What harm is a little “white lie”? After all, if the truth be told she’d only get hurt. And, if he knew he’d be angry. . . and I don’t want that.
Most of us have lied at one time or another. You might recall childhood and those fibs you told your friends. Maybe you were a superhero with superpowers and you could see into the future, perform superhuman feats or had special gadgets only you knew how to work. And what happened when your fib grew? Did you almost believe it? Did it feel good to attract attention? Were you the super center of that childhood universe? Then, that stupid kid from next door ratted you out. . . stupid kid. . . and that universe came crashing in. What happened in those relationships? Did they change?
Wendy Gamble, PhD, Professor and Researcher, University of Arizona, breaks down Lies into 4 basic categories:
Prosocial Lies: Lying to protect someone, to benefit or help others.
Self-enhancement Lies: Lying to save face, to avoid embarrassment, disapproval or punishment.
Selfish Lies: Lying to protect the self at the expense of another, and/or to conceal a misdeed.
Antisocial Lies: Lying to hurt someone else intentionally.
When we are young, we learn about lies. We learn about lies in our relationships with other children and in relationships with the adults around us. Some of us learn to tell “white lies” as a way to protect our own feelings or the feelings of others. We too learn about truthfulness (or not) in relationship; ideally from loving parents and other care givers.
What we learn early about lying often sticks with us into adulthood. Add an adult’s ability to rationalize, substance abuse or mental illness, and relationships that reinforce the behavior and there can be a mix for trouble.
The underlying intent of most lies may be to avoid pain, but the end result of lying is often very painful. Lying to others may feel fine in the moment but when the lie is revealed, often both the person deceived and the liar herself ends up hurting. Repetitive lying is a serious problem which can lead to intentional antisocial lies and other antisocial behaviors like manipulation and aggression.
In loving relationships, is there room for any lies? Are prosocial lies to protect someone else really harmful? What about “Yeah, those jeans look great”. But you really wish she’d wear the other pair. What’s the harm in that?
Maybe in loving relationships the question is ~ Can you be honest with yourself and your partner without being brutally honest? What does that look like? How about “Yes, those jeans look good but I really like you in this pair.” Easy enough on relatively small stuff. . .
Can you be intimately honest with your partner? How about taking an intimately honest look at yourself? Not so easily done, maybe. When a lie’s intent is to hide a misdeed or harm another it may be painful to hold onto. So painful that sometimes people start feeling the lie is justified. . . hmmmm. When the lie is revealed sometimes blame is passed onto the one who finds out. . .
Can relationships survive really big lies?
Many do. And many don’t.
How can you increase your odds of survival?
First, acknowledge the pain. The pain that preceded the lie, the pain the lie holds, and the pain of the reveal.
Next, seek help. A trusted friend or family member might be helpful and then again maybe not. Careful whom you choose. How close is your confidant to you and are they caught up in the content of the lie or the behavioral patterns that involve lying?
Sometimes counseling is your best intervention. Counseling from an objective third party can help with your personal pain, repair the breach of trust between partners and strengthen relationships. If your partner is ready and agrees to do the work with you then start with the relationship and seek couples or marriage counseling. Often, couples counseling will help you both heal and grow. Sometimes individual therapy is a good complement to the couples work.
And if your partner’s not ready but you are. . . seek help on your own and begin to heal yourself.
And keep in mind, therapy is only helpful if you come clean with yourself. Lying to yourself by lying to your therapist doesn't help you and may even cause additional harm. Find the therapist that you feel most comfortable with. One whom you can trust and help you grow.
Lies in relationships can be self-limited and with intervention fairly easily resolved. And, lies in relationships can be part of underlying mental health, substance abuse or trauma concerns; with the right help all can be very treatable. Trust can be repaired. Seek help early. Look inward honestly. Look to your partner with empathy and compassion. Trust yourself. Change. Grow.
Nannette is a mother, wife, daughter, friend, psychotherapist, blog writer and consultant. She is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and works with individuals, couples and families in her private psychotherapy practice located in Kennebunk, Maine. Nannette has had many life experiences, many good and some sad; all have contributed to her personal and professional growth. Nannette appreciates your thoughts and comments and hopes you’ll look for other Healthy&Whole blogs on her website
Photo & Image credits:
"Man Question" by Danilo Rizzuti; "Smart Kid Playing On Jungle Gym" by photostock; "Sad Woman Sitting Alone In Room" by FrameAngel; "Young Couple In Cllothing Store" by photostock; "Young Couple Having Argument" by David Castillo Dominici; "Couple Working In Computer" by Ambro.
Kelly Purinton (Friday, 17 May 2013 07:51)
I love how you described your history of personal growth... "many good - some sad".
Well done :) and thanks for taking the time to blog this - it's nice to have a tidbit to percolate in the morning -
Nannette Nero Zuke (Saturday, 18 May 2013 18:14)
Thanks Kelly :)
Valerie Hesketh (Friday, 22 July 2016 08:50)
Interesting reading. We are often confronted by the "white lie" used to protect others or ourselves. I appreciate gentle honesty with the intent to improve communication, trust and collaboration in all relationships. Thanks for posting about this subject which can cause difficult in the family system dynamics.