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Liar, Liar – Is It Ever Okay?

Fib. Half-truth. Fable. Fabrication. Prevarication. Figment. Inexactitude. Disinformation. Fiction. Truth evasion. No matter how you say it, a lie is a lie—but is it ever okay in a relationship?

We’ve all heard the saying that “little white lies don’t hurt anybody” or its ever-popular variant, “What people don’t know can’t hurt them,” but when it comes to matters of the heart, nothing could be more untrue. There’s often a fine line between tact and raw truth, but to err on the side of lie is to choose fiction over fact and shortchange the bond you share with the one you love.

In the world of romance, there are two types of lies: those that are told to avoid the emergence of uncomfortable emotions in others that the liar could be held responsible for, and those wielded to manipulate others to get ahead or get away with something. In either case, the motivation to lie comes from a very self-centered place—a liar lies for himself or herself. Even during those times when the issue seems small, when, for instance she may ask, “Honey, do I look fat in these pants?” and when he may furrow his brown and ask, “Is that a new pair of shoes?” there is an opportunity for the respondent to flat-out lie to save face, or to address the situation with truth, albeit tactfully.

By replying, “Those pants look okay, but you know what really makes you shine is this pair of pants over here…” and “Yes, they are new. I got them on sale—do you like them?” the pillar of trust remains intact and the lines of communication remain open for further discussion. Sure, there might be temporary uncomfortable emotions that arise in the moment, but they may signal bigger issues that need honest discussion.

For instance, if your partner has packed on weight and is sensitive about it, what he or she is looking for is reassurance that you still find them attractive, and likewise, if someone is engaging in a little bit too much “retail therapy” at the detriment of a shared financial budget, boundaries and limits need to be established that will satisfy both partners. Burying these seemingly small issues contributes to a larger practice of making it okay to sidestep the truth in other areas down the road.

The Role of Good Counsel in Love

When we need guidance, we want the truth. Our closest friends are who we go to for advice and that is because they tell us the truth tempered with emotional comfort, but an even closer bond is shared with your partner. In a healthy relationship a partner serves the role of a trusted sounding board and confidante who knows his or her partner on very intimate levels that are not shared with even the best of friends. This type of bond is forged with the kind of unconditional acceptance upon which most families are built.

The truth may not always be pretty and may not always be painless to bring out into the light, but honesty is the cornerstone of these relationships. It facilitates the best communication possible between two partners in both good times and bad that will help them sail through the different stages and unexpected changes in their lives. Dishonesty, on the other hand, serves as a weapon of separation in relationships. What liars do not realize is that dishonest behavior not only injects distance in their relationships, but it also puts distance between who they really are and who they are pretending to be.

Over time, even the smallest of lies can generalize into larger ones, and at that point a liar may be unable to distinguish the real and usually selfish motivations from the blanket excuses that he or she uses to justify dishonest behavior. Statements like “I’m only lying to protect my partner,” or “She’d be really upset if she knew, so . . . ” are cop-outs that serve the liar more than their partner, and speaks to a general lack of respect for the other person. In a healthy relationship, though, there are no lies and secrets that cannot be overcome when brought to the light. Guilt, shame and blame are the slow poisons to a relationship’s death. By getting these types of buried emotions out in open and truly working through them, a couple progresses through life together with a type of strength and unity that denial and rules-based boundaries about what can and cannot be talked about can never touch.

So in the end, whether you choose to employ honesty or dishonesty all depends on what you want for yourself and how you want to share your life with your partner. Temporary emotional comfort in a potentially volatile situation can seem desirable in the moment, but at the sake of the kind of solid long-term comfort that comes with one partner knowing that the other is always up front and honest with them, you may want to opt for tact, the whole truth, and nothing but love and respect.