Lying in a relationship

Humans are social creatures and as a side effect we have developed several hard-wired survival techniques. The ability to lie is one of those, although that does not mean it is the best technique to succeed in modern society, let alone relationships!

I was recently interviewed by an online publication on the benefits of lying in relationships (a loaded title if ever there was one) but it did get me thinking intently about why couples lie to each other. The truth is that however honest a couple say they are there will always be one or two things that can be construed as dishonest by the other person. The question is where do trivial lies cross over into damaging lies?

This article will explain the different types of lying, the reasons why people lie in relationships and then discuss some pressing consequences of lying…

The different types of lying:

There are three main types of lie, each varying in intensity, and what is right and wrong for you will largely be based on your own moral upbringing and development.

The three main types of lie in a relationship are…

Complicit lies:

These are the big lies; the lies that will probably end the relationship if they are uncovered. The most common lies in this category are either regarding secrets from the past or one partner cheating on the other. It is generally a combination of having pruned the lies for too long and not wanting to hurt a partner’s feelings that intensifies complicit lies.

If you’re worried that you are sometimes compelled to tell these sorts of lies, or that you may be a victim of them, then the article I wrote titled Cheating on a partner does not matter is worth reading. If a monogamous relationship is not for you then there are specific ways to frame a more open relationship so that both people remain happy and there will be no need for lies or cover-ups.

Pathological lies:

These are often referred to as incessant, compulsive or unnecessary lies, or lies that have become ingrained in someone’s character. The problem with lies on this level is that pathological liars often truly believe that what they are doing or saying is right, regardless of their partner’s feelings.

Changing the habit of lying, whether it is your problem or your partner’s problem is not something that can be done overnight. Long-term compassion and a mutual understanding that you won’t react irrationally to honesty is the only way to change these types of lies. That is why people learn to lie after all: when the outcome of lying is less painful and less effort than telling the truth!

Social lies:

Social lies are the everyday small lies, or “white lies”. They are the grey area of lying in a relationship and the only way to not have problems with them is to have a verbal understanding with your partner over what is acceptable and what is not. Second to that is to never feel disrespected or aggrieved by these small things; they are usually unintentional and trivial!

People argue that this type of lying can actually be done for the greater good, such as preserving your partner’s feelings or perhaps even organising a surprise for them. Once again this comes down to a couple’s own understanding with each other’s morals.

Having said that, I don’t think I have ever heard a genuine, acceptable answer to the question, “Does my bum look big in this?” if you think that it does! 🙂

The reasons for lying in a relationship:

During childhood, parenting psychologists have noted several key stages where our conscience develops and we start to make our own judgements on when and how to lie. Lying in a relationship will reflect this conscience, therefore how much someone lies in a relationship and how much they lie outside the relationship is roughly equal.

In a relationship there are two main reasons for lying and they involve protecting your own ego and protecting the ego of your partner. There are also instances where they can be simultaneous reasons.

I advocate being in the moment when interacting with your girlfriend or boyfriend but when it comes to justifying lies, you must think of the bigger picture. Aside from the fact that you will have to live out your lies for the duration of the relationship, there is always a better solution that will allow you to have integrity and still have the desired outcome. Being honest is the only way your relationship will become truly fulfilling.

Lying is basically a way for the ego to have control over a situation without having to make the effort to get a desired outcome in a risky yet wholly fulfilling way. If you can eliminate all of your personal insecurities then you will never feel the need to lie, and if you work on controlling your ego and developing your confidence in all areas you will always find a respectful way to get what you want.

As an additional thought, I am going to finish this article with one of my favourite quotes by Abraham Lincoln: “No person has a good enough memory to be a successful liar!” 🙂

Much love,


21 replies
  1. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    Nice article. Well written and thought provoaking. I have always struggled to comprihend why people would be in a relationship if they feel the need to lie about big things like cheating. Why even bother kidding yourself about the relationship[. Thats just got me thinking though is cheating lying if no one actually lies hmm? as in if you dont know it doesnt matter. What do you think about that?

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hey Cindy,

      I’ve written about it before but lying and cheating both stem from a feeling of inadequacy in some form. Deep down a cheater feels that they want more from a relationship but in the way they have setup their relationship (monogamous relationships are the default in modern society) they know that having other lovers will not be accepted… Therefore lying is the way to rationalise the behaviour and not risk being left with nobody.

      Technically it wouldn’t be lying (and that is often a method I see guys use to justify forms of cheating) but it doesn’t change the fact that cheating is a symptom of other problems in a relationship (or how you perceive yourself in relationships) regardless of how you frame or justify it. I’ve explained this concept more fully in the article ‘Cheating on a partner does not matter’.

