Is it Okay to Lie in a Relationship?
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Doing a little research and thought exercise on whether lying is okay or not. I thought I might write a post to help married couples navigate the nuances of dishonesty in marriage and relationships. Undoubtedly, I believe most people do not like to be lied to, but many people believe that there are times when lying is okay. I am not sure if you are one of those people, but let’s take a look at some information to get some finality to this question.
When asking the question, “Is lying okay?” especially in marriage, I am going to assume that you or someone else has already been dishonest. You also probably want the answer right away. The short answer is, lying is not okay. Although you might say it depends, I might then ask you, “Do you like pain?” The answer is probably no. Lying is not okay in most cases, because it causes others pain. But when we examine and consider the information we find from different sources, there are very rare times when lying would be considered applicable. They seem to be more suited for life-or-death situations. Remember, RARE is the time that a lie is okay.
Now, I am not claiming to be an expert, so you might disagree, but hopefully, by the time you are done reading this post, you will understand my position. Others of you may continue to disagree. I am okay with that. We all are privy to our own opinions and perceptions, however, that does not mean that either you or I am correct. So, I encourage you to come at this with an open mind, just as I have been doing through my research and reading of others’ ideas about this question. Let’s be respectful of each other’s intelligence and considerate of emotions as we dive into the possibilities.
What opinions are out there about lying in relationships?
There seem to be 2 or 3 opinions addressing if lying is okay in a relationship. The first opinion is that lying is not okay at all. Then there is a large camp of people who believe “white lies” are okay and sometimes it is okay to fib when in danger or trying not to hurt a loved one. Finally, some believe lying is okay and make a lifestyle out of it. We could plot a chart that might show that most people believe at least most lies are not okay.
After reviewing numerous articles, it seems clear that people who believe lies are “okay” have multiple reasons for this. Whether to not hurt someone or to stay safe, the examples given at least sound reasonable. One such example is when someone is trapped in an abusive relationship. Others examples are about whether you should tell your partner if you like their outfit, if they are fat, or if you thought someone else was attractive. The last 3 are common occurrences. Many people would say that those moments are about sparing their partner’s feelings or keeping the peace.
Here are some other examples that make you have to think more about the question of whether lying is okay:
- A husband lies to his wife about where they are going to surprise her for a birthday party or event that has been planned for her.
- A young child is rescued from a car wreck where its parents were killed, but the child does not know this and is in a serious medical condition itself. The paramedic tells the child its parents are okay. He intends to let the child know when he is sure his condition has improved.
- What about dementia people who are placed in nursing home facilities because it is too hard to take care of them, but they are confused and combative?
These examples and others are given HERE. They create an intriguing conversation about the morality of lying. Or if some perceived lies are even lying at all.
People who believe lies are not okay tend to be more religious or moral. The Bible has some things to say about dishonesty (read this POST to find out more) and examples to help us understand this answer from a Christian view. We will touch on that later.
Others, like my wife, tend to have a very tender heart and can feel deeply the hurt and pain of others. She has told me that she struggles with understanding why anyone would want to lie (I try to answer that question HERE). I have always said she has one of the purest hearts of anyone I know. This does not mean that these people don’t lie, sin, or make mistakes. They are just very sensitive to the pain that is caused and truly believes it is wrong to lie due to the hurt they know comes out of dishonest behavior.
Each person has their view based on many experiences, beliefs, and desires. It’s hard to know who is right. At this point, the answer to this seemingly uncomplicated question poses no definitive answer. At best, the answer, for now, is, “It depends.” So, let’s continue to parse this out.
What does the research say about dishonesty in relationships?
When it comes to understanding anything, I like to check research, others’ opinions, and the Bible (Not necessarily in that order). Now that we have looked at the differing opinions on this topic, I want to present some, but not all research. Research gives us an understanding of the more scientific, fine-tuned information that is out there about our query.
I found this article by Brandon Gaille that provides some interesting stats about lying. It is worth looking at to give us a glimpse of what the possible statistics are saying.
