Video Series on Lies and Deception in Couples Therapy:

The Felony Liar with the Lie Invitee

Have you met the felony liar married to the lie invitee? Join me as I discuss this common dynamic in many stuck infidelity cases.

Please click here to download the transcript.

I hope you have enjoyed the opportunity to examine a subject in more depth to better guide your day to day interactions with clients.

Our online couples therapy training program provides a deep look into these issues and more:

  • How to confront deception without shame and blame
  • How to shift the culture of dishonesty into one of growth and vitality

  • How to inspire developmental growth in partners who are stuck in being angry victims

  • How to formulate questions that expose fears of trusting and being more intimate

  • How to manage confidentiality between individual and couples sessions

Go to Developmental Model to learn more about our online couples therapy training program.

And continue participating in the discussion by commenting below.

Wishing you deep gratification in your work,


28 responses to “The Felony Liar with the Lie Invitee”

  1. Nicole says:

    the lie invitee theory is too close to victims blaming for me. infidelity, especially over months or years, is intimate partner abuse. the most violent kind. of course a betrayed and loyal spouse would not want to accept the reality that the person he/she trusts most in the world, and promised to be faithful, violated him/her in this traumatic way. while the developmental model of working with couples may be spot on with normal marital cycles of development, i do not think lie invitee behavior is about differentiation. please be careful with this conceptualizatuon, everyone. lie invitee behavior may be true in some situations. but not with long term infidelity and felony lies. that behavior is about a character disorder. remember, adultery exposes the unsuspecting betrayed spouse to potential fatal venereal diseases and STDs. that kind of lie IS a felony. ( written quickly between appts, excuse typos. )

    • Nicole says:

      continuing the thread of how the lie invitee theory may apply to the normal marital development cycle but not to infidelity trauma … if a spouse believes their beloved is flawed (like every human) but completely trusts the spouse's fidelity, this is not lie inviting, it is called marriage. Many cultural and clinical myths suggest the betrayed spouse “must have known” or “didn't want to know”. based on the PTSD i have treated in betrayed spouses, that is the exception rather than rule. a good resource for debunking infidelity myths is Chump Lady's book and blog.

  2. Anita says:

    Wow! What a great series. I learned a lot. Looking forward to more.

  3. Darlene says:

    I found your information to be interesting and helpful. I would suggest however, that discussing the infidelity in an open discussion invites people to be very vulnerable. Often these patterns manifest themselves from an earlier time in life and it takes courage to not only confront the present pattern of communication, but a history of conflict avoidance.
    How do you deal with their vulnerabilities without risking the relationships? I believe it takes a very skilled therapist to do this work. I appreciate these videos. Thank you.

  4. Julia says:

    Thanks for sharing! I learn a lot from your program!

  5. Michelle says:

    Here's my take on this concept: Hearing someone's truth, even if I don't like it / agree with it does take some active differentiation to realize that person is separate from me with different thoughts/feelings/perceptions. And can I gain the development wherein I can stay steady even when I don't agree with what they are saying. If I react to my partner's truth by attacking them in different ways, over time my partner comes to learn that it's not safe to be open with me. In this sense, it took two to encourage the lying pattern. However, I would not say that the “lie invitee” is then the person to blame. If I did that, it would take any accountability off of the “liar” who still has a choice about how they respond when feeling attacked.

    When someone learns that their spouse has been unfaithful, certainly they will be outraged, furious, attacking, traumatized, etc. When someone is that traumatized, survival responses come before differentiation.

    • Mkloss says:

      If your partner has always been a conflict avoider, covert aggressive, manipulative and deceitful, but you did not see that and trusted in their integrity. Then years later all the BS becomes evident there will definitely be fireworks. To blame the lie invitee for the felony liar's character doesn't make sense.

      • Ellyn Bader says:

        I would never blame the “lie invitee”. There is no excuse for felony lying. There are reasons, not excuses. However, if a couple wants to repair and change this pattern, the “lie inviting partner” also has changes to make in their own process.

