Yes, there are some scenarios where it might be OK to tell a little fib to your partner, experts say. (Photo: Jennifer Fox for Yahoo Health)
When you’re in a serious relationship, there are some things we can all agree you just shouldn’t lie about. If you have a major health issue; whether you’re seeing someone else; did you or did you not just drop hundreds of dollars on a new phone — lie about one of these things and it’s pretty darn hard to justify yourself.
But the truth is, there are some times when dishonesty is OK, relationship experts say. Research backs this up: In a study looking at two types of lies that affect relationships, it was found that deception with the purpose of avoiding insult is actually a positive (as it may improve your relationship, with good intentions), while lies told to create beneficial circumstances for selfish reasons or to cover up imperfections (and therefore create fragmented social networks) are not.
When a lie is actually the best course of action
There’s a difference between misrepresenting long-term issues versus those that won’t matter come tomorrow and don’t have lasting power. “The only time it is OK to lie to your significant other is if it’s a ‘white lie’ to spare his feelings,” Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, MD, tells Yahoo Health. “For example, if you happened to find out that someone was having a party and didn’t invite him or you overheard someone saying how tired he looked.”
Protecting the emotions of a partner is a common reason for purposely leaving out elements of the truth. While your ex-fiancé may have spoiled you with flowers every Friday, your new beau may not need to know that because he/she will just feel insecure — like he/she is being compared with this past partner or that his/her current efforts are lacking somehow. “Even though your partner might ask about past relationships, they don’t need the gory details,” author and work-life balance expert Samantha Ettus tells Yahoo Health. “And spare them from having to hear how madly in love you were.”
However, there are times when it’s better to tell the truth, even if it’ll take a toll on your S.O.’s feelings. “No good can come of you overhearing someone talk negatively about your partner and then telling your partner — unless the trash talker is significant to them,” Ettus says. “For example, if your partner’s colleague or someone your partner considers a close friend is talking badly, you want them to know.”
So when is it not OK to lie to your partner?
My friend Beth recently threw out her husband’s nasty five-year-old flip-flops. “Where are my sandals?” he asked her. “I haven’t seen them,” she replied. Technically, this was true — she really hadn’t spotted them in weeks … because they were in a landfill somewhere.
Sure, in instances like this one, lying probably saved my friend from confrontation and further suspicion: Had other items been thrown away? What else had she been hiding? Her husband might have started questioning her trust based on the simple act of cleaning out their shared closet. This, in turn, would have created a fight. But leaving out info isn’t always safe. “There are lies of omission — ‘My wife would die if she knew I spent XYZ on this,’ or, ‘My husband would not want me out drinking. He thinks I am at the office.’ These are slippery slopes that you don’t want to touch,” Ettus says.
Lies and half-truths are often inspired by fear of confrontation, conflict, disappointment, and/or awkward moments. It’s not surprising, then, that people fib all the time. According to a 2002 study conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, 60 percent of adults lie in a 10-minute conversation. And among the people in the study who lied in that conversation, an average of two to three lies were said in that time frame. In a 2010 Human Communication Research study, researchers found that women lie an average of 1.39 times daily, while men have a slightly higher average of 1.93 times every 24 hours.
OK, so we lie — a lot. That makes honesty all the more important in a relationship, Ettus says: “As with any relationship, having a successful partnership will be based on trust. And keep in mind that one big lie calls into doubt 1,000 truths.”
Lieberman agrees: “Lies are most often discovered, and then your partner wonders what else you’ve lied about — affairs?”
To lie or not to lie?
Beyond keeping waters calm with tiny (supportive) falsehoods or omissions of truth, experts generally say it’s better to be straightforward and sincere.
“The long-term sustainable relationship is based on authenticity and open communication,” says Marni Battista, CEO of the coaching site Dating With Dignity and author of Becoming Irresistible: How to Effortlessly Have Men Pursue You, Treat You Like a Goddess & Commit to You for Life.
If telling the truth is a problem, Battista says, it’s imperative to dive deeper to find out why. “If there’s ever a motivation to lie, it’s because it’s coming from a place of fear and mistrust,” she tells Yahoo Health. “If there is a situation in which you are compelled to lie or think you need to lie, you need to really look at the situation and ask yourself why are you compelled to lie.”
Have an honest talk, or even consider seeking out couples therapy. “This would be an important place to really indicate there needs to be some healing or some correcting in the relationship,” Battista says. “I don’t think lies can strengthen the bond between people, and I only believe that the playful white lie would be appropriate.”
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