Dishonesty in Relationships

Lying in a relationship

Dishonesty in Relationships Part 1: Different Types of Lies and Why We Do Them

Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, we all have lied to some extent. Dishonesty in relationships is frequently what brings couples to relationship counseling. Our  first response to the idea of ‘lying’ may be one that is negative or imbued with shame or disgust.  The thought of being lied to can surge a range of strong emotions as well as acknowledging that we may have been the person who was actively lying to another in a relationship.  This is not surprising, as we often have specific boundaries surrounding our relationships and values. 

Many of us consider honesty and open communication as hallmarks to trust, with trust being the foundation of a healthy relationship and attachment  to another.  However, when we explore the topic more in depth, it is important to distinguish the types of lies that exist and how they differ among one another.  

Different Types of Lies

Some lies, for instance, are meant to reduce or prevent potential harm to another and therefore, can be seen as altruistic.  Other lies are crafted and rehearsed ahead of time and may be considered more damaging in some regards. In this blog, we are going to explore different types of lies and build an understanding of why we might engage in this type of behavior.

So, what are the different types of lies? At their core, all lies are attempts to deceive someone – to get them to believe something that isn’t true.  In this blog we are going to break down 4 different types of lies, including white lies, lies of omission, lies of commission, and lies of self-preservation.  Each of these types vary based on the intent behind them as well as the motive. Often these factors play a strong role in evaluating the harmfulness of telling a lie.

  1. White Lies

White lies are the most benign type of lie. They’re told with the intent of sparing someone’s feelings or to avoid causing conflict. For example, you might tell a friend that their outfit looks great even though you don’t think it does.  White lies are minor lies that are told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to protect someone from harm and may be seen at times as benevolent or altruistic depending on the situation and motive.

  1. Lies of Omission

Lies of omission are falsehoods that occur when people don’t tell the whole truth. This is often viewed as being intentionally deceptive and therefore, distrustful.  Omission lies can be just as harmful as commission lies, and sometimes they’re even more deceptive because the person telling the lie may think they’re being truthful.  It can be difficult to assess the intention behind lies of omission if a person is unaware of why they are employing this type of deception.  There often might be an underlying fear of being judged or criticized along important identity issues or life circumstances, such as financial status, family background, job status or place of employment, marital status, age, etc.  

  1. Lies of Commission

Lies of commission or self-enhancing lies are intentional untruths that serve to bolster our self identity.  These lies may be about important issues, such as lying about one’s age, marital status, or financial situation in order to appear acceptable or attractive to the person being told the lie. Self-enhancing lies are the lies we tell to make ourselves look better or seem more competent or likable than we really are. These lies of commission can also be malevolent in nature, and used to hurt another person intentionally.

  1. Lies of Self-Preservation

Self-preservation lies are told in order to protect oneself from harm or embarrassment and are the most common. For example, you might lie about your age or occupation in order to avoid being judged. Or, if you’ve done something wrong, you might lie about it in order to avoid getting in trouble.  For example, you might lie to your boss about why you were late for work, in order to prevent negative consequences.

Now that we have an overview of different types of lies that we may have encountered or engaged in, let’s briefly explore why we might be motivated to lie.  Considering not only the intent of a lie, but the motive behind it can provide us with important information to consider about ourselves and the other person or people involved.  The hope is that we can compassionately understand what may trigger the impulse to lie and how states of insecurity or tension can impact these impulses.

Be Compassionate

Often as children, when we have the impulse to lie, it may occur in moments where we do not want to disappoint the other person, we feel embarrassed or ashamed, and/or we may even feel bad about ourselves.  In acknowledging that this may be true, we  can compassionately respond to this by validating the discomfort one may feel in sharing something embarrassing or highlighting one’s insecurities or flaws. 

It is not shocking, from this compassionate standpoint, to know that a person may employ a defense, such as lying, to protect themselves from this discomfort and shame.  It is important to consider the motive behind the lie, as being benevolent, malevolent, out of self-preservation, or for self-enhancement.

In our next blog post, we will explore how lying can impact a relationship and steps towards shifting and ultimately transforming the behavior.

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