      At the end of the day, lying and cheating are both wrong because they imply your partner’s ignorance to the situation. The actual context of what ‘lying’ or ‘cheating’ actually is differs depending on each relationship’s unique boundaries.

      Thanks for your comment,


  2. Jen Goodhue
    Jen Goodhue says:

    Hi Sam

    Sorry I haven’t commented here for so long but I have still been reading. This article is something that struck a cord with me as I dated a pathological liar in the past (I was actually engaged to him at the time so I got out just in time you could say). Luckily my partner now is very understanding and we have outwardly said to each other that we will tell each other about every little thing however insignificant it may seem at the time.

    It is easy to become blind to a loved ones dishonesty and unfaithfulness because you natural want to trust them. I think it is always obvious in hindsight though so I guess the only option is to be more aware of what is happening in your relationship.

    All the best and thankyou for your topics


    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hey Jen, welcome back to the comments section… You’ve been missed! 🙂

      I’ve never dated a pathological liar myself but I know it can be a very unnerving and manipulative experience. It’s great that your relationship now is so honest and caring.

      The last part of your comment is spot on. It is usually naivety that prevents someone from admitting that they are being cheated on rather than their partner going out of their way to lie. This usually leads the cheating partner to believe that they can ‘get away with it’, which also consequently leads to their undoing. Being more aware, conscious and open with your partner is a way to know if your partner is being dishonest, but more importantly so they don’t feel the need to be dishonest in the first place.

      Thanks for your comment,


    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:


      Yes I saw the trailer recently and as a fan of Ricky Gervais I am looking forward to this movie. From the look of it there does seem to be a heavy focus on relationships (between Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner it seems) so there might be relevant things to learn in there. I can also imagine there being a moral storyline behind the comedy so I’ll definitely go and see it when it is released.

      Thanks for the recommendation,


  3. Jon
    Jon says:

    I like this post – you always seem to get me thinking! 8)
    Was wondering if you know of any techniques to know when your girlfriend is lying? It’s not that I don’t trust my women but it would still eb useful to know! J

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hey Jon, thanks a lot! 🙂

      I’ve resisted writing about this previously (for reasons I will explain in a moment) but I actually do know some very reliable techniques for knowing if someone is lying or not. They basically revolve around being able to recognise human micro-expressions as well as things such as eye-accessing cues (research has proven that eyes fluctuate in certain directions when accessing different parts of the brain). These aren’t something I set out to learn but after years of studying social psychology they are something I have developed a skill for recognising. I actually used to have a ‘party trick’ where I would do a short human lie-detector test on people for entertainment value. 🙂

      Aside from the fact that it takes years to perfect these skills, the reason I don’t particularly advocate these methods as something to specifically learn is that outwardly feeling the need to know when your partner is lying is a product of insecurity. As you say, if you trust your partner then you don’t have to worry… and if you don’t trust your partner then there are more important things to worry about regarding the relationship.

      Thanks for your comment,


  4. Elena
    Elena says:

    Sam, this provided great insight on lying. No one tells the truth 100% of the time, and I like that this shows that all lies are not necessarily bad, like what you had said about social lies. I also believe that much of what a person does when presented with the choice does stem from patterns from their childhood. I think there is such a strong reaction to finding out someone has lied to you, because it shows that person is doing so from a place of fear or lack of trust. I couldn’t agree with you more about protecting the ego. Nine times out of ten, the ego being protected is the person who is doing the lying.

    I want to hear about your party trick one of these days. There’s also a YouTube video that talks about how to detect a lie. Here is the link if you’re interested. a href=””>You

    I am hoping to see The Invention of Lying and I love your quote by Abe Lincoln. My favorite quote is by the writer Mark Twain “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hi Elena, hope you’re well! 🙂

      I agree with everything you’ve added, such as lying usually being generic patterns learnt during childhood and that fear and lack of trust are partly to blame. That’s not to say that these feelings and patterns can’t be changed though as long as there is self-awareness.

      Thanks a lot for linking to that video; it highlights some great basic techniques to this sort of thing. Hopefully the people watching will realise that they are suggestions rather than scientific proof for the most part. It is more clusters of those sorts of signs that are useful rather than isolated gestures. Another thing I hope people realise is to not let it affect their interactions by becoming obsessed with trying to spot lies using those methods. It’s a useful video though so thanks for posting that. 🙂

      I love the quote you’ve posted too… so true! 🙂

      Thanks for sharing Elena and have a wonderful weekend,


  5. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Hey There I recently had a big blow out with my girlfriend and her talking to her ex partner and lying about it. I pretty much thought the relationship was over and we haven’t spoke in a week. She finally called me and poured her heart out about how she was wrong, and so sorry and will never do it again etc etc. My question is I still love her and really care about her so much. How can I continue a relationship with her without thinking everything she is telling me could be a potential lie? She told me it would never happen again and things would be different. So I am willing to forget about her lying etc and move forward with our relationship but whats to say everytime she tells me something I dont question it now? Any help on how I can overcome this would be soo helpful thanks!