  6. Elsa says:

    You model makes a lot of sense to me. The strategies you have come to find effective – those are what I'm most interested in. I'm not a therapist, but I am very interested in the dynamics between 2 (or more) sides. This model is actually what I see a lot in the West with Islam and the politically correct, and (3rd group) the politically incorrect. Islam – its ideology visible in its religious texts and in the actions of, for instance, individual jihadis as well as ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood, etc. Islamics simultaneously deny the nature of Islam – supposedly its a religion of peace – and call anyone an Islamophobe if they don't pay attention to the nature of Islam. The Lie Invitees – the politically correct, who join in raging against anyone who does not collude with the Islamic “religion of peace” story.

    Very interesting stuff. I like the model you present.

    A big interest of mine: how does one most effectively break the dynamics. I have not downloaded the case, but would like to know if you think it might contain useful insights and strategies.

  7. Nate says:

    It was illuminating to learn the clinical context for the dynamic (which I think must be a common one) of someone asking for a hard truth that triggers negative behavior or consequences, especially if it reveals deceitful behavior. I now see Judge Judy as the biggest “lie invitee” on the planet! 🙂 As a parent, I walk a fine line between coaxing the truth from my children when I know they have misbehaved and knowing when to offer amnesty for the violation. In a sense, what you're talking about here is asking someone who has been violated to be able to offer a type of emotional amnesty towards their partner, and clearly that takes a very self-aware – dare I say evolved – human being. I do agree with Nicole above about treading lightly with the label in areas of betrayal and think that at times, the tone of this lesson could be interpreted as lacking compassion. That said, there is a “tough love” element to your teaching, Ellyn, which resonates with me. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  8. Betty says:

    Thank you for your time in making these videos. I've always wondered how to tell if the partner having the affair is telling the whole truth. Your series has given me some insight into couples who struggle with this issue.

  9. Ellyn says:

    I love to see active dialogue happening here in response to my videos. I like each of you speaking up about your experience. I want to be clear-a spouse is never responsible for the other person's lies or infidelity.
    However, the picture is not usually black and white. I believe each of us is responsible for how we interact in our marriages. The lie inviting pattern often goes on for a long time-with the lie inviting partner(male or female) being dismissive of the other's truth when the other tries to be authentic or speak a truth. Two classic examples- Male partner says,
    “I'd like to watch a football game this afternoon” and female partner responds with “What's wrong with you-Why wouldn't you rather spend the time with me?” or
    Female partner says, “I'd like to go shopping with my girl friends today.” and male partner responds by sulking and withdrawal and saying something like, “How come I'm not as important to you as your friends?” In small amounts or isolation any one of these is not significant, but when they are pervasive and often, the damage builds!

    • Nicole says:

      thank you for clarifying with these 2 examples of your theory about the need for differentiation in couples. like acorns don't grow into maple trees, i don't think this kind of lie inviting turns into infidelity/felony lying – do you? endangering a spouses's health with adultery is a black and white thing. i think what is confusing me is mixing a discussion of felony lies, as described in your character-disordered client (who lied to you for months about not ending his affair) with your developmental theory of couples. i doubt you were lie inviting with that client. i agree human behavior is complex. but telling the truth and respecting a spouse's life are simple ethics.

      • Serenity says:

        To use your frame, basic respect is also black and white. It's not okay to react in an attacking way upon hearing upsetting news. It's not mature and it's not productive. Sure, some extreme news is going to be really, really upsetting, maybe even horrendous, terrifying, or infuriating. That does not absolve the receiver for being accountable for their actions. One can express all those emotions with integrity. The truth of basic worthiness for each human being makes the point that actions are separate from the person's worth. YMMV.


    • Mkloss says:

      So what came first? The felony liar or the lie invitee?

