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Love After Lies?

How to Rebuild Broken Trust and Regain a Solid Relationship.

Let’s suppose you’ve been dating someone for several months, and everything has been moving along well. The two of you are well matched, laugh at the same things, and enjoy romantic sparks. Your future together looks bright — until the light suddenly flickers and goes dim. You discover that your partner has told you a lie. Everything has been so promising — now what? Should you address the situation, talk it out, and continue with the relationship? Or take more drastic measures?

Those questions were more than hypothetical for Abby, who had been going out with Tom for six months when he got caught in a lie. He cancelled a get-together with her at their favorite coffee joint on a Thursday night, saying he had a big work deadline and needed to stay late. But a friend of Abby’s spotted him, early in the evening, at a pub with a bunch of other guys.

“What’s odd is that I wouldn’t have cared that much if he told me he needed time with his friends or just wanted to hang out with the guys instead of me,” Abby says. “Cancelling the date was just a minor disappointment, but his lie about it was a major disappointment. It made me wonder why he would lie about such a little thing and, more importantly, what else he’s lied about.”

What would you do if you found yourself in Abby’s shoes? For some people, a lie is a lie — period. There’s no difference between a “little white lie” and the big black variety. A lie of any kind signals a character flaw and portends more egregious behavior down the road. In fact, a lie would likely spell the end of a dating relationship.

Other people are willing to consider the circumstances and severity. They know that even good people sometimes do dumb things and are willing to forgive and move on. While every situation is unique, consider these thoughts if you discover an incident of dishonesty in your relationship:

Is the person willing to fess up and come clean? When caught in deceit, lots of people’s first inclination is to cover it up with another lie, which can lead to yet another. Trust can only begin to be rebuilt when your partner admits the mistake and takes responsibility for it.

Evaluate the overall strength of your relationship. If your relationship is already not on solid ground, then lack of honesty is only going to make it shakier. But if you have lots of strengths to draw on, overcoming a problem like this is doable.

Look at the situation as objectively as possible. Lying in any way, of course, is a bad idea and a poor choice. Still, lies have different magnitudes—some are tremors, others are full-fledged earthquakes. There’s a difference between cosmetic embellishment (such as exaggerating achievements) and devious deception (going out with another person on the sly). One is meant to “enhance” the truth, the other to hide it, or replace it with a totally false version of reality. The point is, it’s up to you to decide where on the Richter scale the lie falls.

Make your boundaries clear and hold them. The best way to avoid future problems is to be direct and straightforward about your expectations.  If your partner isn’t totally committed to regaining your trust and ensuring complete honesty, you need to ask yourself if this is the kind of relationship you want to be in.

Honor your instincts. Give yourself permission to respond in the way you feel is best. Like it or not, dating is an “audition” or a “try-out” to see if both individuals want to continue on together. It’s a time to evaluate and size each other up. If you have doubts and misgivings about your partner—for telling a lie or anything else—don’t dismiss them. Listen closely to what your heart and your head are telling you.

This whole discussion can be summed up this way: You deserve the best, and the best involves assurance that you’re consistently being told the truth.