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hi Jeff,

      There’s every chance that the trauma of the situation has had a positive effect on your girlfriend’s attitude and she is being wholly sincere now. If you do get back together though, you do want to cement ground rules about what is and what is not acceptable in your relationship. This isn’t in a domineering way and in fact it should be as mutual as possible (you should find a common ground on what is and what is not acceptable for both of you). You want to convey as empathetically as possible that you will not have your trust abused again and that you will leave if it is.

      Having said that, once that has been settled and if you are together again, you really have to give her a clean slate by whatever means possible. Second to this, you want to resist ever bringing up the fact that she lied to you in the past… as that will only lead to further arguments, resentment and trust issues!

      Good luck, 🙂


  6. Coco
    Coco says:

    Hi there,

    Good site!! 🙂

    I have a question…i have been dating my current boyfriend for about 3 months now and everything is great but i lied to himabout where i lived before we started dating. As a result, i cant bring him home to seee my parents….how can i break it to uim that i lied? What would be a good way? I dont want him to stop trusting me becaus of it!

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hello; welcome to the site! 🙂

      There are all sorts of inconsistencies and details that get muddled in the beginning stages of a relationship. These usually smooth themselves out naturally as the relationship grows in rapport, so it isn’t unusual that a few of these details can get slightly out of hand initially.

      Even with a specific lie, the same mindset of leading your boyfriend to the truth rather than a big ‘reveal’ is the most empathetic and natural way to get the best outcome.

      I would avoid using the word “lie” as it has negative connotations and is only likely to stir up negative emotions, such as trusting you in the future. Instead, find a time when you are both in a positive, happy mood and slowly build the picture of what the truth is without dwelling too much on what you have said in the past.

      A lot of how you discuss it will be based on how drastic the lie actually is and your own judgement of how you think your boyfriend will react.

      As with any lie, it is always a case of ‘the longer it lingers, the worse it will become’, so it’s good that you want to sort this out as soon as possible. 🙂

      Let me know how it works out, 🙂


  7. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    Hey these articles are really great and Im getting a lot out of reading them!

    I know this topic is old, and Im not sure if you still reply on this subject.

    But i have a question concerning my girlfriend, we have been together for nearly a year, and I love her so much, but i have a big problem, and that is that she tells so many lies. At the first of our relationship when I found out about a few lies, she came to me and was so sorry and promised me that she would never lie again and i quickly forgave her seeing this as an oppertunity to build our trust in the relationship. As time has gone on she has continuted to lie about a lot more, and bigger stuff. I feel everytime i catch her in a lie it only digs us deeper in a hole, meaning that I feel she will continue to be dishonest to me, and wont tell me the truth because she has told me she wouldnt do it again, and etc. I love her so much, but i feel its to the point that she manipulates me and uses me. I dont know what i can do to get her to be honest with me, honesty is so much better than any lie, no matter what the situation is, getting lied to is just a hurting feeling, even if she did it with good intentions of not wanting me to get hurt, in the end its only worse. What do you think?


    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hey Ryan,

      I’m glad you like the articles and I do reply to all e-mails, comments and questions that I receive. I sometimes have to give priority to paying customers but still reply to everyone else as soon as possible. 🙂

      On to your question…

      It sounds like this is a behaviour trait that your girlfriend has developed over a long period of time, almost as a habitual thing. Without knowing more about the sorts of lies she tends to tell, it is hard to determine if they are purposefully manipulative or not but I agree that honesty in a relationship is always the best course of action. This is something that you will want to convey to your girlfriend and help her truly believe if you are to completely solve this issue.

      If you have discussed with your girlfriend that you respect honesty and won’t accept being lied to and yet she still seems to be telling lies, then a more gradual method might work better.

      As the above article mentioned, people condition themselves to lie because they believe that it is a shortcut to a desired outcome. The gradual method basically involves showing your girlfriend that she can get those same outcomes by telling the truth, whilst simultaneously showing you respect and keeping the relationship fulfilling and void of any guilt or suspicion: qualities that I am sure she does actually desire in a relationship.

      The way to do this does vary depending on the scale of each individual lie and its context. Start to think of ways that you can specifically display and influence changes in her behaviour in a positive way. The easiest way to do this is verbally but you can also show it through positive reactions whenever she is honest with you when she might previously not have been.