Several statistics he posted show that 80% of women occasionally admit to telling harmless half-truths. He also notes that 90% of people lie on dating sites. This is interesting because that is a massive amount of dishonesty. Also, people are connecting more and more in this way these days. I wonder if this confirms the idea that everyone is lying, and not just lying, but lying a lot.
He also notes that 6 lies are told daily by men to their partners, boss, or colleagues. 3 lies are told daily by women to their partners, boss, or colleagues. I am not sure if this is accurate, because I have also read that the average number that a person lies a day is more like 1 and a half times.
He interestingly notes that approximately 1 lie in every 7 is discovered or found out.
Two other statistics I saw that were interesting from his article said that a 10th of lies are just exaggerations and 60% were outright deceptions.
Finally, he suggests that 70% of liars claim they would tell their lies again, and Americans tell an average of 11 lies a week.
In another article, the APA presented information that suggests telling the truth more often when you have the chance to lie or just telling fewer lies improves your mental and physical health. This is great news! So, even if telling a lie is okay, you will receive some benefits from not telling lies.
A 2016 study showed that dishonesty changes the brain and makes it easier to lie again. That’s scary! Why would you want to lie if you knew this information? This is not a benefit. Maybe as we get more detrimental information, we will be proving that lying is not beneficial, thus by default is not okay (If only it were that easy!).
One last study I found is more than interesting. Remember the earlier statistics? They showed that lying is very prevalent (ie, 4-6 lies a day). A study from 2021 suggests that most people are honest, and there are only a few people who are pathological liars. This data is the opposite of what was seen in past studies that suggested most people are liars and lie a lot.
Fortunately, this is why we continue to do research and not just take things at face value. The new study was more robust and seems to be more accurate. Check out this article to learn more.
Here are a few more data points that could help us in figuring this out:
One study done in 2016 showed that 59% of people surveyed rarely feel the need to lie or cheat and 23% said they never feel that way. That’s 82% that rarely if ever, feel the need to lie or cheat. To me, that’s amazing. We are better than I thought! Looking at the graph, they also show that only 4% feel they have to lie or cheat “often.” That is sad, but maybe our world is not so bad after all.
This survey answered an exact question that is at the heart of what we are trying to find out. The graph shows that 64% of people feel it’s sometimes okay to lie, but 36% said it’s never justified. The majority of us think that lying is “sometimes justified.” But a huge chunk of us feels it is “never justified.” That speaks volumes. So maybe we need to figure this out! Who’s Right?
One other study mentioned that 7% of all communication is lies, but 90% of lies are only white lies. Interesting indeed!
I know this post is not about how much, how often and what types of lies people tell, but the data we get from research can help us know what humans believe about lying. So far we are seeing that most people believe lying is at least justified in some situations, but many people still see it as totally wrong.
What does the Bible say regarding lying?
I know some people won’t want to hear what Christianity has to say about lying. Please don’t leave yet! The Bible is also a book of wisdom, even if you don’t believe in God or Jesus.
I assume most Christians would think the Bible says lying is wrong, but I also assume that some Christians are lumped in with the 64% of us who say lying is sometimes justified. However, I think we are going to find out some things about what the Bible says that maybe we didn’t expect.
I am not going to do a full-scale review here. If you want a more in-depth review of the Bible’s view of lying, please see my next post. It is posted HERE.
Examples of Lying in the Bible
There are a few examples in the Scriptures where we see actual lies being told.
- Some opinions about the first time a lie is told in the Bible can get convoluted. Some believe it was when Satan told Eve that they would “not surely die” if they ate the fruit of the tree. Some assert that Adam told the first lie and it is inferred that he told Eve that God said “ye shall not eat or TOUCH” the fruit. The addition of touch is understood by those asserting this theory to be the lie that Adam would have told Eve.
- Another lie that we see is when Abraham was dishonest with Pharaoh about Sarah being his wife. Pharaoh luckily was warned by God of the matter.
- Ananias and Saphira lied about how much money they received from selling their land. They both perished by God’s hand through Peter because of their deception.
- Rahab helped the Jewish spies hide in the city of Jericho and lied to protect them.
- Jacob lied to Isaac to gain Esau’s birthright.
