By Drs Les and Leslie Parrott
When you’ve caught someone in lies, it’s natural to doubt almost everything they say. And when that someone happens to be your spouse, the sense of betrayal is even more profound. How can you rebuild trust when your spouse has lied to you?
REASONS SPOUSES LIE
There are many reasons your spouse may be dishonest with you. Maybe they’re not fully coming clean because:
They have already disappointed you, and they’re afraid of your reaction;
They promised to change a pattern, and they haven’t;
They promised to get something done, but didn’t…even though they meant to.
People often lie not necessarily to deceive, but to protect their own ego. They’re ashamed of what they’re trying to cover up, they are afraid of the consequences, and they don’t want to have to live with your disappointment in them. When this is the case, it can be easy for them to convince themselves that they’re not really lying.
In cases like these, this isn’t so much a character issue as it is a maturity issue. They’re not liars across the board–this is not an issue of global dishonest or global distrust. But by the same token, they have to be willing to start to come clean, because regardless of the reasons for their dishonesty, lying is a toxic practice that will eventually break down your marriage.
Another kind of dishonesty is when your spouse is actively trying to deceive you by doing things you wouldn’t choose for them to do–things that are destructive to them, to your relationship, or even to other people. Maybe they aren’t honoring your relationship through chronic or repetitive infidelity.
When someone is actively deceptive on a large scale, is deliberately deceiving you and hurting you and others, they have holes in their conscience. Clinically, we refer to these people as sociopaths or psychopaths–in other words, people lacking the normal sense of guilt that most others feel when engaging in activities that are morally wrong and hurtful to others.
HOW TO CONFRONT A LYING SPOUSE
Now that you’re dealing with deception in your marriage, you’re going to think that whatever your spouse has lied to you about is global. It might be; then again, it might not. There’s no way around the painful conversation that comes next; you have to be able to put this on the table with your spouse, one way or another.
How can you confront this in a way that will be productive? There are a few different ways of dealing with dishonesty, depending on what the root of it is.
If your spouse is lying to protect his or her ego, talk to him or her about your perspectives, your experiences, and your feelings surrounding the lie. Yes, you’re in pain, but don’t throw it in your spouse’s face or try to hurt them back (even if you want to). Saying things like, “Look what you’ve done!” or, “Look how you’ve hurt me!” won’t be helpful.
The worst thing you can do is provoke someone when you’ve recognized that they’re not being honest with you. Try to look at the situation in the context of their perspective, and attempt to understand why they felt the need to lie. Emotional fear causes people to lie because they don’t want to feel exposed, for whatever reason.
It’s very good judgment to reveal that you know what’s going on up-front; don’t try to set up a situation where you can “catch them” in a lie. Instead, let them know that you know they’ve been dishonest. Gently explain that you feel very betrayed, and this is painful for you.
You can ask your spouse, “Why didn’t you think I’d be safe to tell the truth to?” Let them answer, and hear them out. Then, let them know that you’d rather feel disappointed because they told you the truth, rather than betrayed because they lied about it.
Be careful not to appear judgmental; instead, let your spouse see that you’re sad and hurt, and that you want to have a relationship with them that isn’t painful and doesn’t include deception.
Tell your spouse that you don’t want this to happen again. Trust is the foundation of love, and you must be able to maintain a healthy sense of trust in one another in order to nurture the lifelong love you both want.
If your spouse falls into the more toxic, chronically deceptive category, don’t deliberately try to catch them in their lies. Instead, the approach you take should be more strategic, aimed at interrupting his or her patterns of deception. This approach will also communicate that you’re not fooled.
If you’re seeing things that don’t add up–that make you suspect deep dishonesty–try saying, “Look, I see this, and I see this. And they do not add up.” Simply state the facts. Let them know that what you’re seeing and what they’re saying don’t add up.
Another variation you could use is, “I’m getting different messages that make it seem like you’re not being honest with me.” Stating that words and actions, or stories and evidence, don’t add up interrupts their pattern of chronic lying, and they won’t feel like they’re getting away with it.
Little by little, pull down each brick in the wall of lies they’ve built. Confront your spouse event by event, as things happen, and deconstruct the illusion they’re trying to create.
Staying in a relationship with a sociopathic person is incredibly toxic, and you may find that you need to seek professional counseling in order to cope more comprehensively with what’s happening in your marriage.
YOU CAN OVERCOME DISHONESTY IN YOUR MARRIAGE
People have best and worst moments, and when you’re married someone, you see the very best and the very worst of one another. You can overcome dishonesty in your marriage and go on to live a long, happy life together, full of trust and honesty.