How to Tell If Your Spouse Is Lying

signs someone is lying

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

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 and when your spouse is lying? Detecting a lie 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.

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Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychologist Paul Ekman aka "the human lie detector" shares why people lie and how to tell if someone is lying. Click below to listen now.

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Why People Lie In Relationships

People choose to lie for many underlying reasons. Their reasons for lying may be well-intentioned and benign—or they could be deliberate attempts to cause pain. Reasons for lying might include:

  • 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
  • Trying to protect someone else's feelings

While someone might tell lies as a way to protect their partner’s feelings or to avoid conflict, these and other lies still can 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, while you may believe someone is lying, it can be difficult to know for sure.

Detecting a lie is not always as easy or straightforward as noticing unusual body language or behavior. However, the following are signs that could possibly be present if someone isn't telling the truth or they are withholding information:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Being vague, or offering few details
  • Body language that is contradictory (such as saying "no" but nodding their head up and down)
  • Body language that is unusual (like fidgeting, rigidity, rubbing brow, playing with hair, or slouching)
  • Continual defensiveness or denying of accusations
  • Evasive answers or inconsistencies in what they say
  • Perspiring on the brow
  • Placing a barrier such as a desk or a chair in front of self
  • Providing more information or specifics than is necessary or was asked for
  • Saying "no" several times
  • Smugness
  • Stalling the conversation
  • Unusual calmness
  • Unusual voice fluctuations
  • Unwillingness to touch spouse during a conversation

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

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, including:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lower intimacy: Intimacy requires emotional vulnerability, which can become nearly impossible without a foundation of trust and honesty.
  • 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. But expecting honesty about their plans when they leave the house or when you periodically check in is usually reasonable.
  • 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. Use the time to process any of your spouse's lying patterns and keep yourself 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 when you think a person may be lying. 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 uncovered 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—including the potential consequences of the accusation and confrontation.

Should You Forgive Your Partner?

Whether or not you forgive your partner for lying is a highly personal choice that may depend on your partner's past pattern of behavior as well as how much harm was caused by their 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 co-workers.

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. 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.

When to Leave a Lying Spouse

A small amount of lying is common in romantic relationships. For instance, your partner might leave out details about a past relationship. Or, when you ask them if they are attracted to someone, they may say "no" even when they really are. It's not unusual for people to downplay certain things in order to keep peace in their relationships.

What's important is that you and your partner are on the same page about what constitutes a damaging lie. One study found that people are likely to project their own beliefs onto their romantic partners. So, it's important to take some to reflect on what your boundaries are when it comes to misinformation in your relationship.

Once you know your own boundaries, talk about them with your partner. Do you both agree on what it means to deceive the other? What information is non-negotiable? What is unacceptable to be dishonest about?

It might be time for the relationship to end if you and your partner don't agree on the type of information that is necessary to share honestly with one another.

You may also ask yourself: Am I giving my partner enough space to share information with me? If they try to be truthful with you, but you criticize or reject them, you might be making it harder for them to share things in the future.

When you set boundaries in relationships, it's important to set consequences. If your partner has continuously lied to you, let them know that you'll find it difficult to remain in a relationship with them if they continue this behavior. If they continue lying, it's important to follow through on the consequence.

If your partner doesn't express remorse for lying, for hurting your feelings, or they show no willingness to change or seek help for their behavior, you might seriously consider ending the relationship.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    Rebuilding trust and getting your relationship back on track often starts with being honest about the underlying cause of the betrayal and committing to forgiving your partner. But it also requires effort on your partner's part to show a willingness to take responsibility for the lies and make an effort to change their behavior.

  • Is lying a type of abuse?

    It depends on why and how 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.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.