How Lie Inviting Partners Sabotage Relationships

Dr. Ellyn Bader
Founder of The Couple Institute

Have you heard the expression “It takes two to tango?”

It rings true in dance – and surprisingly often in lying.

We’re all familiar with the pain of being lied to. And perhaps with placing blame on the liar for doing “the wrong thing.”

Fewer of us are aware of how often someone behind the scenes is orchestrating the lies.

I call this partner the Lie Invitee.

The Lie Invitee is unwilling to handle the truth. This often stems from growing up in a family where manipulation, evasiveness or conflict avoidance were common.

It can be hard to diagnose, because the Lie Invitee often presents themselves as harmless, or as a caring member of the duo. Their scorpion-tail questions parade as innocent ones, like:

  • How do you want to spend the holidays?
  • Do you want me to go with you the next time you visit your parents?
  • Do you like how I look in my new outfit?

But what lurks beneath the surface of many common questions is much more ominous. The unspoken innuendo is:

  • I want you to tell me how you feel … but watch out if you tell me something I don’t want to hear.
  • I want the truth … but if you tell me I’ll make you suffer.
  • How can you be so insensitive … and give me an opinion that is so hard for me to hear?

The subtext to the questions above might look like this:

  • How do you want to spend the holidays? (It better be with me.)
  • Do you want me to go with you the next time you visit your parents? (You better include me or I will accuse you of being more loyal to them than to me.)
  • Do you like how I look in my new outfit? (You better say I look great.)

Because it’s so hard for the Lie Invitee to tolerate or embrace the truth, they inhibit differentiation and retaliate by crying, sulking, or attacking. Worse still, they may become a character assassin, a blamer or a martyr.

These partners interact in a way that prevents effective differentiation and keeps the couple stuck in a symbiotic struggle.

This demand for symbiotic compliance creates anger, distance, and shutting down.

This pattern is lethal to healthy growth and development for either partner or the relationship.

And when this behavior lasts for a long time, it can evolve into one of the most snarled and challenging dynamics you can face: the Lie Invitee married to The Felony Liar.

The Felony Liar lies, hides and deceives over a period of time. Then when questioned, they get evasive and challenge the sanity of the Lie Invitee. They’ll say things like, “You’re crazy. You’re too jealous. You’re making things up.” Suspicious questions are met with aggressive attacks. The Lie Invitee even begins to question their grip on reality.

To be effective with these cases takes strong challenges to each partner. You will be  insisting on individual accountability and facilitating differentiation.

In the transcript I’ve attached below, you’ll read a session I had with Bart (a Felony Liar) and Francesca (a Lie Invitee).

Francesca just became aware of Bart’s affair. She’s hurt and wants Bart to take accountability for his lies and personal attacks. Bart wants a quick divorce -- he hopes to run away from facing up to the pain he caused his wife of 20 years.

  • You can follow along and see how I elicit their lie inviting pattern and confront the husband’s conflict avoidance.
  • You’ll learn what to look for in the subtext of what a couple says.
  • You’ll get clarity on how to define your role.
  • You’ll learn to see the red flags that will make your work easier.

You can download the transcript here.

Be sure to read it when you have time to fully digest the session and my discussion.

I give it to you as just one example of many cases of betrayal we address in my online training program.

 

Act Now

Comment below: How hard or easy is it for you to recognize lie inviting dynamics?


Starting soon! In my Developmental Model Training Program, I teach therapists how to stretch their clients so they become more comfortable with the truth. When this happens, you can sit back and witness emotionally compelling moments without working hard. To see what my program can do for you, go to  www.couplesinstitute.com/developmentalmodel.

9 responses to "Lies and Deception"

  1. The overwhelming sense I got from what each of the couple was saying is: Male – I want to be loved and accepted.
    Female: I don't know how to show love. All I know how to do is to criticise and I have a need to control.
    I felt the work needed to be more about helping the wife explore why she finds it so difficult to show her husband how much she loves him, as if she didn't she wouldn't be asking him to come to therapy and she wouldn't be so hurt about his affair – she would be relieved that he's leaving her.
    As for the husband – he in fact openly expresses his desire to be loved and accepted by his wife (rather than criticised and belittled all the time).
    They need to learn skills that will enhance their relationship rather than tear it down – such as mercy (undeserved forgiveness), kindness, self-control when it comes to criticising and belittling one another. In essence it's about being mindful about the effects of their words and deeds and saying and doing things that will enhance the relationship.

  2. I appreciate how you model clarity and honesty in going toe to toe with each person. You courageously use the relationship skills you are asking your clients to use.

  3. Thanks for this. I have been using your ideas to work on myself as I have not been able to have a successful relationship at all. I have also been applying ideas to my lack of progress in other areas of my life; and sharing your page with 3 friends already. I believe this material is a game changer 🙂

  4. Ellyn, I value these offerings. I am a student working on a degree in psychology and want to be a counsellor. I did not find the document for download overwhelming. On the contrary, I was intrigued by how you broke down the session with the clients, and assessed what was going on. Thank-you

  5. Thanks Ellyn. I have been gently confronting this dynamic for decades and refer clients to your book that elaborates the dance. Sometimes I do some disclosing of my own reluctance to tell the whole truth and not lie by omission in seemingly small matters (Such as forgetting and appointment. It has been my experience that silence and seemingly minor lies add up to big messes eventually.

  6. Thanks Ellyn. I have been gently confronting confronting this dynamic for decades and refer clients to your book that elaborates the dance. Sometimes I do some disclosing of my own reluctance to tell the whole truth and not lie by omission in seemingly small matters (Such as forgetting and appointment. It has been my experience that silence and seemingly minor lies add up to big messes eventually.

  7. Thank you, Ellyn. I am benefiting so much from your generous and detailed offerings. I am not a therapist. I am divorced and I have been single for many years. I am very interested in the skills required to be able to have a healthy relationship. I am in therapy. I am developing a deeper relationship with myself; understanding attachment theory, listening to my fear and what lies beneath the fear, deepening compassion for myself and holding myself accountable for behaving in a way that is congruent with my values. This information about differentiation and developing the skills to be able to handle conflict is really key. I am learning so much about the components of healthy intimacy. And I am able to reflect on my past relationships and apply new skills to my dating explorations. This is also helping me to deepen my many friendships and professional relationships.
    Thank you.

  8. Thank you so much Ellyn for your insights and especially the actual session transcript with your comments! I learn best with specific examples I can then process more. In my experience it's always true in couple's work that it takes “two to tango,” so I look for the other side. I like your way of confronting each person in the session.

Please Comment ↴