What to Do When Your Partner Keeps Lying to You

Sweet baby jeebus, the number of lies I was told both before and after D-Day is probably greater than the number of stars in the universe. After D-Day, I often KNEW he was lying. It was totally obvious. But he would insist that he was telling the truth (that’s called gaslighting). It made me want to tear my hair out.

This is how I tear my hair out. I’m normal. Everything’s fine.

I know you feel my pain, so I’m going to do my best to help you cope with your partner’s lying ways so your hair doesn’t start coming out in clumps like mine did.

Why Is My Partner Lying to Me?

First, your probably wondering WHY THE FUCK DOES HE KEEP LYING?! It’s idiotic, it doesn’t make sense, he’s really just making things worse for both of you.

But here’s the thing. He has probably been lying for so long that it’s a habit now. And he’s probably been trying to bury the truth, especially his true feelings, for so long that he isn’t even aware of what he’s feeling half the time.

So, you ask him to stop by the store on his way home and pick up some bread. He agrees to do so. He gets home and has no bread. You ask him what happened. He says a fucking meteor crashed into the store just before he went in and he’s lucky to even be alive right now. You call bullshit. He doubles down. And round and round you go until you want to punch him in his lying face.

Let’s slow this situation waaaay down. When you asked him what happened, he instantly felt like an idiot. What do grown ups do when they feel like idiots? They get embarrassed, but they apologize, accept responsibility, and then maybe go back out to get the bread. Because they know how to regulate their emotions and act like good and decent human adults.

But he’s not a grown up. He’s emotionally immature (pretty much all liars are), like a little kid. And what do little kids do when they feel like idiots? They lie and squirm and fight and do everything they can to make that feeling STOP. Because they don’t know how to regulate their emotions. They just want the bad feeling to go away RIGHT NOW.

Okay, so he felt like an idiot and wanted to stop that feeling immediately. So he made something up. Maybe it was slightly more believable than the meteor story, but you know this guy. You can often tell when he’s lying.

Here’s the ironic thing. Part of why he lied was so that you wouldn’t think poorly of him. He didn’t want you to realize that he’s so stupid he can’t even remember to pick up some bread on the way home. You probably wouldn’t have even thought he was stupid (who hasn’t forgotten the bread?), but that’s what his inner critic told him and he isn’t aware enough of his internal landscape to recognize his inner critic’s voice and tell that dude to stuff it.

So you know he’s lying and you tell him so. Why doesn’t he just admit it then? Because now he feels like a double idiot. First for forgetting the bread, and second for telling a stupid lie about it. But now it would be even more painful to admit that he’s an idiot (again, what his inner critic is telling him), so he has to double down. He’s trying to save face. To convince you that his lie is true so he won’t feel humiliated.

How to Deal with A Partner Who Lies

Okay, you get why he’s lying, so now it’s time to break the Circle of Lies. (Did you just read that to the tune of the Lion King song? I really hope you did. It’s the ciiircle of liiiiiiies! I used to hum that to myself every time he lied and secretly get a tiny kick out of my hilarious self.)

Anyway, how can you break this stupid cycle? You probably think there’s nothing YOU can do. He’s the one who needs to change. He just needs to stop lying.

And he does need to cut that shit out. But you don’t have to get into that stupid cycle with him. You don’t have to let him make you feel like either firing him into the sun or taking a ten year nap.

First, focus on your goal for the conversation. Your goal isn’t to get him to admit that he’s a lying liar. It’s to get some damn bread! So ignore his stupid lie and ask him to go to the other store, the one that wasn’t destroyed by a meteor, and get the bread. Done. Circle of Lies avoided. Bread acquired.

Bread is life. Especially when you’re on a carb binge.

Other goals you might have are to get him to share something with you, stop doing some particular thing, or simply listen to you.

Remember, you often don’t have to call him out for lying. If your goal for the conversation doesn’t require him to fess up, focus instead on how to move the conversation forward. Focusing on the lie is just going to start that stupid Circle of Lies again and I know you’re tired of that dance.

If the lie is something you do have to call out, try to understand his reason for lying. I know this is super hard. Why should you have to put effort into being understanding when he’s the lying liar? Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But you’re just gonna be stuck in the Shit Ball of Lies™ if you don’t do something different.

So recognize that he’s probably not lying to purposely hurt you. Really he probably just wants to save face or avoid a fight. Speak to that instead of the lie itself. You can say something super mature like, “It’s probably hard to be honest when you know it could start a fight. I’m going to try to stay calm so I can understand where you’re coming from and help if I can.”

Then give yourself a high five and an extra sweet treat because you just showed kindness and compassion to someone who was being pretty damn disrespectful. You’re practically the dalai lama now.

Here’s the good part. If he’s honest with you after you dalai lama’d out, he just gave you what you wanted without either of you tearing your hair out. So thank him for that. “Thank you for being honest with me. I know it’s not always easy, but it really means a lot to me.” That shit was hard for both of you, so reinforce his honesty and over time it will get easier.

What if He Just Keeps Lying?

That’s all sunshine and rainbows, but what if you do all this and he’s STILL lying? You need consequences, my friend. This isn’t about being punitive. It’s about SCIENCE! Research has shown that reinforcement is one of the best ways to encourage change.

Blinding me with science!

So identify what “not truth” is. Maybe it’s missing an appointment with his therapist or spending a suspicious amount of money or hiding a text or email from you. Then lay out how he can show he’s being truthful (attending all appointments, not overspending, not deleting texts or emails).

Then, when he is truthful, give him a fucking cookie or gold star or whatever will make him feel good about his honesty. Yes, this sounds like you’re training a third grader, but you kind of are. Emotionally, he is not an adult. So he needs that positive reinforcement in order to change his behavior while he works on growing up.

You also need to identify consequences for “not truth.” Do this together before “not truth” happens, when you’re both calm.

So for example, the consequence for missing an appointment might be that he needs to schedule an extra appointment or go to an extra support group meeting. For overspending, it might be that he has to come up with a plan to pay back what he spent or (if this is ongoing) to turn over his debit/credit cards and get a cash allowance each week instead.

Yes, that might put you in the mom position. But until he can act like a grown up, that’s probably going to be part of your role. It sucks as much as a massive black hole when you have to mother your partner, but you can either accept it and deal with it or keep adding to your never-ending reservoir of resentment until your head explodes. In reality you’ll probably waffle between those two opposites since not even Buddha himself could be eternally calm and accepting of a partner who acts like a child.

Caveat: If doing this stuff triggers the shit out of you, DON’T DO IT! You always have the option of simply walking away (mature adult on the outside, raging ball of fire on the inside). Sometimes it’s best to have a period of separation, whether it’s for an hour or a year. Don’t destroy yourself to help him heal.

What If He STILL Won’t Stop Lying?

So you’ve identified the consequences, he’s agreed to them, but he just keeps on lying or overspending or not abiding by your agreement or whatever. If it’s not too often, maybe show him a little grace. No one’s perfect. (I’m totally not excusing his behavior here. I’m just saying that change is hard and we all make mistakes.)

But if he’s consistently doing this shit, you have to recognize that his actions are telling the truth. They’re telling you that he doesn’t value honesty enough to behave in an honest and trustworthy manner. He may say he wants to change, but actions speak louder than words, my friend.

This might leave you feeling stuck. What can you do if he doesn’t want to change and you don’t want to be with a lying liar? You actually do have a few options:

  • You can continue on the way you have been.
  • You can accept that he isn’t ready to stop lying and work on not letting it get to you.
  • You can ask for a temporary therapeutic separation.
  • Or you can call it quits.

Getting to this point can be really hard to handle. You know something has to change and you can’t make him change. So you have to change yourself. It’s a really good idea to talk with a therapist, coach, trusted friend, or really smart dog at this point. You don’t have to figure this out by yourself.

If you’d like to schedule a session with me to talk more about lies, really smart dogs, or anything else, head over to my contact page. I get it.