Why do husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, lie to each other?
Our romantic relationships are seldom what they seem. We all want a relationship that is built on openness, intimacy, and trust, but the truth is, our relationships do not always work that way. More often than not, our intimate relationships involve secrecy and deceit. In fact, if you want to look for deception and betrayal in your own life, the best place to start is close to home. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, often lie about their true feelings for each other, the feelings they have for others, and their level of commitment. Indeed, it is safe to say that people save their biggest and most serious lies for those they love.
For better or worse, our romantic relationships are full of paradoxes which we try to overlook, downplay and ignore. For the most part, this strategy works well. Until the day comes when it doesn’t, and with little warning or preparation we have to confront face-on the reality that our close relationships are not exactly what they appear to be.
Eventually, almost everyone will catch a spouse or partner in one of their lies. Inevitably, we have a difficult time coping with what we have learned and dealing with the fact that someone close has betrayed our trust. We do not expect our partners to mislead us, nor do we have insight into how and why deception occurs.
In fairness, it should also be mentioned that it is just as likely that a partner or spouse will catch you in one of your own attempts to deceive. And ironically, we are just as unprepared to deal with this kind of situation.
Ignoring the paradoxes inherent in our romantic relationships turns out to be a costly strategy and most people pay the price for this decision, unexpectedly, and all at once. It’s not so much that coming to terms with the use of deception in romantic relationships will solve all of the problems you are going to encounter, but it will certainty help to reduce the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that occur when deception eventually comes to light.
When it comes love and romance, most of the things we believe, turn out not to be true. Most people believe that all of their marital or relational problems can be solved through “communication.” We also believe that deception is difficult to achieve, that misleading a partner requires a lot of effort and thought, and that romantic partners can tell when a lover is lying, and so on. None of these widely held beliefs, however, are supported by the evidence. Rather, our romantic relationships are held together by a delicate balance of both candor and deceit. And both are critical to making our intimate relationships work.
Romantic relationships entail two important features which allow deception to flourish: abundant opportunity, as well as the need to deceive. As we get close to another person, we intentionally and unintentionally provide them with a great deal of information about who we are, revealing ourselves through both our words and deeds. Creating this kind of intimacy or shared knowledge is critical, as it serves as the foundation for a lot of important rewards. Through our close relationships, we create gains with respect to our health, wealth, and emotional well-being.
Because relationships provide so many important rewards, it should come as no surprise that people are inclined to view their romantic partners in a positive light. We place a lot of trust in our romantic partners. We think we know them well. But while our trust surely provides us with a sense of security and comfort, it also lays the ground for deceit. For as we trust our partners more, we also become more confident but less accurate at determining when the truth is being told.
Every relevant study attests to the fact that lovers are terrible at telling when their partners are lying. In fact, detecting deception with anyone is difficult to do, but lovers manage to take this general failure to a spectacular low. Again, as we become more confident that we can tell when a lover is lying, the exact opposite turns out to be true. This “truth-bias” or “blind faith” provides the perfect opportunity for romantic partners to engage in deception. After all, who makes a better victim than someone who is eager and willing to trust everything you have to say?
Not only do close relationships create a wonderful opportunity for deception to occur, they also create the need. While romantic relationships offer many rewards, they also tend to be overly constrictive. Most everyone has felt the constraints of a close relationship from time to time; quite simply you are no longer free to do what you want, when you want, and with whom you want. So intimacy provides tremendous rewards, but at an enormous cost – the loss of your freedom and autonomy.
Lying to a romantic partner helps us deal with the constraints that our intimate relationships impose. Quite frankly, deceiving a romantic partner turns out to be the most efficient and effective way of maintaining the rewards we get from our romantic relationships while pursuing extra-relational goals and activities behind a partner’s back.
How do we decide when to lie and when to tell the truth? Well, most of the time we do not intentionally think about misleading our partners. Rather such decisions are governed by our emotions and just seem to happen when the right situation presents itself. Often a sense of excitement, opportunity, and exhilaration can lead us down paths we had no intention of traveling. A sense of fear, loss, and trepidation, on the other hand, prompt us to cover-up what we’ve done and be more conservative in the short-term. Luckily our emotions are very good at reading situations and keeping our deceptive behavior within limits. Our emotions prompt us to regain some of our freedoms while also allowing us to maintain the benefits we get from our intimate relationships.
When you take a step back and put it altogether, the picture that emerges tends to be rather ironic. Because our romantic relationships are so rewarding yet constrictive, we are simultaneously more truthful and more deceptive with those we love. Additionally, we place the most trust in the person who is most likely to deceive us, just as we are most likely to deceive the person who loves and trusts us the most. These are just a few of the paradoxes that emerge when taking a close look at the use of deception in our romantic relationships. Most of what is uncovered runs counter to our most cherished beliefs about love and romance; that is, the idea that complete openness and intimacy are a central and defining feature of being in love.
Initially most people avoid looking for deception by a loved one. But as you begin to examine your own behavior more closely it becomes harder to dismiss the degree to which lies, betrayal, secrecy and deceit are ever present in our close relationships. Hopefully, you will take on a greater appreciation for the complexities of your relationships as well as a richer understanding of what it means to be in love. Regardless of the final outcome, taking a close look at deception in your life will change the way you view yourself and others.