There is nothing quite like that sinking feeling in your stomach followed by the flash of anger and hurt that comes when your partner lies to you. Obviously, some lies are bigger and more devastating than others, but even small little white lies that accumulate over time can feel like a thousand punches. What I'm saying is that being lied to by the person you love just plain sucks — and while you shouldn't have to put up with it, knowing what to do when your boyfriend lies to your face can determine whether your relationship survives dishonesty or will be doomed by it.
Doing the "right" thing in the moment is especially hard, because being betrayed, even in small ways, might bring up a lot of feelings. Your instincts may be to lash out in defense, but if what you want is actual resolution and for the behavior to stop, following those instincts may not be the most effective path. So, to help find out what to do when someone lies to you in a relationship, I consulted the experts. Here is how they say to respond if you are ever in a situation where you've caught your SO in a straight-up lie.
The antidote to anger is empathy, so if you want to avoid escalating the argument, Laurel House, celebrity dating and relationship coach and host of the Man Whisperer podcast, suggests that rather than leaning into your (justifiable) anger, you try and understand the reason why your SO lied.
“People often lie for a reason: insecurity, fear, shame, or because historically this was their way to survive and manage other past relationships — which obviously doesn’t work with you,” she says. While that doesn’t justify the lie or mean you don’t have every right to be upset, trying to understand their perspective can help calm your own emotions and allow you to decide how best to proceed.
Just because you are coming from a place of empathy and calmness does not mean that you have to put up with the behavior. You don’t. This is why House says the next step is to set clear boundaries around honesty. “Once [they come] clean, explain how important a foundation of honesty is for you,” she says. “And if you do choose to continue in the relationship, you have now established that lying is not part of your relationship, no matter how insecure, ashamed, or awkward [they] feel.”
By coming forward with your expectations, you can be clear with your partner that you would always rather them be honest than lie in an attempt to protect your feelings or their own dignity.
In addition to setting boundaries, it’s important to make sure to create conditions where your partner is able to keep their promises by creating a safe space for them to be honest. “Establish the premise that it’s OK to tell the truth,” Winter says. “This should be a foundational part of your relationship. If you begin with the understanding that the truth is more welcome than a lie, you’ll create an environment of trust.”
And of course, this should be backed up by your actions. “No beating your partner up verbally. No histrionics. No reactivity,” Winter adds. “You’ve asked them to trust that you wouldn’t punish them for sharing the truth, so prove you mean your word.”
When wondering what to do when someone lies to you in a relationship, it’s easy to turn to pointing fingers. But placing blame won’t create a safe space for communication, an environment both of you are responsible for curating. “Remember, it takes two to form a relationship dynamic,” Masini says. She suggests explaining how their actions hurt you, rather than “having one person be wrong and one be right.”
It’s important to remember that all lies are not created equal. While the experts’ advice is great for a single instance of dishonesty, chronic lying or large intentional deceptions are a different story. “Chronic liars are unfit partners,” Winter warns. “The root cause of their need to lie is too deep for your love to fix. This requires professional help.”
The same goes for partners who break the agreements caused by previous lies. “For example,” says Winter, “They told you their flirtation was over, that they’d ended the affair, were clean and sober, didn’t gamble the rent, etc. This is also a deal-breaker.” That’s because, she explains, “you and your partner agreed upon a correction. Now, they’ve broken that agreement and your trust.”
Ideally, we would never lie to our partners or be lied to, but people are complicated, and sometimes they make mistakes. While empathy and understanding — paired with clear boundaries — are a good place to start, the fact remains that a partner who continually lies or deceives you intentionally is not worthy of your love or your time, and that's the truth.
Susan Winter, NYC relationship expert and love coach
April Masini, relationship and etiquette expert
Laurel House, celebrity dating and relationship coach
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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