Does Lying Cause PTSD in a Relationship?

If you have questioned whether you have PTSD from your spouse or partner due to their lies, you may be making too much of the lies. Lying is not usually enough to create PTSD, but trauma is a real effect of lying. Let’s look at the difference between PTSD and trauma, and why lying is more likely to cause trauma than PTSD.

Lying in your relationship does not usually cause PTSD because PTSD is triggered by more severe events than trauma. You can be traumatized by a host of things, but PTSD has very severe symptoms brought on usually by a dangerous or deadly event.

Trauma on the other hand tends to be a reaction to a less severe event with a shorter recovery time that may include a break in trust or a smaller loss of some sort. Let’s break down the differences so we can have some finality to this question.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is when a person is exposed to a life-threatening or dangerous event that triggered a specific set of symptoms. These symptoms, or responses, range from nightmares to intrusive thoughts about the event. Sometimes flashbacks are involved.

It is very complicated. A diagnosis from a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist is needed. I encourage anyone who thinks they have PTSD to seek out a professional opinion. You don’t want to believe you have something that you don’t have. You will just make sure the relationship gets worse.

To learn more about PTSD and the symptoms that go along with it, read my article describing PTSD. You will find a more in-depth explanation there!

What is Trauma?

Trauma on the other hand is less severe. A person can become traumatized by smaller things such as the loss of a loved one, a regular car crash, or becoming ill. The reaction to these things tends to look like PTSD, but the symptoms are mild.

Symptoms usually would be mild to moderate fear and anxiety. Avoidance may be a possible reaction. However, you may not have more severe reactions like nightmares or flashbacks. You may even only have these symptoms when you face the situation directly.

One other thing about trauma is it as opposed to PTSD, is that PTSD is trauma, but the traumatic event may not be as severe to cause PTSD. I know that is confusing, but think about if you had to move away from your friends as a child. You would have to grieve, but anytime your parents started talking about moving or career stuff, you might have a not-so-good feeling pop up inside. That’s a trauma reaction!

Why Lying Causes Trauma and Not PTSD, Usually…

When someone lies, it is not dangerous or exposes someone necessarily to a life-or-death type of situation. They are not necessarily going to have intrusive thoughts or flashbacks or nightmares. However, they will lose trust and wonder if their partner is lying to them about other things. (Maybe that is somewhat intrusive in thinking, but it doesn’t meet the requirements to be defined by the term PTSD.)

There are times, such as intense affairs that do cause PTSD symptoms and could be PTSD, but that again would need to be diagnosed. General lies are not going to cause this intensity of reaction. They may cause distrust and thoughts about whether you can trust your spouse, but that is going to be the extent of it.

Basically, PTSD is more severe than trauma. They seem to be on a continuum and eventually, if someone had a severe enough traumatic event, they would show symptoms that might be diagnosed as PTSD.

Why is this distinction important?

If you truly do have PTSD you need to seek help. But, if you don’t, you need to relax and find ways to heal, build trust, and understand what was going on that your spouse thought it was okay to lie. You still may need a marriage counselor to talk through the situation with.

Lying can cause severe issues and needs to stop. However, let’s just make sure we don’t blow things up to the point of no return. You are not a victim. You are resilient and need to set boundaries to make sure it does not happen again. You have the right to understand what is true and the right to be told the truth. Don’t let yourself be beaten by believing you have PTSD and you can’t win!

Knowing the difference between PTSD and trauma can help you properly determine what you need to do to heal and get through the problem. Trauma is normal for everyone. Lying tends to happen a good bit in relationships, but you can find the truth and your relationship does not have to be destroyed by wrongful beliefs and thoughts.


Believing that you have PTSD could cause you to act and feel in ways that you would not normally. It could be detrimental to your relationship and you could start being more of the problem if you get caught up in believing you have PTSD over trauma. I am in no way saying you don’t have it, but it’s rare for most lies to cause a severe enough reaction to be categorized as PTSD. So, assume you have some trauma from a lot of different areas in life and face your struggles with courage that will help you rebuild trust.

Another resource that can help you understand boundaries is the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. You can find it on Amazon.

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Brandon Coussens, LMFT

Brandon Coussens, LMFT


Brandon Coussens is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Legacy Marriage Resources, LLC located in Augusta, GA. Find out more about me…