- The Jewish midwives in Egypt lied to save their baby boys because Pharaoh had ordered them to kill all newborn males.
- Some people even believe Jesus lied to his brothers about going up to Jerusalem for the feast. He told them “I am not going up,” but he did. However, this is taken out of context. He also added, “My time has not yet come.” Inferring that, that when His Father led Him to go up to Jerusalem, he would go.
Many more examples of lying exist in the Bible. Dishonesty is not new and is ages-old. It started from the beginning when Adam and Eve were created and continues to exist as a problem today. You could say lying might be considered the first sin. Although some might say it was pride.
Some intriguing considerations come out of the story of Adam and Eve. Did Adam tell Eve that they shouldn’t touch the fruit? God only said to not eat the fruit of the tree. If Adam did tell Eve this, did he tell her that God said that, or did he just say not to touch the fruit to keep them safe (which might be a big part of our answer to our question)? Did he actually lie to her? If so, what does that say about sin? Did it come into existence before eating the fruit? Was it disobedience? Are there times when sin is justified? Especially, if Adam lied to Eve before she ate the fruit.
These are all interesting questions. I am not sure we can find answers to them. Another interesting question is: Did Adam exaggerate what God said when he told Eve? Or, did God tell both of them? I am not sure sin had entered the world yet. Is there more to this? Maybe it is a clue to when dishonesty might be justified.
Could it be that because Adam wanted to make sure that they were safe that he told Eve an exaggerated version of what God said and that was okay in God’s eyes because it was to not bring harm or it was for the greater good? Or would that be considered fear? At this point I am just wondering, but who knows? It also makes me wonder if dishonesty happened before Eve even ate the fruit. What then? How does that play a role in this sin concept entering the world?
Verses about Lying
Let’s explore some Scriptures about dishonesty. What does the Bible say about lying? A quick search on the web about lying in the Bible reveals many verses and examples of dishonesty in the Bible. I will only list a few below that will get your appetite wet. Then I will discuss briefly what I think these verses and others tell us about the Scriptures’ view of dishonesty.
Old Testament Verses about Dishonesty
- Exodus 20:16 (ESV) – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
- Proverbs 6:16-19 (ESV) – There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
- Proverbs 12: 22 (ESV) – Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
- Proverbs 19:9 (ESV) – A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.
- Psalm 101:7 (ESV) – No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.
- Proverbs 14:5 (ESV) – A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.
New Testament Verses about Dishonesty
- Colossians 3:9-10 (ESV) – Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
- Ephesians 4:25 (ESV) – Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
- Revelation 21:8 (ESV) – But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
- Matthew 15:18-20 (ESV) – But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.
- James 3:14 (ESV) – But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
- James 1:26 (ESV) – If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Conclusion about the Bible’s view on lying
As you read through Scripture and familiarize yourself with examples of dishonesty and verses about God’s dislike of dishonesty, it’s easy to see that lying is not necessarily God’s favorite thing. He even says that it is an abomination, and one of the 7 things God hates.
However, you have to remember that the Bible is a book written by many authors with a similar theme that tells the story of God, His Son, and the salvation of the human race. It also was written in two different languages (Hebrew – Old Testament, Greek – New Testament). If you know anything about these languages, they don’t match up well with our current English language and especially not “American English” or “slang.”
Knowing the nuances in the translation of the original language to the current understandable language helps us see that what we are reading when the Bible says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” may pose a slightly different meaning, context, or major shift in what we think it is saying.
When we read this verse, it certainly seems like it means simply to not lie. I guess we can easily generalize it, but it’s not meant to be generalized. One analysis of this statement is literally not being a false witness in court. It doesn’t say in court, but if you know much about the history, then this would most likely be the most correct translation of this verse. I would love to go further into this, but that will have to wait for another time.
With this understanding and other verses such as Colossians 3:9-10 or Matthew 15:18-20, we start to see that this has more to do with how you treat others. When we read Proverbs 12:22 ends with saying, “but those who act faithfully are his delight.” He follows up by saying that “lying lips are an abomination” with this. What does acting faithfully have to do with it? It seems that when we act faithfully, lovingly, or kindly, it’s a difference of heart. In Matthew 15, God even says, “for out of the heart come…” which suggests he is linking lying with the heart.
