Sometimes people are in a relationship with somebody they suspect of lying. The big lie, of course, is that they’re cheating. Recent research shows that cheating is on the rise among both men and women. In fact, men and women today cheat at about the same rates.
There are numerous articles that advise people on how to tell if their partner is lying to them. Almost all of them say that you can tell if somebody is lying if you check out their body language—that is their facial expression, their tone of voice or the position of their head.
Pamela Meyer, who wrote the book, Liespotting, is one of the most recent experts to advocate studying their partner’s body language in order to tell if they are lying. In an interview, she points to common signals such as the use of formal language in denying something. They will say, “I did not,” instead of “I didn’t.” Attitude can also be a clue; impatience, irritation or anger at being questioned may be a sign of lying.
Meyer asserts that lying is ingrained in the culture of online personas, slanted media and spam emails, so that we are surrounded by deception. Hence, we are conditioned to feel it is all right to lie. “We are all liars,” she says. It is easy to think that telling a lie is harmless, Meyer adds, but evidence shows that continually telling lies leads us down a “slippery slope” as we become accustomed to it and are unconscious that we’re doing it. Being unconscious of lying results in problems in our relationships.
The more we lie the more we need to lie. This causes us to come up with bigger and bigger lies and to feel all right about it. A common big lie is the lie of omission: not telling your partner about the fact that you are cheating. Simply cheating and not telling about is a big lie in and of itself, even though we have never been asked about it or denied it. Meyer suggests we carefully study our partner’s nonverbal and body language to decipher a lie.
However, in my own informal research, I have found that the chief obstacle to being aware when somebody is lying to us is our own tendency to want to believe. When we are having a personal relationship with somebody, we don’t want to believe that this important person is lying to us. If we believe that somebody is lying to us, we have to give up believing in the relationship. We have to give up believing that the person loves us. We have to give up believing in our own capacity to judge that person or to trust. So we strongly want to believe them. We don’t want to give up in the relationship.
This is a lot to give up. Therefore, the first tendency when somebody lies to us is to want to believe the person. Even though the telltale signs are there—a certain irritation in the voice, a facial expression in which the eyes are shifting and body language of the hands fiddling—you don’t pay attention to that. Everything inside you is urging you to believe, lest trust and the relationship go out the window.
This is why people don’t listen to their friends or relatives when they advise them not to believe their loved ones. The stronger those friends or relatives reiterate their objections to the loved one, the more you want to defend them. Suddenly you’re fighting with your friends and relatives because you’re angry at them for suggesting a truth you don’t want to face. You’re taking out the anger at them, rather than confronting the person who made you angry. It’s called “displacement,” in psychoanalysis.
So how can you get out of this rut? It is not an easy thing to do. We can’t simply will ourselves to be in touch with something that’s in our unconscious.
In order to resolve this problem, we have to be in touch with our own feelings. When somebody is lying to us, it arouses a change in our feelings. A novelist might refer to it as a “sinking feeling,” and a psychologist might suggest a “fear response.” Pay attention to what you are feeling, rather than to what your partner is saying. If you are too ready to believe what your partner is saying, you are being affected by a reaction formation. You want to believe the opposite of what you should believe. You want badly to believe that your partner is telling the truth, despite what you are feeling down deep.
You will go out of your way to lie to yourself in order to protect what you feel is the integrity of your relationship. For example, you will dismiss a friend’s conviction that your partner is lying and think to yourself, “she’s jealous that I have a good relationship.” If we don’t want to know something, we will go all out not to know it.
If you are under the sway of these unconscious feelings, it will be hard for you to pay attention to telltale signs your partner is lying. That’s why the first thing you will need to do is become aware of your own feelings. You’ll need to train yourself to pay attention to these feelings, even though you have a strong tendency not to pay attention to them. It will take practice. It will take a lot of practice.
You will have to be ready to lose everything, in order to gain everything.