Also, for spouses that have been lied to, check out my post: How do I talk to my partner about lying?
Lying can be easy sometimes. Being aware of how it affects others and how it takes away what is dear to you, can help you make a correct decision. I always teach people to be aware of yourself (ie, feelings, thoughts, and actions). Know your WHY!
Awareness breeds control. Awareness allows for a larger array of choices. Awareness allows for the individual to manage the problem instead of the problem managing the individual. In my post about “5 Ways to be Intentional in your Marriage”, I talked about being intentional! Awareness allows an individual to be intentional when working to have a healthy and lasting marriage.
LEARN TO BE HONEST.
Honesty provides safety and trust in relationships. Would you rather be with someone who messes up, yet is honest and genuine about it or someone who does not want anyone to see them for who they are? To find out more about honesty go to this post: 5 Ways Honesty Improves Marriages.
When you hurt your husband or wife, you need to apologize. Your dishonesty hurt them. They need to know you regret what you did. It’s important to correct the wrongs and make things right. Apologizing needs to be done in the right way. Don’t just think that saying you’re sorry will cut it. Check out my post about apologizing for lying to learn how.
What if I am a spouse who has been lied to?
I am sorry first of all for the hurt and pain you have had to endure. Nobody likes to be lied to and the distrust makes every second with a dishonest husband or wife all that much crazier.
I would encourage you to take the time to see your spouse’s, true heart. Understand that they are human and make mistakes. Also, know that their reasons may not be good ones, but they probably did motivate their choices. I know their choices were still wrong.
Finally, I would encourage you to visit some of my other posts that talk about forgiveness, building trust, and apologizing (see above). If you are considering leaving your spouse, I would encourage you to go read my post about whether staying with your spouse is the right choice.
This is a frustration article to write. No one wants their marriage to be destroyed. Dishonesty is damaging to intimacy, connection, and very much trust in all types of relationships. There are long-term and short-term effects as we found out above. However, there are ways to heal and overcome the damage that has been done. If you are struggling with this, reach out and get help. If you are interested in rebuilding and reconnecting to your spouse after dishonesty, do everything you can to learn how to rebuild trust in your marriage.