Everybody knows about the liar: the person who lies through his teeth, covers his tracks, or acts evasively. But few are aware of the person working behind the scenes, orchestrating the deception even as they’re demanding to hear the truth. We call this individual the “lie invitee,” the forgotten partner in marital deception. For indeed, it often takes two to lie.
The lie invitee is unwilling to handle the truth. This may be a person who’s afraid that any truth will mean another jab at his self-esteem. Or this maybe someone who wants to run the show and refuses to allow anything-like what the other person wants-to interfere with her plans. Or this may be someone who fears having holes poked in the ideal fantasy of his partner (or of himself). He or she is often thin-skinned by temperament, with many sensitive areas that need guarding. This tendency may derive in part from personal history. Frequently, someone who attempts lies grew up in a family that tolerated manipulation and evasion and neither sought nor encouraged the full truth.
Some people are completely unaware of the fact that they’re invoking lies, while others understand what they’re doing but feel helpless to do otherwise. On the unconscious end, someone may say, “I’m only expressing my feelings as a reaction to what my partner is telling me” with the implication that this doesn’t affect the other partner at all. Someone more aware may think, “I know I overreact to things I don’t want to hear or I know this is a leading question.”
The lie invitee isn’t commonly recognized because in part the defining behavior can be subtle or difficult to explain. The concept goes unnoticed because the person often isn’t aware of what he’s doing. Just as people want to think they speak truthfully, people want to believe they elicit truth. The lie-inviting behavior is a reflexive response. Feeding the lie invitee lies can become automatic as well. We want to raise your awareness of what may trigger deception in your marriage so that you can identify and interrupt the cycle.
Meet the typical lie invitee. This is a person who claims to want the truth but who, through tone of voice, expression and posture, is doing everything he/she can to drive a mate underground. She says she wants an honest answer, but she really wants her mate to give back to her what’s in her script. The lie invitee will say, “Tell me again, where were you last night?” Judging by words alone, this could be a request for further clarification, but nonverbal cues will suggest he implicit meaning. “I’m giving you another chance to come up with an explanation that I can accept and handle.”
We worked with one woman who would lie down in the middle of he driveway and outright dare her boyfriend to run her over if he really wanted to leave the house. Usually tantrums were milder, with mere crying and whining when he told her he wanted more time alone or to be with his friends. But just knowing that she was capable of serious emotional outbursts made him very cautious about speaking up when he wanted time alone.
More subtle but almost as potent is withdrawal: pouting, not speaking, and refusing to acknowledge the other person until he takes back or atones for what he said. Never underestimate the power of the silent treatment. It’s a sure way to encourage your partner to deceive you. No one likes being shut out, so people will hedge about the truth and recant things they said that were honest so they don’t have to suffer the indignity of having that door slammed in their face again. People will do a lot to avoid being met with icy glares.
The irony is that it’s not the truth itself that causes the problem, but rather the partner’s emotional response to it. The lie invitee’s reaction can set up a whole new series of lies. This dynamic is at the heart of much dishonesty in marriage. Sometimes one partner does most of the lying and the other most of he inviting. Sometimes the two alternate positions, like two players switching offense and defense. But nobody is locked into either position. Both can make the opportunity to step outside and blow the whistle once they understand what the psychological duet is doing to their marriage.
Excerpted from Tell Me No Lies: How to Face the Truth and
Build a Loving Marriage by Ellyn Bader, Ph.D. and Peter Pearson, Ph.D.