If you took a quick poll, asking any collection of people what they thought was one of the most important traits to promote long healthy relationships, the odds are high that they would say trust near the top.
This goes for all types of relationships, whether it’s personal, professional, romantic, or platonic. When people lie, there is likely an underlying issue to address.
Although you may feel wounded, betrayed, or confused when a person lies to you, it is important for rebuilding that you work through the semantics of their choice.
So, you are wondering what to do when someone lies to you in a relationship, let’s jump right in.
First, determine the signs of trust
It can be difficult to accuse someone of breaking your trust if you yourself do not know what trust means to both you and your partner. Trust means different things to different people, but here are a few common themes of trustworthy behavior and feelings to help guide your own definition:
- You do not feel compelled to have one foot out the door: Especially in the early stages of dating, it can be a sign of trust when you genuinely feel that you want to be exclusive with your partner.
- You feel respected: Being shown respect that you did not have to ask for is a sign that you are with someone who understands your outlook and expectations and is willing to operate within them.
- You are not easily embarrassed: None of us are immune to moments of pure embarrassment. However, when trust is an element of your relationship, something small like food stuck in your teeth is not going to totally derail your day.
Conversely, here are few things to be aware of that people might present as trust but are actually quite toxic:
- Going through cell phones and email: If you or your partner feel compelled to check up on each other’s personal correspondences, especially without each other’s permission, that is not a sign of transparency, it is a sign of mistrust.
- Social media monitoring: If your partner is constantly belittling you or accusing you of things based on your social media habits. It might feel like loving protection, however it could mean they do not trust your judgment or that you can behave online in a way that respects your relationship.
Evaluate the situation
In terms of romantic relationships, honesty is essential. Since these are pairings that we choose for ourselves, there is always an element of knowing that you can also choose to leave.
A breach in trust can be a catalyst for a breakdown in communication and a complete breakup. Regardless of if you ultimately decide to stay in or leave the relationship, you owe it to yourself to take an inventory of the situation and come to peace before making your ultimate choice.
Gather all the facts
Before you can have an honest conversation about how your expectation for truth was not met, you need to be sure you know exactly what happened.
Often we discover that our partner has lied to us on our own or through a third party, as opposed to them coming to us with an admission. In instances like these, be sure that you make choices about your approach that are rooted in fact-based details.
Jumping to conclusions is risky behavior and is certainly not productive. Reacting quickly and without thought can also lead you to say things you do not mean, make a choice you did not actually want, or behave in a way that can turn the tables on you and make your partner feel that they cannot trust you.
If you cannot help yourself and need to immediately blow off some steam, consider alternatives like physical activity, a relaxing shower, or distracting yourself temporarily with a hobby, so that the initial moment of fury can pass and you can proceed with calm intention.
Were you on the same page?
There is never an excuse for dishonest behavior, but you should certainly consider if your expectations were clear with your partner.
What you might consider to be a major untruth could conversely be what your partner considers to be a white lie. You cannot go back in time, but this fact alone is good evidence to support the need for clear and upfront communication from the start of any romantic relationship.
Often we hide things or downgrade our feelings in an attempt to not come on too strongly. There is nothing wrong with preserving some mystery. However, this is not an efficient area in which to do so.
Any relationship expert would tell you that punishing a partner for failing to meet an expectation that was not explicitly expressed is going to feel like an imbalance of fairness on both sides.
Is this a deal-breaker?
Not all lies completely erode trust. When your partner lies, although you may feel hurt, you should think about what that means for the future of your partnership.
Many individuals have non-negotiables and standards that they hold for their partner, no matter who it is, that align with what they want out of life.
Did this lie, or series of lies, violate those elements? If they did, this could be a deal-breaker. However, if they did not, decide how you will work through it as a team to move forward.
Common topics that are deal breakers
If your partner lies about some things, there is really no way to move forward, regardless of your personal non-negotiables. These can include:
- Lying about interactions with inappropriate people: This could include communicating with an ex-lover or continuing to spend time with an enabling individual when they have pledged a vow of sobriety.
- Being dishonest about finances: Getting a deluxe manicure for $10 more than a regular one and simply telling your partner, “I got my nails done,” does not constitute lying about money. However, a statement like ‘I paid the mortgage on time’ while secretly being months behind in owed money does.
- Lying by omission is still lying: Typically, when someone leaves information out of a story, it is because they already know it would meet the disapproval of the recipient. Keep in mind that speaking a lie out loud is not the only way to tell you something; remaining silent also applies.
- Not being truthful about what they want out of life: Big things like marriage and children should not be lied about. If you married a person under the pretense that they wanted children, only to find out that they never did, and they simply told you that because they thought it was what you wanted to hear, that is a major problem.
- They falsify their intimate desires: Physical intimacy is incredibly important in a relationship but also leaves people feeling incredibly vulnerable. It can feel easy to not speak up or simply say you are okay with something that you actually are not, or even fake an orgasm for your partner’s satisfaction. But consistently lying about your preferences, boundaries, and satisfaction in bed can significantly break down trust.
Do you need a mediator?