      You do want to let her know how it makes you feel when she does lie to you because the worst thing in this whole process is if she knows that she can still ‘get away with’ the lies or that you will forgive her too easily.

      Let me know how things work out or if you want to discuss anything further,


  8. Frank Trovato
    Frank Trovato says:

    We new each other from before. We both worked for the same company. She was @ the end of a failed marriage. (mid-life crisis) I was 46 she was 45. I wanted her her. The image of her. She was perfect for me. My then structual situation, I beleieved, was less than desirable for a woman like her. I embelished the truth and created a false perception of who I was. Money I had in the near future, people and resources I had available to me. I wanted to impress her. She asked me to move in after 4 days. Our relationship was perfect for 2 years. Job, family, sex, we were never apart. Who she was became an issue with me. probably because who I was, was an issue with me. I asked her several times about her career as a “Healthcare Consultant” and why she gave it up. I found out that she used her sexuality to obtain opportunities to set up medical practices for doctors. All before we got together. Her response was that she was confronted once and turned the doctor down. I accepted the truth about myself @ the the 2 yr mark of our relationship and struggled with guilt & insecurities. I came clean @ the end and we seperated after 3 yrs & 8 mths. She deceived me about her feelings & intentions for the purpose of getting a car that is in ame. She became vindictive & filed a restraining order against me so I couldn’t communicate with her and to make a point to her co-workers that were our friends. My lies are gone but obviously the truth about me isn’t good enough…either is the truth about herself. What do you think?

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hey Frank,

      There are certainly many lessons you can learn from your experiences in that relationship.

      Not being happy with how you are is a common reason to lie. The thing is that talking about how you want to be, rather than how you are now, is perfectly acceptable in a relationship, as long as you are determined to actually follow that path and believe in yourself!

      This also works with regards to how truthful a romantic partner is about whom they really are and their own path.

      Taking the lessons from your relationship with this woman and moving on as quickly as possible will ensure that the relationship wasn’t in vain and was merely part of the process for discovering the truth of who you really want to be, and who you really want to be with!

      Thanks for commenting,


  9. LiedTo
    LiedTo says:

    Hi Sam, I found your site over the weekend and believe you have some great insight to offer on relationships. I have a situation I’d like your opinion on.

    I started dating my current boyfriend at the tail end of his marriage (they separated a week later). I asked him a few times during the past year if he had ever cheated on his ex-wife, and he denied it all times. I admit I made it clear that I find cheating abhorrent, although the origin of our own relationship may be questionable. We have had a great relationship for more than a year, but I was still suspicious that he wasn’t telling me the truth. I looked in his phone, where I found evidence that he had cheated on her multiple times with several girls. I confronted him about one, and he finally admitted to it. I broke up with him but we decided to give it another shot after three weeks. It’s been nearly a month, and I feel completely stuck, like I can’t move forward. I did not tell him what else I found, so he denied that there was anything else he is hiding. Basically, he played with the cards I put on the table and did not show me any of his. I don’t believe he has cheated on me, but I do have trust issues of my own that originated from my past. My question is, how can I trust him with my future if he doesn’t trust me with his past? Is there any way to move past this, or should we call it quits while we’re ahead? I know he loves me and feels differently about me than his past relationships, but is he truly sorry if he can’t admit what he did to me and possibly himself? Thanks, Sam.

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:


      Without knowing more about the nature of his past relationship as well as characteristics of his ex-wife, it is difficult to know his rationalisation for why he cheated and lied.

      When lying or cheating becomes a habit, it is difficult to break the pattern. Even so, someone with a habit of lying will, in most cases, only lie if it is beneficial for them to do so. That normally translates to whether they think their partner will openly accept what they are lying about or keeping secret.

      Rather than condemning cheating and lying in your relationship, promote honesty and expression instead. It seems like an insignificant difference, but I imagine that your boyfriend is stuck in the thought process that lying about his past is as much for your benefit as his own. If he is not proud of his past, he probably doesn’t want it to affect how you think about him.

      Everyone has aspects of their past that aren’t necessarily favourable. What is more important is your boyfriend as he is now, and how your relationship is going forwards. Like you say, your relationship is different from any before and has the potential to be as fulfilling and honest as you want it to be.

      Catching him on lies from his past will not help in any way now, and in fact it will probably only create more fragmentation between how your boyfriend actually is, and how he can be portrayed using selected experiences.

      If his past is still affecting your relationship with him, or you feel that he hasn’t changed, the relationship will always have that element of distrust. If you can put those two things behind you, whether he has talked about them or not, you have the power to create a relationship where he would never feel the need to lie to you, even if he previously would have.

      All the best and thanks for reading,


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