Among the many relationship dilemmas we’ve tackled here at Blisstree, recently we’ve brought you When to Tell a White Lie: 10 Situations Where Honesty Doesn’t Pay, My Marriage Survived a Cheating Affair and So Can Yours, and, just yesterday, An Affair May Be the Best Thing That Happens to Your Marriage. You might say we’re a little obsessed with the idea of infidelity in a relationship, whether or not couples can ever get past it, and, perhaps more controversially, whether or not you should always admit an infidelity to your partner. Because if you don’t, that pretty much counts as lying, doesn’t it? And we’re never supposed to lie to our partners or spouses. Or are we? I have to admit that I found myself more than a little confused about these relationship rules, so I asked renowned psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig (you’ve probably seen her on TV) to weigh in on what place, if any, lies have in a marriage or otherwise serious, committed relationship.
Are there ever any circumstances where it’s okay to lie to your partner? If so, can you name a few examples? (Not that we’re planning to use them or anything.)
I want to first start by saying that I’m not an advocate of lying when it comes to relationships. What helps a relationship to grow and become more intimate is knowing that your partner is honest with you and can be trustworthy. Having said that, that doesn’t mean one should say every single thought or feeling they’ve ever had, or that they need to be honest to the point where it causes more harm than good to their partner. For example:
1. You may not want to tell your partner or spouse that you’re harmlessly attracted to a particular person and/or various people who cross your path. Being attracted to and/or finding someone of the opposite sex appealing is just a by-product of being alive. Sharing this information with your partner probably has no value in your relationship other than being hurtful. The bottom line is that you know your partner better than anyone else. Decide whether sharing this info benefits him or her in any way. Most likely, it doesn’t.
2. How one spends their ”fun money” is an interesting topic that comes up a lot in my practice. Spending money that’s designated for family expenditures is what many experts call “financial infidelity.” While I don’t advocate lying about that, not sharing all of the details about what you spend your “fun money” on seems like an okay omission to me. Fun money is designated as money with which you can do what you want. Everyone needs to have a little money of their own that they don’t have to account for or explain to their partner.
3. You probably don’t need to tell your partner how many sexual encounters you’ve had in your past, or who you consider to be the best lover you’ve ever had (prior to them, of course!) The past is the past; it should have no bearing on your present relationship. No one really wants to know how many times you’ve had sex or how good it was prior to being with them, anyway. (I don’t care what your partner says.) Leave this info for your “besties,” not your spouse or partner. (Unless it’s them, of course!)
Is it ever okay (or beneficial, even) to lie to your partner about an infidelity? (That is, by not telling them.)
To tell or not to tell about an affair is still considered one of the more controversial relationship topics, even among respected experts. If there has been infidelity in a marriage, it’s generally thought best to not share this with your partner. The current belief and recommendation is to stop the affair (if it hasn’t stopped already), talk to your partner about what’s missing in the relationship, and figure out how to move the relationship in a more rewarding direction. If counseling is needed for this, then that’s the best way to go. Sometimes individual counseling is needed to figure out why the infidelity happened in the first place, and what the infidelity says about you, your relationship, or your romance. Sometimes partners want to confess to an infidelity so that they don’t have to live with the grief or guilt anymore. Other times they come clean about their infidelity to get out of the relationship. The honest reveal usually has very little to do with whether or not this information is good for their partner to know and/or actually good for the relationship. Again, this is controversial, but many experts agree that you should keep the indiscretion to yourself, stop the current lying, and figure out how to move forward in the most honorable way possible.
Is not telling your partner something important the same as lying to them?
Not telling a partner about something important (an omission) is simply a different form of lying. It’s passive lying versus active lying. Deliberately leaving out important information, with the intent to mislead, deceive, and/or avoid a conflict, has the same effect as lying. Telling a lie to mislead or deceive is just a different form of not telling the truth.
How can a couple move beyond a lie or lies in their relationship or marriage?
The way a couple moves past lies and deceit in a marriage or serious relationship is by giving themselves time to understand what happened, why it happened, and ultimately, by making a commitment to be in the relationship in a more honest way. Once someone has seriously lied in a relationship (like when cheating happens), the trust can never be regained 100%. But very often, couples can learn from their mistakes and figure out how to relate to each other in a more honest and often more intimate way. Especially if they’re both very committed to being with each other.
What kind of a lie is simply too detrimental for a couple to move beyond?
It’s not like one kind of lie is more impossible to get over than another. It has more to do with a person’s character and the patterns of lying that take place within that relationship. People in relationships are going to make mistakes with one another. That’s a given. But if a person has the type of character who can’t or won’t change their deceitful ways, then this kind of partnership is destined to fail. Everyone has their breaking point when it comes to what kind of “revealed truth” is too much for them to tolerate. On a positive note, if a person has the capacity to change their lying ways, and wants to do so, most relationships can be salvaged under those circumstances.
Dr. Robi Ludwig is a nationally known psychotherapist and award-winning reporter. She hosted two seasons of TLC’s reality show, “One Week to Save Your Marriage,” as well as GSN’s reality game show, “Without Prejudice?” Dr. Ludwig is a regular contributor to The Today Show, CNN, Headline News, The Fox News Channel, and TruTV, where she talks about psychological/lifestyle issues, as well as the criminal mind. She also appears on: E!, Regis and Kelly, Oprah, The View, Bill O’Reilly, and Hannity and Colmes, helping audiences and guests alike to understand the complexities of the human condition. Her book, ’Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse, written with Matt Birkbeck, is published with Atria books. In the late 1990’s, Dr. Ludwig worked as a psychology reporter for WETM-TV, the NBC affiliate in Elmira, New York. She wrote, produced, and hosted Real Talk, a live weekly call-in show covering psychological and self-help topics. Her practical experience as a psychotherapist began in 1988 when she worked as a counselor for patients with severe psychiatric disorders. In both clinical settings and in her private practice, she has treated all forms of mental illness, substance abuse, grieving, sexual identity issues, job stress, emotional and sexual abuse problems, as well as the more common social and parenting issues. Dr. Ludwig’s academic credentials include a doctorate in psychology (Psy.D) from the Southern California University for Professional Studies. She also holds a post-Master’s certificate in advanced clinical work from Hunter College, a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in mass communications from Cedar Crest College.