Romantic relationships are full of passion which is one thing that makes them feel incredible, but passion can also blind us from being objective. Especially when we have been hurt within a relationship, our ability to problem solve in a fair and healthy way is compromised.
Think about the option to bring a relationship coach into the equation. Therapy challenges us in the present to build our strength for the future, and the presence of a relationship counselor can help you and your partner see both sides without bias.
When your partner lies to you, you might have an automatic unwillingness to listen to their reasoning. This is natural; however, the long-term effects of shutting down communication can be highly consequential.
A refusal to hear them out is, in a sense, pre-conditioning them to not come to you in times of struggle. Although what you may mean is ‘I don’t want to hear it right now,’ what they most likely will hear is ‘I don’t want to listen to you.’
Learn what works for you in terms of finding a balance between allowing yourself to fully feel through your emotions but also being receptive to your partner’s need to be totally honest.
Perhaps you have a rule that you both wait one hour before getting into a tough talk. And during this time, you unplug, meditate, and allow yourself to get centered and primed for a tough conversation.
How to spot the signs of trouble
Before you can determine what to do when someone lies to you in a relationship, you need to determine how to spot the signs of dishonest behavior.
Unfortunately, the human race is made up of all kinds of people, and there are individuals out there so seasoned at lying that even a clinical psychologist would have trouble detecting dishonesty. Here are few universal signs of lying that you should be aware of:
- Body language: Physical cues to watch out for that can signal someone is not telling the truth can include things like heavy breathing, feet shuffling, lack of eye contact, or a stiff stature.
- Verbal indicators: Commonly, when people lie, they talk at a faster pace than normal, provide too many details, or easily lose their train of thought. And according to the American Psychological Association, people may lie to seem honest or preserve their reputation as well.
- Physical signs: When a romantic partner suddenly wants an increased amount of physical space from you, they might be hiding something. Any radical changes in your sex life can also indicate something bigger is going on.
- Nervous habits: Things like excessive sweating, pursed lips, nail-biting, and a strained smile can all point to the fact that your partner is lying.
It is smart to take note of these signs but do not treat them as the be-all and end-all. Especially in the beginning stages of a relationship, when you are first learning someone’s behaviors, do not be too quick to assume dishonesty just because someone is sweating on a date.
Possibly in that scenario, what they could be withholding from you is something endearing. Such as, nerves, how much they are enjoying your company, or something from their personal life they are not yet comfortable sharing, like the fact that their parents are getting divorced.
Rebuilding a healthy relationship
If you have determined that forward movement is in the best interest of you and your partner, congratulations, that is a difficult hurdle to jump, and now it is time to put in the work.
Find your courage
After a violation within your partnership has occurred, you might be left feeling weak or too timid to pick the ball up and move forward.
Try your best to work through those feelings and find your courage. Growth takes bravery, and growing alongside another person who is also working on themselves adds in an extra layer of dedication.
In many cases, quitting, walking away, and moving on are the easier pathways. You can give up on the partnership, write the other person off as an element of your past relationships, and begin life anew. Nobody would fault you for this.
However, if this is the choice you feel you must make and not the choice you want to make, you will not feel happy or satisfied, and it might take you longer to find peace in your decision.
Become a champion of communication. Although you might not know what to do when someone lies to you in a relationship, if you have decided to work past it, one thing not to do is ignore them. Here is where you might consider learning tips from a relationship coach.
There is a very fine line between consideration and permission, between communication and obligation. You do not want to unintentionally make a common communication mistake and create an environment where one partner feels like the parent and the other like the child.
Even if a major indiscretion like adultery has occurred, you still have to communicate in a way that is mature and honors the fact that you are partners, not property.
Leave the past in the past
It is pretty much guaranteed that you will not be able to move forward if you cannot let go of the past.
Constantly going back to a lie that your partner told or an action of betrayal that they took part in is going to halt your progress or plateau it at best. Resist the urge to punish your partner or play games to hurt their feelings in the way that they hurt yours.
Make room for romance
In the wake of a lie, the last thing you might feel like doing is going on a date, and who could blame you.
However, as you map out your reconciliation plan, be sure to make room for romance. Assumedly the hope in moving forward would be to come to a better place than where you were before your partner lied to you.
You can not expect to hit that mark if you are not taking a romantic approach to spending time together, at least on occasion. If you are not yet up to spontaneous intimacy or romance, plan it out.
This might feel like the antithesis of true romance, but what you will be doing is making sure that you still fan the flame while in the midst of transition or crisis.
If you still do not know exactly what to do when someone lies to you in a relationship, you should know that the number one thing not to do is ignore it.
A failure to acknowledge the incident, evaluate how it made you feel, and identify what that means regarding forward movement is not doing anyone involved any favors. Lies hurt. Saying that out loud does not make you weak. It does not mean there is irreparable damage, and it does not mean you did something wrong.
Use this as an opportunity to become a better version of yourself both inside and outside of your romantic relationship. If the only thing to come from this is an added dose of self-respect and a promise to always honor your own integrity, these are certainly not bad things to gain.