One morning, not long ago, I overheard a conversation between the host of NPR's "Morning Edition" and some distinguished law professor from one prestigious university or another—you know the drill.
The two were bantering back and forth about the meaning of the word "truth." Up until now, the word has always been understood to mean any thing or event that actually happened. Apparently, truth's ratings have been sagging; Donald Trump wants to give the word a sorely-needed makeover.
In the 2003 movie "Something's Gotta Give," Harry (played by Jack Nicholson) and his love interest, Erica (played by Diane Keaton), are struggling to create a meaningful connection with one another. Harry, a long-time womanizer with questionable integrity, explains that he has never lied to Erica. Instead, he has always told her "some version of the truth." In response, Erica snaps back, "The truth does not have versions!” Indeed, until about a month ago, it did not.
If The Administration has its way with us, the definition of "truth" will stretch to include opinions or ideas that, when emphatically stated over and over again, are accepted as fact, regardless of their veracity. If the public buys this new-and-improved rendition of truth, as a psychotherapist, I cannot help but wonder about the impact this will have on our intimate relationships.
I am often enlisted to provide individual and couples counseling for those whose lives have been shattered by dishonesty. People lie or keep secrets about all sorts of things: history, fidelity, spending, addictive behavior and, in extreme cases, even their identities.
Whether big or small, I have found all lies have one thing in common: they forge distance between ourselves and our intimates. A lie is a carefully built wall that neither we nor others can scale.
The basis of meaningful connection is shared reality. If I see a dog and you see a fish, any conversation we have about this animal will be meaningless. A lie renders impossible the shared experience upon which trust and intimacy are predicated.
Why, when given a choice between closeness and distance, do some of us choose the latter? I think it happens for several reasons.
Lies are exponential: we must continue to tell them to keep truth hidden. This can get tricky so most skilled liars tell partial truths to avoid slipping up. Partners may get some of the “who, what, where, how, when, and why" of a story but any detail that threatens to topple the house of cards will be withheld.
No matter how adept any of us are at deception, it is in only the rarest of cases that the truth remains indefinitely hidden. Truth demands to be told. Lying forfeits our jurisdiction over how and when this happens. We may think we've done a sufficient job in covering our tracks but it is only a matter of time before we forget to minimize the screen before our lover enters the room, log out of a secret email account, or are spotted by a co-worker or neighbor doing something we shouldn't be doing.
We avoid the truth to prevent suffering but, in so doing, end up creating far more of it. Instead of grieving only the pain of a difficult truth, the deceived is humiliated over having played the lead role in a story without full access to its script. Additionally, those who have been betrayed suffer tremendous doubt. Doubt of themselves for misplacing their trust and doubt about where the line between fact and fiction existed their relationship.
In the aftermath of betrayal, the two most common questions I hear in therapy are “Will I (we) get past this?” and “How long will it take?” We will explore the answers to these questions in Part Two of this series. So stay tuned.
In the meantime, has deception played a role in any of your past or present relationships? If so, what did you do about it? Feel free to share your thoughts anonymously in the comments section below.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Has your relationship been torn apart by betrayal? Schedule a free consultation to find out how couples therapy or counseling can put you on the road to recovery!
2/18/2017 04:19:48 pm
Thank you for writing about this. I am one of the "rare" cases. Found a secret email account revealing mountains of lies: secret credit cards, gambling, sex addiction. Turns out, I married a total stranger. We tried to work it out but we were just too far gone. Am curious to read Part Two, about whether people can move past the lies. And how they do it. Thanks again, B
2/21/2017 12:30:40 pm
This is a great article Dr. Jill! It made me think about which of the 4 lying-motivator catagories our president fits into....and about which ones I fit into when I've pushed the truth. #4 is fairly common in the business world and this is where Mr. T comes from.
2/23/2017 06:23:52 pm
Indeed, Roo. These motivations are not mutually exclusive; I suspect all apply to Mr. T.
3/6/2017 02:16:57 am
Excellent article, I am right now in the process of clarifying my rights in a work situation where the other party has neglected to tell me about information that is vital to me as well as lying about other circumstances. This was a partnership i trusted would do the right thing and I woke up to a completely different reality. It has been incredibly painful, I have felt a lot of anxiety and confusion. But in the end truth and facts cannot be hidden. And just as you say in the end continuous self-deceit leads people not only to lose respect for themselves but also for others. Understanding that makes it possible to not expect respectful behavior from those who choose to lie or not disclose information hiding truth that way. To say the least this has been a great lesson, that I wished that I did not had to learn.
3/6/2017 07:03:48 am
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Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.