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Is It Ever OK to Lie to Your Spouse?

Why even those little fibs can hurt your relationship

En español | Have you ever told your husband that you’re finishing up some office work when you’re really checking Facebook?

Or guys, have you ever told your girlfriend that the lawn mower was out of gas because you just didn’t feel like mowing the lawn?

See also: Got a sex or relationship question? Ask Pepper!

Pepper Schwartz: couples lie to each other. Do you?

Experts believe most people lie in a relationship to avoid confrontation. — Photo by Gems/Getty Images

If so, you’re not alone: According to a nationwide relationship survey I recently helped conduct, the vast majority of people in committed relationships (married, living together or otherwise) — as many as 75 percent — admitted that they regularly lie to a significant other.

We’re not talking here about couples in conflict or partners who are cheating on one another. We’re talking about dishonesty as a way of life for couples that otherwise seem steady.

Can’t we all just get along?

Personally, I was shocked to see how widespread lying is in good relationships, and I’ve thought long and hard about why this is so. My conclusion: The dishonesty is usually rooted in the desire to avoid confrontation.

Consider some of the things people told us they had lied about: Many men said they had misled their spouses about where they were and what they were doing. And it wasn’t because they were in the arms of another woman. Some men told their wives that they were on their way home, when in fact they were still working at their desk. Others told partners they were stopping by a hardware store when they had actually stopped to have a beer with a buddy.

Big lies? No. But lies nonetheless.

Women admitted to misrepresenting their whereabouts, too. Coffee with a friend for an hour was actually a full afternoon — and maybe drinking something a little stronger than coffee. Many women also copped to lying about the cost of a purchase. Maybe they told a spouse they bought an expensive dress “for next to nothing” or that their fancy haircut was half what they actually paid.

People tell me they fib like this because they want to keep the peace in a relationship. So I suppose you could say that these white lies are harmless — and to some extent that’s true. But what troubles me is that dishonesty can easily become a habit. And partners may then find themselves lying about more significant issues — and that can get in the way of a healthy relationship built on mutual understanding. Even more important: I believe that if you are totally truthful with your partner — as in no lying, at all — you will be better able to communicate more deeply and build true intimacy.

If both partners can establish what is important in their relationship (not overspending, for example, or not devoting too much time to work) and allow one another to have sufficient personal space and time, far fewer lies will be told. The end result will be much more open communication and negotiation. Instead of dodging the issues, dealing with them head on usually leaves both partners feeling that they have a strong, resilient bond.

Of course all this is predicated on being able to disagree in a constructive way. If a partner is unreasonable or has anger management issues, a lie is an understandable and reasonable way to avoid a combustible situation. But wouldn’t it be better to face the anger issues head on and get some help from a professional if necessary?

I know life isn’t easy and there are complex reasons for why people deceive. But it’s worth thinking about what these lies cost you in terms of having a better, deeper, more intimate relationship. Honesty is the best policy — maybe not always, but that old saying is far more often right than wrong.

You may also like: How to communicate with your spouse. »

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