Peter Pearson

We’re going to talk about lies. Why do we lie – ever? And while it’s easy to perhaps scapegoat people who aren’t telling the whole truth – as with anything in relationship – it takes TWO to tango – so how does the person who’s being lied TO help create the dynamic? Most importantly – how do you bring your relationship back into balance, so that you can experience the power created by telling the truth and being in integrity. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson are two of the world’s leading experts on couples therapy and the topic of honesty in relationship, and their groundbreaking book – Tell me No Lies – explores exactly these questions about how to undo the damage caused by all lies – big and small – in relationships.

Listen below to our podcast…

Why We Lie and How to Get Back to the Truth

with Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson



In this conversation, Ellyn Bader, Peter Pearson and Neil Sattin discuss the following:

What constitutes a lie? Lying is not an exact science, rather it occurs on a continuum, with several distinct types:

Equivocations: Giving ambiguous, indirect, or contradictory information

Exaggerations: Overstatements and truth stretching

Understatements: Minimizing or downplaying aspects of the truth

Concealments: Deliberately omitting information that is important and relevant

Deliberate lies: Making up information, or giving the opposite of the truth (no versus yes)

Felony lies: These are the big high stakes ones

Why do we lie? The good the bad and the ugly. Lying always has a purpose, and is often resulting from a need to protect something.  What is crucial to consider is the motivation behind the lie, and what in fact the individual is trying to protect. Is it their ego? Their sense of security? Fear of shame? In some cases, as often happens in the beginning of a relationship, lies may be told in order to HELP solidify the bond and create closeness (“Yum, the dinner you made was delicious!”). In other cases lies are told in order to avoid conflict or tension, or to avoid hurt feelings. We also lie to advance ourselves, enhance our image, protect ourselves, or gain power. While there are minor seemingly loving lies that are told in order to protect the bond, it is almost always more successful to protect the relationship through truth telling, as risky and scary as it may seem.

Lying between me, myself, and I: There is an enormous amount of self deception in most relationships, and let’s be honest, in our lives in general. Everyone, whether currently coupled or not, can take time to ask: Am I really telling myself the truth about my own experience? How well do I know myself? How much am I able to communicate what I know about myself?

These questions are incredibly potent to hold as a relationship begins to unfold. In the honeymoon phase, or what Bader refers to as the ‘temporary psychosis phase’ due to the plethora of neurochemicals involved with falling in love that make us “bonded and stupid”, it is very normal to lie. Mostly to oneself. Amidst the adrenaline and excitement of new love, many people do not pay attention to their own wishes, desires, or needs. Some may forget to ask themselves “Who am I really? What really matters to me?”. This is natural because when people first come together there is a strong desire to try and be the same. They may knowingly and unknowingly minimize differences and emphasize ways they are alike in order to prove compatibility to each other, and find alignment. This can actually be a cute, sweet, profound, and important process, however where it goes from here is the make or break…

Lack of differentiation creates havoc in the long run: While it may be normal to search for commonality in the beginning of a relationship, a couple must begin to welcome and celebrate difference early on in order to avoid getting stuck on “the dark side of the honeymoon”, that petri dish for resentment, fear, instability, and ultimately distrust. Failure to differentiate usually results from one or both partners being conflict avoidant, meaning that they hold the basic fear that conflict will lead to rupture or collapse of the relationship.  Because they are seeking security above all else, they are willing to overcompensate or over adapt for long periods of time in order to keep the illusion of permanence in the relationship. This begins by the conflict avoidant partner not expressing their desires, needs or wishes, and frequently includes lies by omission. This partner gives more and more of themselves, ignoring important parts of themselves, until they either collapse, become depressed, develop secret anger, etc. This leads to the next stage, the “Freedom Unhinged” state, in which the relationship begins to disintegrate. More extreme lying occurs, including the GREAT BIG felony lies (gambling, infidelity, etc). The stakes are high, and as one partner becomes more and more adamant that such and such is NOT happening, the other partner may even begin to question their own sanity. Often at this point trust has been so violated that couples usually separate as it is rare to be able to piece everything back together.

