Charlie: To be perfectly honest, I am not always perfectly honest. Trying to look good or impress others, I have been known to tell exaggerated stories about my accomplishments. This habit didn’t instantly cease even after I decided to become a more honest person. While I rarely set out to be deliberately deceitful, at times old patterns get the best of me. Recently, I told Linda that I couldn’t take one of our cats to the vet because I was not going to be free during the afternoon. Later that evening I had an uncomfortable feeling, which I traced back to our conversation. Although it was true that I was busy that day, I could have easily altered my schedule to bring Shadow to the cat doctor. Rather than tell the truth and admit that I’d just rather not do it, or mildly inconvenience myself to accommodate Linda’s request, I
fudged it. A little later, I sorted it out in my mind. I confessed to Linda, who thanked me for being honest and said that she had sensed something was off because I seemed edgy at dinner.
Lies, no matter how small, always take their toll on the trust, goodwill, and respect in our relationships. The bad news is that most of us are likely to struggle with issues of deceit throughout our lives. The good news is that as we practice being conscious communicators, we become aware and less tolerant of our own dishonesty. The further good news is that in cleaning up our own act, we inspire others to do the same.
Whether you call it a justification, a rationale, a white lie, a fib, a half-truth, or an exaggeration, a lie is a lie is a lie. What makes something a lie is the intention. We lie whenever we make a deliberate effort to mislead others to gain some advantage. Examples of advantages that I have tried to gain by lying to Linda in the past are: avoiding the possibility of conflict; creating a favorable impression with her; maintaining the upper hand; and wanting to prove that I was good, honorable, superior, intelligent, competent, successful, or some combination of the above. The underlying intention of most of my lies has to do with trying to influence the way Linda perceives me in order to maintain some degree of control in our relationship. It is an attempt to shape the relationship in accord with my own desires. To justify this somewhat unworthy intention, I have to create a set of rationalizations (basically, excuses for dishonesty).
The consequences of dishonesty are always the same: feelings of guilt and anxiety and an increased mistrust of self and others. We lie to avoid the unpleasant consequences of telling the truth. We don’t want to look bad, feel bad, or upset others. Each time we use this form of avoidance we deepen our sense of being ill equipped to handle the truth, thus reinforcing a feeling of inner weakness. This leads to further deceit. Lying undermines the foundation of a relationship more than anything else. Finding the courage and commitment to confront the tendency to lie can add strength, love, and integrity to our marriage. Although it isn’t easy to break the habit of deceit, it is possible — even for those who have practiced subtle or not-so-subtle forms of it for years. The motivation for this work comes from seeing what we can gain by it. Setting foot on the path of integrity forever changes our lives for the better.