Why Men Lie
In my work with couples the issue of truth and lies, trust, and trustworthiness often arise. The difficulty is that there is always more than one perspective on the issue, and men and women have different understandings of truth and lies.
Women complain that they can’t trust a man who lies because it is a breach of trust. When they sense something isn’t fully disclosed they begin questioning and sometimes accusing, and bring up other situations when there were lies. This is very uncomfortable for the men and they might shut down, get defensive or attack back.
For women safety in a relationship comes from trusting that their partners are telling them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For men this can feel intrusive, controlling, and scary.
I’m not talking about big lies, like affairs, gambling, or addiction. I’m talking about the little bending the truth, half-truths, and omissions. Without exception when I ask men about these the reason they withhold some of the truth it is because: I want my wife to be happy (and not mad at me); she might not like what I did so I won’t tell her and hope she never finds out, or I’ll gloss over or minimize it because if she is unhappy it means I am a failure as a partner.
What? I know, it is the strong pull to maintain the relationship and not feel shame that underlies garden variety lies for men. The little lies were made with good intentions, but if they get discovered things blow up and there is a major crisis.
What men don’t realize is how much of the relationship is at risk from little lies – for once trust is lost it is very difficult to re-earn. Says the woman “If I can’t trust you with the little things, how can I trust you with the big?”
How women can help is to look at is their approach/ways of expressing disappointment, doubts, questioning. Judgment and blaming. Compassion, curiosity, and a gentler approach can clear things up more quickly.
There is no denying that even in healthy relationships for men and women that it can be emotionally dangerous, to be honest about thoughts, feelings, or mistakes. Sometimes it’s because we were abused as children, sometimes it’s about our self-concept, often it is about fear of loss of being positively viewed by our partners.
A typical pattern in couples is that one person, in order to feel okay, pursues the other seeking reassurance that the problem can be resolved. Meanwhile, the other person is feeling overwhelmed and afraid and needs to withdraw in order to deal with the strong feelings inside. As I tell my couples, neither way is right or wrong – it is just different ways of coping. But it makes it challenging for couples to settle disagreements or establish truth and trust.
Luckily, through couples counselling men and women can identify these patterns and learn to risk the truth as their partners learn to create a safe space for exploration, curiosity, understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness. We all want to be loved unconditionally, despite our imperfections.