NOTE TO THOSE EXPERIENCING FELONY LIES: It is advisable to get a therapist involved. If you guys want to try to work through it on your own make sure to slow down. Often the partner who has lied is in a hurry to heal and looks to find solutions quickly. Let your partner express their feelings, all of them, and allow them to ask LOTS of questions. Regaining trust isn’t simply a decisional process. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of small things done daily. Do what you say you are going to do.

It is common to experience disillusionment as new love matures! Some things just don’t show up in early stages. Realizing truths can come after commitments have been made, and need not incite panic. Oscar Wilde says “the truth is rarely pure and never simple”, and this is incredibly true in relationships.

Inviting truth and how to AVOID becoming conflict avoidant: In order for couples to evolve well and enter into a growthful process from the honeymoon phase, it is key to start substantial truth telling early on. Each partner speaks up about things that are important and matter to them, even at the risk of moving into areas of disagreement. Although the early years of differentiation are not always easy, there are many moments of growthful tension. It takes courage not only from the one who tells their truth, but from the partner who is willing and able to truly listen and hear their partner share!

Lie Invitees: Knowing that lying is often one of those ‘two to tango’ deals, how does the person who’s being lied TO help create the dynamic? Somebody becomes a lie invitee when they do not fully collaborate on the commitment to truth telling. For example, when your partner shares honestly and with integrity with you and you attack them or shame them, they will inevitably think twice about being honest in the future, thus leading to increased deception. So how are you receiving your partner’s honesty? Are you being reactive instead of responsive? Are you being a martyr? Acting above? Playing victim? If so you may actually be encouraging your partner’s lie telling. The BIGGEST self deception that occurs in relationships is the belief that we are victims and not contributors in the distress.

Truth telling is a collaborative process, so always stay AWARE of your participation in what goes on in your relationship. Ask yourself “what would be required of me to bring more honesty to our partnership?”, “What can I do that would make my partner glad to be with me?”, “How can I be in order to increase ease and fluency in our communication?”. Come clean when you need to, and work towards being willing to SEE and BE SEEN, HEAR and BE HEARD by and with and for each other.

According to Bader and Pearson, THE ABSOLUTE FOUNDATION OF MAKING A RELATIONSHIP WORK IS NOT LOVE IT IS TRUST. Explore this, meditate on it, discuss it, play with it, reject it, embrace it, and notice. Notice how you react and respond.

Come clean with grace and generosity. When you become aware of a place in which you have not been totally honest with your partner, do not rush into confession. There is an art to everything, confessions included. If you are going to express a difficult truth, give your partner a loving heads up. Telling lies/not telling the truth can feel so shaming and heavy that there is a tendency to want to unload quickly and release the guilt as soon as you feel ready to share. This is not advised! It is as if you hit your partner with two arrows instead of one, stinging them once with your news, and second with the selfishness of your delivery. So SLOW DOWN (less in time, but more in tone). Say something like “Hey, I want to share something with you that isn’t easy for me to say”, and then verbally honor that your motivation in telling them the truth is to continue to build the trusting foundation you are both committed to creating in your relationship. This acts as a paradigm shifter- from ‘me and you’ to ‘us’, and helps facilitate your partner’s ability to hear the truth.

BE CURIOUS NOT FURIOUS- There is also an art to receiving truth telling. If your partner has shared something with you from a generous and couple centered place, it is good to remember to respond first with “I really appreciate your honesty”. Work together towards a place in which you can respond by staying curious, and saying “tell me more”. When and if you recognize ways in which you are either being a lie invitee, or having difficulty receiving your partner’s honesty, share this. Say something like “Honey, I am noticing that I have been doing such and such and that it might be making it hard for you to be honest with me”. By the mere fact of owning one’s contribution to the patterns, doors will open and fresh air will come into the relationship. You can also experiment together. Say “Look, I know that I have been reactive in the past, and I am really going to try to listen and hear you without demanding anything in this moment”. Then take turns! Give this platform a try and see if it eases or shifts any stuckness in your communication patterns.

