Thursday 27 July 2017

Dear Patricia: My husband can't see how harmful his lying is to me

Patricia Redlich

Do you think it's possible for someone who has lied consistently for many years to then change their behaviour and become a trustworthy person? I abhor lying and now realise that my husband has lied to me for most of our married life -- about everything, near-enough -- from financial matters to where he has been and who he has been with. He even volunteers false information when I haven't asked him about anything.

Having recently been found out in a major lie, he now says he is sorry for all the lying and claims he only told me what he felt I wanted to hear, and what he believed would cause less confrontation. He makes it sound like it was all for my benefit. He argues that he now wants to wipe the slate clean and promises that he will never lie to me again. I'd love to believe he is sincere. Maybe this week he is. But what about next week? Do you believe he can be truthful, even if, as he says, it would be "easier" to tell a lie? Why can't he see how harmful lying is?

Patricia replies:

The fact that your husband tells lies does not mean that everything he says can be simply dismissed. I'm sure it's true that he said what you wanted to hear. I'm sure, too, that he was avoiding confrontation. And since in my experience, lying is usually a two-way street, I have a question for you. Are you perhaps part of the problem?

No, I'm not shifting responsibility here. Your husband took the easy option. He's responsible for his own actions. And no, taking the easy way out is not admirable. It is not what we would wish to teach our children. In a lot of situations, however, it is understandable. When someone is overly critical, too ready to confront, too disapproving, it is a huge temptation to tell a lie, or at the very least, omit the truth. We all tell lies to avoid the hassle when someone is constantly on our case. Are you (constantly on your husband's case, I mean)?

The reason I'm asking is because of the way you phrased your letter. I know you're upset at the moment, but when someone says they abhor lying, warning bells ring in my ears. It sounds so righteous, almost fundamentalist, and more importantly, it's the language of someone who may seek to control others. You see, you are right. We should all be strong enough to stand by our deeds, say it as it is, and weather the storm. It's just that some people have such incredible energy, such enthusiasm for keeping the storm blowing, such an implacable sense of how things should be, that it's hard to keep battling them, much to tamper with the truth, so we lie.

I don't believe it's appropriate to try and control a spouse, or partner, or girlfriend, or lover. It denies the other person dignity. If we're disappointed in someone we love, we have to face the consequences, namely to either live with the disappointment, change our expectations, or clear out. Controlling another adult is also an impossible task. You just end up with evasion, subtle non-cooperation, open warfare, or lies -- and usually a mixture of all four, not to mention the steady erosion of respect.

If I'm wrong about all this in your particular case, then I apologise. It is possible that your husband has a life-long habit of automatically telling lies, a knee-jerk reaction born of bad experiences when young. Or maybe he's a Walter Mitty, living a fantasy life, or a sociopath, with no conscience at all. Mostly, however, people tell lies because it's easier than telling the truth. Kindness in such a context, combined with examining our own attitudes, can contribute greatly to changing things. Think about it.

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