How to Tell If Your Spouse Is Lying

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Nearly everyone lies from time to time, and lying out of consideration may even help protect someone else’s feelings or keep stability in your relationship. However, excessive or destructive lying can irreparably harm your relationship with your spouse.

So, how can you tell if or when your spouse is lying? Spotting a liar isn't easy. Your own suspicions can get in the way of getting to the truth. Know the signs that you are being lied to, and what you can do if you think your spouse is lying to you.

Why People Lie In Relationships

People choose to lie for many underlying reasons. These can range from well-intentioned and benign to a deliberate attempt to cause pain. Reasons for lying might include:

  • Trying to protect someone else's feelings
  • Avoiding conflict, embarrassment, or having to face the consequences of their behavior
  • Fear of rejection or losing their spouse
  • Hiding something they did or did not do
  • Maintaining control of a situation
  • Making themselves look good, or more successful, special, or talented than they really are
  • Postponing having to make changes in lifestyle

While people might tell lies as a way to protect their partner’s feelings or to avoid conflict, these and other lies still cause problems in a relationship by decreasing trust and intimacy.

Signs of Lying

While it can be helpful to know some of the typical signs of lying, it's also easy to misunderstand such behaviors. In fact, one study found that people were only able to accurately detect lying 54% of the time in a lab setting. So if you believe someone is lying, you only have a 50 /50 chance of being right.

Since detecting a lie is not always easy or straightforward, don't count on these signs to identify lying. Just because someone displays some of the following behaviors, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they're lying.

  • Avoiding eye contact, eyes glancing to the right, staring past you, or turning away from you while talking
  • Being hesitant
  • Being vague, offering few details
  • Body language and facial expressions don't match what is being said, such as saying "no" but nodding the head up and down
  • Continual denying of accusations
  • Crossing arms or legs
  • Defensiveness
  • Differing behaviors such as not acting in the usual way
  • Inconsistencies in what is being shared
  • Lack of finger-pointing
  • Lack of many pronouns while talking
  • Lack of use of contractions, emphasizing "not" when talking
  • Partial shrug
  • Perspiring on the brow if it isn't a warm day
  • Placing a barrier such as a desk or a chair in front of self
  • Playing with hair
  • Providing more information and specifics than is necessary or was asked for
  • Rigidity or fidgeting
  • Saying "no" several times
  • Slouching posture
  • Smugness
  • Stalling the conversation by repetitive use of pauses and comments like "um" or "you know"
  • Touching chin or rubbing brows
  • Unnatural or limited arm and hand movements
  • Unusual calmness
  • Unusual voice fluctuations, word choice, sentence structure
  • Unwillingness to touch spouse during a conversation
  • Use of word fillers or evasive answers when on the telephone

It's possible to mistake nervousness, distraction, or lack of eye contact for lying, This may result in misreading or mislabeling your spouse's behaviors. Nonverbal clues to lying can be difficult to spot and vary from individual to individual.

Scientists even have conflicting views about this topic. Some researchers state that eye movement is not a good predictor of lies, for example.

Impact of Lying in a Relationship

Some lies may seem harmless, and the occasional lie is probably inevitable (especially in the case of white lies or lies of omission). But even little, infrequent lies can add up to distrust and other relationship problems.

  • Decreased trust: If your partner keeps telling lies, it can have a direct impact on trust. The more lies they tell, the less you trust them or have faith in their honesty.
  • Lower intimacy: Intimacy requires emotional vulnerability, which can become nearly impossible without a foundation of trust and honesty.
  • Diminished compassion and empathy: Lying makes it harder to detect someone's emotions, which in turn, can diminish the compassion and empathy you feel toward that person.
  • More lies and deception: One study found the brain can adapt to dishonesty. In other words, the more someone lies, the more their brain gets used to lying.

How to Deal With a Lying Spouse

If you suspect that your spouse is being dishonest, there are steps you can take to respond with compassion for both your partner and yourself.

  • Rely on your instincts. It's important to trust your intuition. Your gut reaction may be more accurate than trying to identify stereotypical behaviors often associated with lying such as fidgeting and lack of eye contact.
  • Set healthy expectations for honesty. For example, expecting your spouse to tell you exactly where they are and what they are doing at every minute of the day is an unreasonable request. Making it may perpetuate lying.
  • Pause to think before responding to what your partner is telling you. When your partner is relaying what you think to be a lie, take a brief moment before you answer. This will give you a moment to process any of your spouse's lying patterns and keep you from responding impulsively.
  • Ask direct questions or challenge what your spouse is saying. A 2008 study suggests asking for eye contact and then requesting that the story be told in reverse. Lying takes a considerable amount of effort, so if you ask your spouse to retell their story out of chronological order, cracks in the story and other behavioral indicators may be easier to spot.

Should You Confront a Lying Spouse?

Some experts believe that the sooner the cards are all out on the table, and the sooner honesty is lived out once again in a partnership, the better.

However, you may also consider waiting until you have discovered more information and facts before confronting your spouse with your suspicions. Only you know what is most comfortable for you and what is best for your specific situation.

Should You Forgive Your Partner?

Whether or not you forgive your partner for lying is a highly individual choice that may depend on their past pattern of behavior as well as how much harm was caused by the lie. Similarly, only you can decide how much lying is acceptable in your relationship. Certainly, it is more difficult to forgive a spouse for infidelity than it is for lying about going to happy hour with coworkers.

Keep in mind, however, that holding a grudge can chip away at your well-being and relationship, so do your best to communicate your hurt and eventually accept the lie. Forgiving your spouse doesn't mean that you condone the lying or hurtful behavior.

If you are struggling with problems caused by lying in a relationship, consider marriage counseling. Even if your spouse won't go with you, talking to a marriage counselor can help you come to terms with the lying and help you let go and forgive so you can move on.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I learn to trust my spouse after they lied to me?

It will take time and effort on the part of you and your spouse. Rebuilding trust and getting your relationship back on track often starts with being honest about the underlying cause of betrayal and committing to forgiving your partner.

Is lying a type of abuse?

It depends on why your spouse is lying. People who engage in emotional abuse often lie as a way to control and manipulate their partner. For example, lying is often a big part of gaslighting, which is a form of manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships.

What should I do if my spouse accuses me of lying?

If the accusation is false, you may want to consider why your spouse suspects you of lying. Are they insecure in your relationship? Has your level of intimacy changed recently? Are they gaslighting you, or cheating themselves? Figuring out the why can help guide you to decide what to do next.

A Word From Verywell

While some lying is normal, and can serve as a way to keep the peace or avoid hurting the other person’s feelings, trying to cover up actions or telling repeated lies can undermine a relationship. The bottom line: Honesty is a healthier approach for a happy marriage.

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