Classifying Lies Doesn’t Justify Them

“You’re such a LIAR!”

Have you ever heard this? Been accused of this? Or have you ever said this?

If any of these apply to you, ask yourself what the benefit of the statement is. What’s the best possible outcome of calling someone a liar?

It’s never constructive. And it’s often pretty obvious if someone has lied, so what’s the point of saying it?

In my work with couples, I usually hear, “you’re a liar!” from the wife of a cheating husband. What I tell the husband is, “if you really want to communicate, reinterpret what she said so it sounds more like, I’m really hurt because you kept things from me and didn’t openly communicate with me.” What I tell the wife is, “Name calling will only put him on the defensive (and that won’t help you get what you want). Instead, tell him how you feel and what you want from him going forward.”

And just so you can be accurate when you start throwing around the the L-word, let’s look at different kinds of lies. Not all lies are the same (that’s why we need different words in my opinion).

Omitting the Truth

“You never TOLD me you were having an affair, you lying sack of-”

“I did not lie! I did attend a convention in Las Vegas. I just didn’t mention that she met me there.”

Okay, technically, this is not a lie. I’m not justifying it, I just want you to be clear because calling someone a name (liar) that doesn’t fit will only derail the argument from the main point into definitions and semantics. Stick to the point!

Omissions of truth are not lies, they are deceptions. “You deceived me into believing that you were faithful” is a much more accurate statement, and much harder to argue against.

Lies to Protect the Innocent

These lies prevent hurt feelings. Your daughter asks about the visitor. “At the door? Oh, it was just the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” when actually it was that mean girl who has been spreading hurtful gossip about your sweet girl.

Okay? No. It’s still a lie (and wrong). But it’s understandable. Its intent has some nobility.

Lies to Protect the Liar

“No, I have no idea how the fender got dented!”

The intent isn’t to deceive as much as to protect the liar from consequences over something in the past. It was a mistake (that thing in the past, not the lie), and the liar wouldn’t do such a thing again . . . on purpose, anyway.

Still, it’s a lie, and it’s wrong. It breeds mistrust by others and less self-confidence in the liar. It wasn’t malicious, though. But that doesn’t justify the lie, it only explains it.

Combo Lies

Some lies are meant to protect both the innocent party and the liar. “No, I did not sleep with my secretary.”

Clearly the wife would be hurt if she learned of the infidelity (even though she wants to know the truth and it’s wrong to lie). The lie was also told to protect the husband from the consequences of cheating. This lie is a combination of preserving the lie-ee and the liar.

Lies to Benefit the Liar

The worst kind of lies are purposeful and blatant, with the sole intent of benefiting the liar. They sustain the possibility of continuing some hurtful behavior. This type of lie is rare compared to the other lies. Liars who lie this way are often sociopaths with a low (or no) sense of empathy or identification with how others feel. Stay away from these people. They’re dangerous. They don’t typically change. If you’re in a relationship with this kind of liar, be sure that’s what you’re dealing with, then leave the relationship.

“But how do I deal with the hurt?”

All the other kind of liars can change, and they usually want to. People lie because of their own issues, not because of who they lie to. But you feel hurt and deceived? Sure, but it’s not about you! They don’t lie to you because of you; they lie because of them. If you don’t want to preserve the relationship, leave; don’t stay and argue about the lying. If you do want to preserve the relationship, just keep reminding yourself that he (or she) lied to you because of his (or her) own inadequacy or fear or weakness or challenge — not because you’re gullible or stupid. If you want to strengthen the relationship, then cut the liar some slack. Practice grace. And hold the offending part accountable!

It’s the offending party’s responsibility to rebuild trust (at least 80% — the offended party needs to at least be open to the effort — that’s her 20%). The way to rebuild trust is to practice openness, checking in, initiating discussion about improvement, and struggles, and victories. It’s not her responsibility to check up on him. It’s his responsibility to check in with her.

It’s not her responsibility to check up on him. It’s his responsibility to check in with her.

Lying is hurtful, harmful, and wrong. Explaining the different ways people lie is never justification, it only helps us get perspective and feel a little less pain when we recognize that the liar lied because of their own problems.

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