How To Deal With Lies And Dishonesty In Your Relationship

Updated November 2, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

How does dishonesty impact relationships? The truth is that the frequency and intention of lies in any dynamic have a lot to do with the repercussions they may have. That said, many of us have seen real-life examples of how lies can negatively affect a relationship—especially a romantic partnership.

A 2017 study found that one of the three most common reasons romantic relationships end is a lack of trust. Whether this stems from an individual’s experiences with dishonesty in past relationships or from an infidelity or other deceptions in their current relationship, a lack of trust can be damaging to the dynamic between two people.

Is dishonesty affecting your relationship? Let’s learn a bit more about lies in romantic partnerships, from why people tell them to the impact they can have. Then, we’ll cover a few tactics you can try to deal with dishonesty between you and your partner.

Are Lies Causing Problems In Your Relationship?

How Much Do People Really Lie?

Recent research found that how much people lie varies fairly significantly. About 75 percent of participants in a study reported that they told between zero and two lies per day, with less than 10 percent telling six or more lies per day.

Research on a topic like this, however, is unique because it requires participants to be honest about something they may feel inclined to lie about to portray themselves in a better light. In other words, it’s safe to assume in general that most people lie from time to time—including to their romantic partners. What matters perhaps more than overall dishonesty statistics is the types of lies people tell.

Why Do People Lie?

People’s motivations for lying can be diverse, and not all lies are created equal. In fact, a 2013 study done at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee points out that deception is “sometimes a necessary part” of some types of conversations. The study also reports a few different reasons people may tell lies, including:

  • To facilitate social interactions or be perceived as polite
  • To manage the impression one makes on another person
  • To get rewards or otherwise benefit in some way

In the context of a romantic relationship, some lies may be harmless or even helpful. Telling your partner that you like their new shirt when you actually don’t care for it, for example, can make your partner feel good, avoid an argument or hurt feelings, and result in minimal negative repercussions, if any. However, the impact of a lie on the dynamic between two people usually depends on its characteristics.

The Three Types Of Lies

The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee study cited above posits that there are three main types of lies and that their impact on a relationship varies accordingly. They are, in order of severity:

  • White lies. These lies are generally partial truths with “a benevolent intent” and minor consequences, if any. Most of us have told white lies before to spare someone’s feelings, boost someone’s confidence, or make a social interaction more pleasant. For example, when an acquaintance asks if you like their new haircut, telling them that you do even if it’s a lie is usually quite a harmless deception.
  • Gray lies. These lies are completely false, but may be used as a tool to bring about a positive impact. They’re generally more serious than white lies but are typically either justifiable, or exist in a gray area where they may or may not be justifiable. This type of lie reflects the complexity of the human experience since, like many things, it may often be hard to categorize as strictly good or bad. The example of a gray lie given in the study is telling a full-blown lie to your boss in order to save someone else’s job.
  • Real lies. The study shares the definition of real lies: “unacceptable lies that are malicious, self-serving, complete fabrications of the truth that hold serious consequences.” They’re generally quite easy to identify because they have a clear intention to mislead or harm someone and are usually viewed as immoral by most. For example, telling your spouse that you used your last paycheck to catch up on all your bills when you actually lost it at the casino is intentionally deceitful and is likely to negatively impact them.

How Lies Can Harm A Relationship

There’s no mathematical formula to gauge how certain lies will impact the dynamic between a couple. People are diverse and complex, and the unique, specific context of a particular lie can make a big difference in what its effects might be. Consider also that a relatively small, harmless lie could have an outsize negative effect on a couple who are recovering from a major deception such as an infidelity, when another couple may not have any problems as a result of the same lie. In general, however, some of the negative repercussions of significant lies in relationships might include:

1. A Loss Or Lack Of Intimacy

The importance of emotional intimacy in relationships is widely supported by research. One report in the International Social Science Review points out that it’s been found to be crucial for human development and is likely linked to better overall health and wellbeing. For intimacy to exist between two people, authenticity, vulnerability, and trust are all generally important. If there is significant and/or harmful dishonesty between two people, these three elements are likely not present. This is one way in which lies can harm or even bring about the end of a relationship.

2. Feelings Of Isolation

This effect can work in both directions. First, the partner who is deceiving is not able to be completely themselves with their significant other because they’re hiding something. Over time, this feeling of not being truly known or seen can wear on them. In addition, the partner who is being lied to may also—consciously or subconsciously—feel that they’re being kept at arm’s length. In the end, it’s possible for both partners to start to feel distanced or disconnected from the other, which can erode at the foundation of the relationship itself.

3. Negative Effects On Mental And Physical Health

One study found that individuals who told more lies in their relationship experienced more mental health complaints, such as feelings of melancholy or tension. Perhaps a bit more surprisingly, they also reported more physical health complaints like sore throats and headaches. If you or your partner are routinely being dishonest with each other, it could cause health problems that might impact your own functioning as well as your dynamic.

4. Breaking Up

The end of a relationship is a potential consequence of lying. Some couples may be able to withstand or recover from different types or levels of dishonesty when others could not, of course. In general, though, it’s entirely possible for a relationship to end because of a lie or lies that caused irreparable damage. All of the potential outcomes of dishonesty listed above—loss of intimacy and trust, feelings of isolation, and even poor health outcomes—can contribute to two people deciding that they can’t or no longer want to function together as a couple anymore.

How To Deal With Dishonesty In Your Relationship

Can a couple recover from damage done by dishonesty? It’s certainly possible. Of course, they’ll need to work together to address the lying and the effects it had. In some cases, the partner who has difficulties being honest may have other issues they need to address in order to turn over a new leaf. Trauma, past toxic relationships, or unhealthy family dynamics in childhood could be potential reasons for consistently dishonest behavior. It could also be a side effect of something like substance abuse, a gambling addiction, or a mental health condition. The person would generally need to work through any underlying causes to be able to change that behavior.

Takeaway

A therapist is often a recommended resource for couples who are grappling with the impact of dishonesty in their relationship. Whether they attend sessions individually, as a couple, or both, the counselor can help them look at potential root causes of the lies and empower them with strategies for healing old wounds, communicating more openly, and resolving conflict in a healthy way.

Are Lies Causing Problems In Your Relationship?

If you’d like to be matched with a therapist you can meet with online from the comfort of your own home, consider a virtual therapy platform like BetterHealth. Through this service, you can speak with a certified counselor on your own or together with your partner to work toward resolving the challenges you may be facing in your relationship. Since research suggests that online therapy has similar benefits to in-person sessions, meeting with a therapist virtually is a helpful and convenient option for many people. If dishonesty is causing conflict or tension between you and your significant other, honest communication is the first step toward resolving it—and a therapist can help with this.

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“A year ago I was experiencing difficulties in my relationship, which highly affected my psychological state and interfered with my work. At one point, I decided to try BetterHelp.com. My counselor Dr. Brewer helped me to see some things I couldn't on my own and encouraged me to prioritize myself. It was a huge help for me at that point, which led to the decisions I am happy about.”

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