Why People Lie
Why do people lie, especially to those they love?
Lying is a technique that is used to influence, control and manipulate other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Lying comes naturally, and most of the time, it happens with little awareness, effort, or thought. In fact, children start lying, quite effectively, early in life. And as adults, people continue to lie.
Not only is lying fairly common, but it can take several different forms. On occasion, people will tell a bold-faced lie. That is, say something that is explicitly not true. Most of the time, however, lying is best accomplished by what is left unsaid – a lie of omission. In this case, speakers leave out critical information (usually about who, what, where, when, or why) while leading hearers to believe that the complete story is being told. As Benjamin Franklin so keenly noted, “Half the truth is often a great lie.”
So why do people lie, especially to those they love?
Lying is typically motivated by one or more of the following factors:
Lying is often used to avoid punishment or possible rejection. If a spouse or romantic partner is going to react poorly to the truth, generally speaking, people try to hide or conceal the truth. By nature, people are designed to avoid harm and punishment, even if individuals have to lie in order to do so. Again, children pick-up this skill early in life and people continue to lie as adults.
Not only are people designed to avoid punishment, but people universally have a need for approval. Lying and deception are often used to create a favorable image or impression. People will go to great lengths, even using deception, if necessary, to create a positive image. Often this involves some self-deception as well – people start to believe their own false image is true.
Everyone needs some privacy – a sense of independence, autonomy, and freedom. People like to feel in control, especially when it comes to giving out information about one’s self. Just because you are in a close relationship does not mean that you have completely given up your right to, or need for, privacy. So, lying and deception are very useful when trying to maintain a sense of one’s self that is autonomous, independent, and private.
Couples rarely see eye-to-eye on every issue. And if couples were determined to (and some do), they could engage in never ending conflict on a range of issues. But, always engaging in conflict is damaging in any relationship. So, rather than argue about every issue that may come up, sometimes it is easier to avoid conflict by pretending to get along.
Whether people like to acknowledge it or not, power differences are present in every relationship. Power involves having control when it comes to decision making. And power often switches back and forth between partners depending on the issue at hand. For instance, one partner might have financial power, while another partner may have social power (control in social situations). As a general rule, the person who lacks power in any given situation is more likely to lie in order to influence the outcome. For instance, kids are more likely to lie to their parents, employees are more likely to lie to employers, and the same holds true in close relationships. The person, who lacks power, is more likely to lie in order to get what they want. Lying helps individuals even out power differences that may exist.