      • Ellyn Bader says:

        They interact. Often there are some incidents of lie inviting behavior. However, felony lying
        usually has some character issues or moral slippage that is not at all the fault of the lie invitee.
        Repair in couples with both of these issues takes tough self-confrontation on both sides.

  10. Lola says:

    I appreciate the insights regarding lie-inviting behavior and, now that you have illuminated it so beautifully, I can clearly see this dynamic at work in several of the couples I'm currently working with. Thanks!

  11. Dario says:

    Your lie invitee theory is interesting. I have found that individuals in relationships do not mean to lie, they just do not tell each other the truth. They do not tell each other what they need, want, or even share their true reaction to their partner's behavior. Individuals in the relationships then tend to make decisions about their relationship based on these untruths believing it is the truth. When the masks eventually come off or it is discovered that there is a mask, reality can be rather painful. Thanks for sharing your work. Very insightful.

  12. jane says:

    I love the concept of the lie invitee and working with that concept has greatly enhanced my ability to do effective couple therapy. I don't see the lie-invitee as a victim in any way because I separate out the behavior they are accountable for, which is showing their partner they can't handle the truth from their partner's behavior which is choosing to act in destructive, hurtful ways.In session having each partner look at their own behavior helps for each person take responsibility for themselves. In doing so, they are then able to see how they have hurt the other. I don't in any way feel the lie invitee is responsible for the choices or actions of their partner, but I do feel that partners send messages all the time about what is safe to talk about and what is safe to reveal and what is not. And I believe that long term infidelity and felony lies can be traced back to family of origin patterns and attachment issues. This is what I have seen many times when I explore the context more. And it helps give me something to work with when I know that current relational patterns have their roots in attachment and traumatic childhood events.

  13. Natasha says:

    I'm a newly licensed therapist. This information is very helpfu. I look forward to taking your training.

  14. Jackie says:

    What if the lie invitee is the one having the affair? Then accusing the non cheating spouse of infidelity, dishonesty and lack of communication of their I.ner feelings, the very feelings they denigrate or devalue when previously expressed.

  15. Ana Franco says:

    I keep being surprised at how one partner´s reaction develops behavior in the other. If the betrayed were not avoiding the truth would the partner act differently from the start?

    • Sue says:

      Thank you Ellen! I appreciate the discussing of the lie inviting pattern. I've always remembered that “an affair is a symptom of a problem in a relationship” – the decisions before and after the affair is what is important. “Lie inviting” is not blaming the victim for the affair, but to look at what they bring to the relationship so that the symptoms do not reoccur in the present or future relationship.

  16. Kirsten says:

    Would your approach have been any different if they both reached a point of wanting to try to stay married? It seems difficult to get the lie invitee to recognize the effects of their reactions and commit to trying to change without feeling blamed. Or seeing themselves as the victim and not needing to be the one to change first.

  17. Ellyn says:

    Kirsten-You ask an excellent question. If they both wanted to stay married-yes my approach would be different. I would be addressing what each partner believes is important to change, so they could be honest and open with one another without blaming, yelling or withdrawing and avoiding. Part of my role would be at some point to facilitate her listening to him deeply about the effect her anger and criticism had on him.

  18. claudia says:

    I appreciate these videos very much for my own understanding.

    I'm not a therapist, so my view is as a novice.

    As long as we take our ego serious, we will keep on blaming, arguing and differentiating. The conversation would be endless. I believe if therapy is able to show the individual where certain behaviours come from and raise the consciousness to this behaviour, both sides will have an easier time to look at the situation from afar. This I would call evolving/success. I think this should be the higher goal. Sometimes, like any science, we could get stuck in the nitty gritty of naming/analyzing and therefore missing the big picture. I think empathy for both sides is necessary and judgment is hindrance.

  19. Ellyn says:

    Yes indeed-Empathy for both partners goes a very long way.

  20. Ghazala says:

    Hi Ellyn:
    Somehow I can't find the case example that you mentioned in your video. Can you please tell me where to find it?


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