Lying is believing or knowing one thing while intending to communicate another. As painful as it is to be lied to, a certain amount of empathy is important when dealing with liars who typically are acting out of fear or low self-esteem. Often, fear and low self-image are also responsible for the very actions about which people lie – flirtations or affairs with other people, trouble at work or a threatened job, overuse of alcohol or other drugs.
A lie is usually a symptom of more trouble than just lying. Dealing with it rather than letting it slip under the rug is vital if you are to salvage the relationship and if the person is going to get help. Discussing a lying habit in couple’s counseling is a good idea, but, at the very least, have open and honest conversations that are non-judgmental. Your empathy and lack of judgment do not mean you are acquiescing and saying it’s okay to lie to you. It just means you are willing to work with your partner on the problem rather than writing him or her off. Your approach can have a huge impact on how things play out, for good or ill.
People who lie habitually can break the cycle if they are motivated. The presence of love and support go a long way to help with that motivation. Pathological liars have an actual psychological disorder. They often believe their lies and cannot be talked out of lying, partly because they cannot see the damage that is being done. They should still be confronted in a meaningful way. Best case scenario – they end up willingly getting help. Helping a liar understand that just because lies go undetected does not mean they are harmless. Every lie is a betrayal, and a chink in the security and love that hold two people together.
How do I know I’m being lied to?
So how do you even know if someone is lying? Sometimes it’s easy when a liar wants to come clean and will actually leave clues. But good, or habitual, liars are very convincing. The old caveat that a liar can’t make eye contact is often misleading. An expert liar can do just that: mimic the eye contact of a guileless, innocent person. And honestly we have a tough time detecting liars because we tend to see what we want to see. We want to trust.
That being said, there are still signs to look out for when you want to root out deception. If you know someone well, you are more likely to recognize when behavior is out of character. But regardless, here are some basic points:
Body language. A liar may show the following:
- Stiff body posture, shoulders turned away as if reluctant to face you
- Shoulder shrug, as if trying to appear relaxed
- Few arm and hand movements, and an unlikeliness to use open hand gestures
- Unconscious touching of face, throat, or mouth, or scratching of ear
- Separation from you: little or no physical contact during a confrontation
- Preoccupation with something else (the red herring) – looking out the window, excessive blinking, difficulty swallowing (distracting coughs, clearing of throat)
- A liar may use emotional gestures and expressions that seem off or don’t match. E.g. frowning while saying “I love you” or trying to hug you while saying, “You’ve really hurt my feelings by not trusting me.”
Verbal cues. A liar may:
- Use your words to make their point. You say, “I can’t trust you,” and the response is “Of course you can trust me.”
- Not answer directly. For example, a liar may talk about his or her belief about the subject rather than the actual facts at hand: “I think this issue is more about your insecurity than anything.” Another indirect approach is to evade and just imply answers: “Well, I picked up the dry cleaning at 5:00” as an answer to “Where were you at 4:30 when I tried to call you at the office?”
- Delay responses, if only by a fraction of a second. Deceitful responses take time to think up. A liar may delay by repeating the question before answering. “Where were you till midnight?” you ask. “You’re asking me where I was till midnight?”
- Garble responses or otherwise make them hard to hear or understand.
- Speak in a monotone.
- Not use personal pronouns. There is research to suggest that liars use words like “I,” “me,” and “my” less than truth tellers. For example saying “It is obvious that nothing happened” rather than “I didn’t do anything!”
- Speak more slowly as if you are a bit slow. This may be a cover-up for a mind racing to figure out what to say.
- Use terms and phrases that beat their trustworthiness over your head, like, “honestly”, “to tell you the truth”, “to be perfectly honest.”
- Not get defensive when accused. This is not necessarily a sign of innocence but may indicate that he or she is more concerned with his response that the accusation itself.
- Be excessively interested in changing the subject or visibly relieved if you do.
Interestingly, there are also indicators of honesty. For example:
- A statement using contractions can show honesty. Instead of “I am not talking to someone” someone will say “I’m not talking to someone.”
- A person who mirrors your body position is most likely being honest.
- Genuine emotional responses, as opposed to exaggerated outrage or feigned hurt, tend to be honest. Anger or tears can be faked of course, but typically reflect real anger or sadness at being accused falsely.
The hardest thing to do when you think you are being lied to is the most important: address it. No one loves confrontation, but how about reinventing your outlook.Honestly dealing with the big issue of lying does not have to be confrontation. It’s just honesty. Your empathy and honesty in addressing lying in your relationship reflect the positive outcome you want– openness between you and your partner in which lies are not told.
If you are being lied to:
Address the lying in a meaningful way. Unresolved issues about honesty can erode a relationship. Silence sets a precedent that ignoring or denying dishonesty is acceptable.
Learn ways to communicate better in order to deepen your understanding of each other and turn an extremely difficult moment into an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
Express changes that need to be made and agree on clear boundaries.
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of love.” Betty Russell, BCC