Suppose you suspect that someone is lying or discover evidence of this. What do you do? The way to respond can vary, depending on the seriousness of the lie, your relationship with the person, whether you suspect or have hard evidence, or what the consequences might be if you confront the liar to show that you suspect the lie or know the truth.
Suppose you have noticed a pattern of behavior that suggests lying, such as a change in a person’s behavior or schedule. At first, you might believe the explanations, but if those changes in behavior continue, so you become increasingly suspicious, one possible response is to confront the suspected liar with your growing evidence of lying and cheating. However, before you do so, consider the possible consequences of confronting the liar or exposing the lie. For example, doing so lead to guilty apologies and end the duplicity, or it could lead the person who has been lying to take more steps to better conceal the lie. Or the ensuing fight after the confrontation could end the relationship.
Do you want to take the risk of such a confrontation? Not everyone does, which is why people sometimes choose to not confront a suspected lie. They have their suspicions but are afraid of bringing what they suspect to the surface. They don’t want to create uproar in their relationship, so they don’t say anything as long as the suspected affair continues quietly and discreetly. This way they aren’t humiliated or embarrassed by what’s going on. They feel they would rather preserve the relationship than endure a separation, sometimes to protect any kids who are involved.
Then, too, a person may not want to confront a suspected liar and cheater, because they hope they can do something to make things better to improve their relationship. And sometimes such actionst can make a big difference, because after the glow of the honeymoon fades and the partners face a day-to-day ordinary reality, an affair offers a chance to get away from that. So often, the cheating has occurred not because the person doesn’t love their partner anymore, but because he or she loves the partner in a different way, since the excitement of a new committed relationships naturally starts to dissipate after months or years of living together. So sometimes the victim of cheating can find ways to make life more exciting or bring back that early magic to save the relationship – either after having a discussion about the cheating or without saying anything about it.
Yet, while improving the relationship can be one positive outcome of bringing the cheating into the open, many times a confrontation forces the cheater to chose between the partner and lover at a time when he or she is having the affair because he or she feels angry or trapped by the partner, which could lead to a breakup the victim doesn’t really want. On the other hand, once confronted, the cheater might want to restore the love in the relationship, and sometimes forgiving is a way to do this, though often victims feel they can never forgive or accept the person back.
Still another response of some victims of cheating is to feel he or she can do it, too, either secretly or by an agreement to now have an open relationship. Sometimes having an open relationship may work for some couples, which sometimes starts after one partner discovers another cheating, though some couples start off a relationship with such an agreement. In either case, the partners have an understanding that as long as the cheating is done discreetly, so no one is embarrassed by a public revelation of an affair, they will accept it for each other. Or as long as any public revelation blows over, it can cease to be a problem for the couple.
Then, too, sometimes victims of lying and cheating delay a confrontation, since they feel the this behavior will go away by itself, and sometimes this does happen. Thus, sometimes, letting things lie could be a better way in dealing with a lie than trying to bring it out in the open. Then, the problem might simply just go away. Yes, there has been a betrayal; but exposing the betrayal could be worse, and in those cases, it can be better to stay silent and let the problem pass.
Another big consideration is the personality of the person who is lying and the nature of your relationship with them. In PLAYING THE LYING GAME, I have described what I call the “continuum of lying” where people vary in how honest they are and the degree to which they tell lies about different things. While some people tend to fall on the low end of the scale, because they are usually honest, others with high scores tend lie frequently, when they think it is in their best interest to lie. So that can affect how you respond if you catch your partner in a lie – whether the lie is out of character, suggesting a more serious betrayal, or is part of a pattern of frequent exaggeration and lies, so you expect lying as a common occurrence and thus less serious.
For instance, if you marry somebody who has been playing around and you think you’re going to rein them in but don’t, their lying and cheating is part of an already established pattern, and it may have little emotional affect for them. By contrast, if you find someone who has just cheated for the first time, it could be a more serious thing, because usually there’s an emotional connection with the lover that has caused the person to stray. In the first case, it’s more like the person is more likely to be playing the field without any emotional ties to their changing partners, because that’s just the way they are. So some partners learn to live with that, as long as their mate or significant other is discrete.
Each situation is different in affecting whether you confront the person about the lie, check out your suspicions further, or look the other way.
Gathering more evidence can sometimes be helpful, before you have a confrontation, since it can give you time to decide what to do as well as feel more solid if you do decide to have a confrontation, so your partner will be more apt to acknowledge the lie rather than attempt another false explanation. For example, say someone suspects a partner is walking out the door at odd hours of the night for a secret tryst. He or she may put a little thread across the lower part of the door to see if it’s broken in the morning. They may also become more observant generally to see if their suspicions are confirmed, without letting their partner know that they’re checking up on them.
However, you have to be careful to do any checking discretely, because if discovered, such checking can create other conflicts in the relationship, whether or not your suspicions are valid. For example, if you hire a private detective or look in other people’s journals, diaries, and emails, you’re breaching somebody’s privacy, and if you’re discovered, that can contribute to a breakdown in the relationship, perhaps even more so than your partner’s initial cheating. This situation is much that where the parents look in their child’s journal, because they suspect their kid is doing drugs. Well, maybe the kid is doing drugs, but the discovery that one’s privacy is invaded creates an even more serious blow-up and rupture in the relationship.
Thus, in general, it is better not to engage in such extreme breaches of privacy to gain evidence, such as hiring someone to follow a suspected liar. Generally, a better way of bringing the lie to the surface is to talk to the person in a non-confrontational way to encourage an admission and discussion, rather than having a direct confrontation, which can lead the other person to become defensive or attack back to put the blame for any breakdown in the relationship on you. For example, if you tell someone: “I’ve found these telephone records which show who you were really calling,” you are coming on like a cop or prosecutor, so the other person gets defensive. By contrast, if you start the discussion in a general non-confrontational way, you open the door to an honest and open discussion.
For instance, at breakfast or dinner, you might lead into a discussion by saying, “We haven’t been talking a lot lately, and maybe we need to do something to bring the magic back into our relationship.” It might even be best not to refer to your belief that your partner has been cheating on you with somebody else. Or you might gently let the other person acknowledge what’s going on by a probing question stated in a neutral way, such as: “I know things haven’t been right between us lately, but I’d like to try to work things out. Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
In short, if you want to bring the lie out into the open, do so in a way where you’re more accepting and let your partner apologize and take the lead and admitting what he or she wants to admit. This way, even if you feel hurt or angry, you take the expression of these emotions out of the interaction, so you can both more calmly discuss what is wrong and what to do about it. Thus, be open and receptive and create a safe space for the person to acknowledge the lie, without your immediately jumping on them and accusing them of being a bad person. By being more accepting and forgiving, you encourage the person to come forward and clarify what’s going on, and you set the stage for repairing the relationship.
Then, once the truth is out in the open, it depends on the relationship as to what happens after that. Even if the relationship doesn’t survive, you have more of an opportunity to come out from it with some dignity and friendship with your partner, which can be especially important if you have kids or have had a business relationship, which might continue even though the personal relationship does not.
Copyright Gini Graham Scott 2010