You’ve probably heard the term “little white lie” a thousand times, a term used to describe the kind of harmless fib that men and women tell every day. It’s true that not all lies are devious or harmful, but the point is that you have to be clear about the purpose of the lie, regardless of who tells it. First, I will review the most basic reasons for lying in dating and relationships, and I will then share some of the more subtle reasons why people lie. You’ll see that I rotate the pronouns because men and women are guilty of the same types of lies, and they are motivated by the same reasons.
1. He lies because he wants to impress you. Lying to make oneself look more impressive is the most pervasive motivation for lying in dating and romantic relationships. The root of the problem is that most men and women don’t have great self-esteem. They often feel that they aren’t very desirable or appealing physically, or they don’t see themselves as particularly charming, intelligent or interesting. (Nonsense, right?) To make up for their self-perceived inadequacies, someone may lie to make himself appear more interesting or successful.
How to deal with this lie: If you feel like your date is embellishing parts of his life to impress you, make an effort to reassure him. Say,”What I am looking for more than anything is someone who is sweet and honest, so the added impressive details are great but totally not necessary!”
2. She lies to avoid something. Your date may lie because she is trying avoid any number of things: a kiss or sexual activity, a date or spending more time together, or meeting your friends or family, among other possibilities. Most people, in general, don’t love confrontations, so lying as a form of avoidance makes intuitive sense, even though it is a problem that hurts many relationships.
How to deal with this lie: If you feel like someone is lying to avoid something, ask them in a non-attacking manner,”Would you be okay with telling me if you really didn’t want to do something? I hope so because I want to be able to tell you honestly when I don’t want to do something, too.”
3. He lies to hide his unfaithfulness. We all know what we’re talking about when it comes to infidelity. Men and women lie every single day to hide the fact that there is someone they are talking to online or in person, or because they have gone so far as to have actual sex with someone else.
How to deal with this lie: If you just start dating someone and discover that he has lied about a sexual indiscretion, consider packing your bags and moving on. While it is arguably more complicated if a partner cheats on you after many years together, the situation should be simple if someone new lies to hide his unfaithfulness.
4. More subtle reasons: Indecisiveness. One of the most common reasons why people lie has to do with discomfort and difficulty with making decisions. Your date may lie because he isn’t actually sure what he wants, so he defaults to lying because that feels easier and faster in the moment than figuring out what he really wants.
How to deal with this lie: If you’re dating a guy who lies because he’s indecisive, overall he will come across as a good guy, albeit one who is too passive. If you sense that the root problem is indecisiveness, say, “If you need more time to decide, get back to me tomorrow and let me know.” Removing the pressure is key to get him to tell you the truth – and not lie in the future.
5. Manipulation.You know how singer Vanessa Williams sang a song about saving the best for last? Well, I saved for the worst reason for last. While most men and women you date won’t be prone to lies and manipulation, you will encounter a manipulator or two in the dating pool. If you’re dating a woman who lies due to a general manipulative personality style, you can see other clues for this twisted orientation. She often loves to be the center of attention; she always casts herself in a sympathetic light (either sweet and loving, or a victim in some way); and she tends to have stormy friendships and romantic relationships.
How to deal with this lie: If you’re dating a woman who lies in a way that feels manipulative (to gain power over you or others), be clear that you don’t feel like you can totally trust her. When you explain why, give her specific examples. However, you must understand that this personality style is extremely difficult to change, so you need to ask yourself if you want to sign in for months or years of this type of destructive behavior.
The ultimate goal is to find a partner who doesn’t lie with regularity and who doesn’t lie about anything meaningful. If you start dating someone and catch them in more than one or two lies in the first month, you have to realize that you may be dealing with a pathological liar – and that kind of person can destroy your self-esteem.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve