Why Some People Can Look You Straight In The Face & Tell You Lies

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By: Susan Saint Welch

It’s time to stop making excuses for them.

When it comes to the spectrum of human behavior within relationships of all kinds, it can be difficult even for professionals in fields related to mental health and psychology to determine the reasons underlying the bold behavior of habitual, possibly pathological liars, whether they are merely guilty of telling the occasional “white lie” or they bend and break the truth to such an extent it should qualify them to for potential diagnosis with a personality and/or compulsive disorder.

The simple truth no matter how you look at it, however, is that people lie because they want to avoid responsibility or because they value their own feelings more than they value yours.

The majority of compulsive liars use lying to avoid difficult situations and/or to allow themselves to get away with doing whatever it is they want to do.

Of course, when the liar in question is your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife or significant other, you don’t want to believe their reasons for betraying you in this way could arise from any bad intent.

These are some of the most common lies we tell ourselves when the person we love lies to us to a pathological extent.

  • “Everybody lies.”

This is true to some degree. That’s why the phrase “little white lies” was coined. But there is a significant difference between a “little white lie” and a pattern of lying that cannot be overlooked in a relationship.

“White lies” are typically told on a rare basis, and they the person telling them usually feels a bit uncomfortable when doing so. If the person does not feel uncomfortable, they are likely to have lied many times before and now use this as a standard means of dodging uncomfortable situations. Or, they may have lied so frequently now that they genuinely don’t recognize a lie from the truth as most people would.

Naturally, that is not a positive characteristic in a mate.

Humans don’t do something on a continual basis when there is no payoff for doing it, so even if it seems to be a “white lie” of little significance, the fact that this person is choosing to lie to you rather than coming to you with straight-forward communication is an issue to consider carefully.

A great question to ask yourself in such a situation is: “Why would they would need to do this?”

  • “It’s just a bad habit.”

First of all, no, this is not just a “bad habit,” but rather a way to dodge the truth whenever there is something negative to avoid.

For example, he may lie about having cheated on you in order to avoid you breaking up with him. This mean he is thinking about his needs when he is lying, not about protecting your well being.

If you decide to “fix” this problem by correcting his “habit,” you change your role in the relationship so that he may begin seeing you as his mother rather than as his girlfriend. Here again, that’s not a healthy thing for any romantic relationship. He may quickly come to resent you, while his own poor behavior is unlikely to change.

  • “It’s not his fault.”

This one often sounds something like, “He had a terrible childhood and his father beat him any time he admitted to doing something wrong.”

That may (or may not) be true, but regardless, he’s no longer a helpless and defenseless child. He is responsible for his actions, as are all adults. He could choose to change his behavior, but he has evidently decided to use the same coping mechanism of lying that he used as a child in his grown-up relationship with you.

The cold, hard truth is that the reason someone habitually lies to you really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that you won’t ever be able to trust him, and because of that, you will always wind up playing detective as you try to determine the “real” truth. Do you really want to do that? Relationships are challenging enough without having to second guess your mate.

He can choose to seek professional help if he can’t make these changes on his own, just like anyone else. You are not there to be his therapist, mother, or healer.

Beyond the excuses, many who find themselves in a relationship with a compulsive liar allow the behavior to continue, citing the belief that “love will conquer all.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t true. If he is a true narcissist, sociopath, and/or pathological liar and you choose to stay in this relationship, you will have to live with his lying as his coping style of choice for the rest of your lives together.

When someone is a true “sociopath,” they present behaviors that fall under the clinical diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM 5), which includes (but is not limited to) “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”

This is not meant to be a complete list of characteristics, and definitely not as a means to diagnose your partner, but rather as signs to watch out for in a relationship where lying is common.

Most people who lie compulsively do not have this personality disorder, and in any case, the of the matter is that it’s impossible to trust a compulsive liar.

You can’t pick certain parts of a person to love and be in a relationship with. You must take all of them. And in doing so, you will have to live with all of their ways of coping.

Is that how you want to live? Always trying to be two steps ahead of his thinking and motivations? That could be exhausting.

And if you plan to have children, is this the man you want to raise them with?

Even the healthiest relationships require a lot of work in order to build an emotionally safe and fulfilling life together.

Playing detective and constantly watching for lies is exhausting over time, and that’s not how healthy relationships should be. Healthy relationships are about being honest with each other. They’re about feeling emotionally and physically safe with your special person, being two people taking on the world together as one.

If you are in a relationship where you feel the need to play detective in order to determine truth from lies, rethink your situation.

Is this the type of relationship you truly want and deserve?

You can have a loving, fulfilling and emotionally safe relationship with someone you know you can always trust … because he is trustworthy! And you so deserve this!

Susan Saint-Welch, LMFT, is a marriage and family psychotherapist who has been practicing in-person and online in California for over 20 years, helping radiant, single women get un-stuck and find the lasting love they deserve. She is passionate about teaching skills and concepts for healthier relationships, dating and self-esteem. For more, follow her on her website.