Why do husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, lie to each other?
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.
In fact, when it comes love and romance, most of the things we believe, are not true. Most people believe that all of their marital or relational problems can be solved through "communication." We 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.
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.
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.