Amanda and Ron had been married for six years and had two small children. I had counseled them during some difficult times in their marriage, but had not heard from them for a while. Then Amanda scheduled an emergency phone session with me. She was very upset.
“I just found out that Ron’s been watching porno on the Internet and lying to me about it. I had thought this was going on a couple of weeks ago because of a site I found on the computer, but when I asked him about it, he denied it and explained it away. He is not too computer savvy – he doesn’t know how to delete the sites – and today I found a number of sites he has visited. I can’t believe this! I’m very upset about the porno, but I’m devastated that he lied to me! I feel like the trust has gone out of our marriage, and without trust, what do we have? Why did he lie to me?”
“Amanda, how would you have responded if he had told you the truth?”
“I would have been really upset and disappointed in him. I probably would have gotten angry. We have a good sex life, so why is he using porno?”
“Well, he lied to you because he knew that this is the way you would have reacted. His lying is his way of controlling your reactions, and your anger is your way of controlling his behavior. As long as you get angry when you hear the truth, the chances are he will lie to you. As your children get older, they, too, will lie to you to avoid your anger and judgment. It takes a very strong person to tell the truth and deal with another’s anger and judgment, and Ron is not that strong. He is very afraid of your anger and judgment and will do anything to avoid it, including lying.”
“Are you saying it’s okay for him to lie to me?”
“No, I’m not saying it’s okay or not okay. I’m not making a value judgment about it. You asked why he’s lying and I’m telling you why. Lying is just another form of protection against pain, just as your anger is a form of protection against pain.”
“So what do I do? How do I deal with this?”
“Amanda, you need to shift your intention from trying to control him to being open to learning about what is behind his behavior. From his point of view, there are some important reasons why he is using porno, and why he is lying about it. Trying to control him will only result in more lying and resistance, but wanting to learn can result in understanding and resolution. You need to approach him with caring and a desire to learn rather than with anger and judgment – about both the porno and the lying. You would need to say something like, ‘Ron, I know that you have been going to porno sites on the Internet. Please don’t lie about it anymore. I know there must be some good reasons you are doing this and I really want to understand what it’s about for you.’ However, you have to be aware that the words themselves are less important than the intent behind them. If you say these same words with anger and judgment, he will be defensive. Don’t ask until you feel genuinely open and caring.”
Lying is always a form of control. Some people are pathological liars, having learned that they get a rush from manipulating others with lies. But most people lie when they are afraid of the consequences of telling the truth. Lying may be one end of a relationship system, with anger and judgment on the other end. Whether the relationship is a primary one between mates or between parents and children, or a relationship between friends or between co-workers, lying may be a part of it when fear of anger and judgment is an issue. Most people do not know how to handle another’s anger and judgment and may revert to being the child they were when they learned to lie to their parents to avoid punishment.
If you want to trust that people are not going to lie to you, then you need to shift your intention in your relationships from controlling to learning.