I think this is interesting and we should read Biblical accounts possibly from this angle. Yes, there are very strong statements against dishonesty in the Bible, but it still seems unclear whether it is okay to lie or not, considering some of the examples we have discussed Biblically and from our everyday lives.
How do you feel when you are lied to, especially by your loved one?
Another viewpoint that we can consider is our own emotions when we are lied to. I know when I have been lied to, I feel betrayed, hurt, fearful, sad, disconnected, and a whole host of other negative emotions. It does not feel good!
I work with couples all the time and when trust is broken due to lying, I see those same couples struggling with deep emotions that keep them separated and disconnected for days, weeks, or even months. It’s not fun and sometimes so destructive it tears them apart.
Fear is a real thing because it has been shown in some research studies that the primary desire or need for humans is connection. We just want to be accepted for who we are. But when someone lies to us, we feel rejected.
Think about it. When someone is dishonest with you, they possibly did not think of you enough to believe you were worth telling the truth to. Now that may be an exaggeration, but that could be one perspective. The bottom line is it makes us feel bad. Our feelings about being lied to signal something is wrong with dishonesty.
What happens when people lie?
Another aspect is to consider what happens when people lie. Many things can happen. Fighting, divorce, hiding, more lying, and many other negative things. I am not sure I can think of too many positive things that happen when people lie. Possibly if it saves a life, that could be considered positive, but that may just be wishful thinking, but who knows if it will work?
Lying divides people. I think we are seeing more lies in our world right now that are causing more chaos and destruction than maybe the world has ever seen. It’s not what was intended for our world. It goes back to seed sowing. What you sow, you will reap. That’s generally the consensus. When you lie, you are sowing dishonesty and you will reap whatever that sown seed produces.
Is there ever an okay time to lie?
To wrap up I will give my opinion. This is in no way an echo of the Bible or God or any other people. I have read a lot and researched a lot and have come to my conclusion based on what you have read here and more. I am part of the supposed 64% who believe it is sometimes okay to lie. However, that sometimes comes with a lot of caution flags, rules, and stipulations. I first derived my answer for that from the Scriptures.
I believe that we are, first of all, humans. We can’t know everything and so sometimes we aren’t in a place to hear God’s voice like we need to. I believe if we could hear God’s voice, He probably would be telling us to, “Trust Me!” Now even saying this makes me want to change my answer to the idea that it is never okay to lie, but part of me feels that there is a very small window where lying is okay.
Let’s talk about that window. I believe that window is when it’s for the greater good, usually for life and death situations. Think about the Jews in Nazi Germany or Rahab in Jericho. Rahab hid the spies and there are famous cases where Jews were hidden from the Germans to save their lives. Would a loving God allow this? I believe so.
If there is a greater good, or should I tell a lie that is of “true love and sacrifice,” then that lie comes from the right place in the heart! It is redeemable. Would you tell a lie to your parents because you don’t want your younger brother to be brutally disciplined because he did something wrong? It’s love. Is it wrong? It would be hard to prove it is.
However, this can never be taken lightly. I think that is the major issue. We take telling lies lightly. We don’t recognize the seriousness. If it’s not life or death, then it shouldn’t be told. That’s serious! When we start to see that a loving situation where life or death is being faced is the only meter for being dishonest, then we realize that this is serious. Lying to your spouse has NOTHING to do with life or death 99.9999% of the time.
So, is it ever okay to lie to your spouse, friend, loved one, or partner? The vast majority of the time the answer is a resounding, “NO!” It’s not worth it. The Bible is very clear. We can explore that in more depth at another time. Our feelings about lying present a clear picture of how much destruction and hurt it causes.
The examples I gave where lying might be considered okay are very rare circumstances. For most people, lying should not be an option. That’s how I would have you set your mind. Lying is NOT AN OPTION! If you allow it to be an option, you will use it. And inevitably, you will HURT someone. You reap what you sow! Sometimes the greatest method for not acting negatively is to not put yourself in a position to act negatively.
Let’s learn to do what God says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
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