Truth is a process and the key is to build a culture of truth telling in your partnership- Nobody is totally honest all of the time, but if you can start talking more openly about how to give and receive honesty before the nitty grittys come crawling out of the closets, the monsters from under the bed, those once upon a time white lies get revealed, it will make all the difference in the world. The more hiding you are doing the less vibrancy and energy is available for the relationship and for your life. So, create a container and a commitment together to being clear and direct, and don’t forget these two rhymes:




Reposted with permission from Neil Sattin and the Relationship Alive podcast.


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.

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1 year ago

Need help. Losing all my friends over my lying . Everyone now know I am not honest person. I have said to many lies and don’t know how to fix it and me.

1 year ago

Here’s an idea… Stop lying. Lying is a choice. Lying destroys trust. Our therapist says that lying is abuse. If you can not stop lying than you are an abuser, and should seek help to stop abusing people. Own your mistakes. Good luck.

1 year ago

I lied to a good friend about my age what do I do and how can I keep the friendship

1 year ago

I want to say a very big thanks and appreciation to Robinson.buckler for bringing back my lover who left i and the kids for almost two months. i am very much grateful to Robinson.buckler. I pray God almighty give you the strength and wisdom to help more people having similar problem like mine. for help you can reach him on his email address: robinson_bucler@ yahoo. com,, he is very powerful …

1 year ago

I lied to take the easy way out of relationship and begin a new one. That lied carried into my new relationship and imploded. I didn’t want to be more hurtful then I had to, but because of that, the hurt I am causing now is exponential to what it would have been if I had honest from the start. I now have lost all trust with the one I truly care about and working, hoping to get them back. The first step was admitting the truth, not to just them, but to myself, that I made these lies and I need to be more honest with myself. Telling myself that I need to change who I am, and I am working on that. It reads in this article not to rush into confession and the healing process, that is so true. I’m giving time, as much as a struggle as that is, I’m giving them time to process the truth. The second struggle is keeping emotions in check when your character, your intentions in your lies are questioned. It may feel like you are being attacked, but it’s not that they want to hurt you, but its them wanting to understand. I’m hoping that being honest, truthful to them, and also myself will help us build a stronger relationship, a stronger us.

Laura Blundo
Laura Blundo
1 year ago

Thanks so much for this! I am curious, how does emotional, psychological abuse play into this dynamic? If the spouse who is doing the lying, gas lighting, blame shifting (DARVO) – how is the partner a part of this dance?

10 months ago

If a boyfriend lies because he thinks you would be hurt from knowing that he spent time with his dying ex girlfriend overnight at the beach to be there for her as a friend…does that make him a caring guy? Or a liar and someone you cannot trust again?

9 months ago

Very glad I found this.
Had a “feeling” for years about my spouse.
Knew inside the truth.
The way it came out and the justification for lying drove me to find any resource to make sense of why people lie and how hard it is to leep the lie going on even for decades.

I want to heal myself and will continue to look for help.

5 months ago

I have lied to my husband since we first got together, and continued lying for the 17 years that we have been together. I always told myself that I was lying to protect him and to avoid making him angry. I thought that I was protecting my husband for the lies that I would tell. In reality once the walls caved in and the lies were started to be exposed, he felt betrayed. The fact that I keep lying makes things worse. I have always been a conflict avoider, so if I think something will upset him I will lie first. That makes things so much worse. He can’t trust me, and I don’t blame him. I don’t trust myself most of the time. I have tried most things to work on lying, but I always just go back to lying. I have ruined my marriage and even relationships with my children because of it. If I am not lying I shut down because I am not good with handling my husband’s justifiable anger. I don’t want to be a liar the rest of my life, but it has become a habit so ingrained I am not sure how to change it.

3 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne

Hello Jeanne,
I am also going through this myself. You are lying because you know the reaction that you are going to expect from your spouse which is typically anger. So you avoid it. But i learned the hard way that regardless if he found out now or later he’s going to be bothered. However, the difference is coming clean with yourself. Not only feeling less guilty but he will get over it faster when you told him yourself rather than him finding out on his own.

Hilary Waters
Hilary Waters
2 months ago
Reply to  Dana

For relationship reunion, on getting back an ex lover after separation kindly GOOGLE DR AMIGO AN ONLINE LOVE SPELL CASTER TO REVIEW HIS ARTICLE

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