Her husband's lies were small in the scheme of things—but how could she trust anything else he said?
Imagine that you've met your soul mate, tied the knot, and your marriage is loving and supportive. Then suddenly, you discover your partner has been telling you minor lies, since the beginning of your relationship. What do you do?
Reddit user Delia* found herself in this situation with her husband, Marcus*—and when she shared her story on the site, it generated 958 comments in about a day. Most people urged her to leave him, as soon as possible. "Honestly there's no trust here…” one user wrote. "Run. Run fast and run far.” Another said, "My guess is that you haven't seen the worst of this guy yet. What you do know is that he's an unrepentant liar who is rather manipulative. At the very least, you should consider a trial separation."
But is lying necessarily grounds for divorce? Is it a form of emotional abuse, as some commenters suggested? Or is it possible for a relationship to recover from ths kind of breach in trust?
In an interview with Health, Delia explained that she had met Marcus at a party several years ago. The two clicked right away; but fresh out of a long-term relationship, Delia needed time and space to heal. So the pair became friends first, and saw each other frequently through their shared social circle.
Over the next few months, it became increasingly clear that Delia and Marcus had something special. Delia worried a bit about Marcus' reputation as a charmer, and all the attention he attracted from other women. But her concern dissolved in time, because Marcus was always so attentive to her. “Some of our mutual friends would joke about how he was blind to the world now," she says. "He only focused on me and on building a friendship, and then relationship, with me.”
Things continued to go well: The couple stayed together when Marcus temporarily moved out of the country. Then they moved in together, and finally got married. Delia says her life with Marcus was “very happy.”
Except for one thing: She kept noticing seemingly small lies, many of which Marcus had told her during the time they had dated long distance. “There were discrepancies in things he'd said,” she says. “Little things that made me pause and think, Wait a minute.”
For instance, Marcus used to tell Delia he was going to the gym; later on, he let slip that he’d actually been home watching movies, or playing video games. He’d also tell her he was driving his brother around when in reality, he'd never owned a car. He claimed that he and his brother were roommates. But as Delia eventually learned, "he and his brother had been living with his mother the entire time."
These discrepancies gnawed at Delia, and eventually she confronted her husband. Marcus dismissed them as “little white lies," Delia says. “He said something like, ‘Men often pretend to be more than they are to get a woman to fall in love, so that she'll forgive them when their true selves come out." Delia didn’t like her husband’s answer, and said so. But she decided to move on.
That is, until the couple needed to apply for visas. Marcus said he’d take care of it, and as the weeks passed, he acted as if he was waiting for a response. Delia anxiously wondered what was happening. When she finally vented to her husband, Marcus fessed up: He’d forgotten to apply before the deadline, and didn’t want to disappoint her by telling her the truth. Delia was livid. “I felt like throwing up, I really did,” she says. “It was the first time I honestly, truly thought about leaving him.”
Just "little white lies"—or emotional abuse?
According to Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a psychology instructor and clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health, misrepresentation and fibbing in relationships happens more often than you'd think. Studies have shown that people lie frequently to those they care about most. And it's always a problem: "Trust is the basis for all human relationships,” says Ivankovich. “Little lies can lead to major issues.”
At its worst, lying can be a sophisticated form of emotional abuse known as gaslighting—which involves lying to distort a person's sense of reality, as a way to control her. It can leave a person constantly second-guessing her instincts and feelings. So how can you tell if a partner's distortions are run-of-the-mill lies, or actually abusive?
The distinction is in the motive, says Ivankovich. “It’s gaslighting when there is malicious intent. It’s likely not [gaslighting] if it's intended to be protective—of the person who’s lying, or to protect the partner’s feelings."
But no matter the motive behind a lie, deceit is damaging to any relationship. The only way trust may be regained is if the offender understands the error of his ways, the vital need to be honest—and that you'd rather have the ugly truth than a pretty lie.
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Recovering from dishonesty
Ivankovich says any relationship can be marred by lies. That may be, in part, because society puts a lot of pressure on men to provide, and “get it right” in relationships. In fact, several Reddit users urged Delia via private message to work with her husband, as they too struggled in revealing their full selves to their spouses.
Lying can also become a problem when partners adopt unspoken expectations of near-perfection, based on their significant other's needs or desires, Ivankovich says. And sometimes the instinct to lie can be rooted in a person's childhood.
Delia thinks this is the case with Marcus. His family had always written him off as the “black sheep,” and never let go of his “screw-up” image from childhood—even once he started a great job. She thinks her husband was in the habit of inflating his image, to build himself up.
Counseling can help with these deeper issues—fears about not being enough for your partner, for example, an inability to have an open dialogue about mistakes, or the desire to present a perfect image for your partner.
As a first step, though, if your partner has lied, it’s important to have that tough conversation. “The deception is never acceptable. But [in the case of Delia and Marcus], it seems the need to please broke her trust, so they need to work on re-building that trust through safe, open and honest communication. Trust is the basis of a relationship; communication is the currency.” (Ivankovich has never counseled Delia or Marcus.)
Delia had that sit-down with Marcus, and explained why she was so troubled by his lies. “He digested this, and said that he understood,” she says. “He said the things he told me in the beginning of the relationship, about the car and living situation ... he wanted to be the kind of guy he knew I deserved, so he thought, erroneously, that he needed to show me that man in order to keep my interest.”
Delia says Marcus is “trying to be better,” and she’s giving him the chance to change. "He’s since come to understand that embellishing the truth is even more damaging than just saying it outright.”
*Names have been changed and details veiled to protect the couple's privacy.