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The Truth About Lies

Don Miller on why you can't build a relationship on white lies, half-truths and manipulation.

I’ve only had two friends (that I know about) who’ve looked me in the eye and told me lies. Both of them were trying to cover up mistakes. I certainly had grace for their mistakes, but I’ve wondered looking back if I didn’t have grace for their lies. Neither of these two friends are in contact with me anymore. We don’t talk.

Being in a relationship with somebody who lies is tough. It’s not that you don’t love them or care about them; it’s just that you can’t connect. Without trust, there’s no relationship.

The reasons for—and consequences of—lying

Henry Cloud and John Townsend say people lie for one of two reasons. The first is out of shame or fear. Somebody may believe they won’t be accepted if they tell the truth about who they are, so they lie. (You can see how religious communities that use shame and fear to motivate might increase a person’s temptation to lie, then.) People who lie for this reason can get better and learn to tell the truth. Until they do, however, it’s impossible to connect with them all the same.

The second kind of liar is less fortunate. Some people lie simply because they are selfish, but these liars are pathological. They will lie even when it would be easier to tell the truth. Cloud and Townsend warn we need to stay away from these people. (Personally, I think people like this are pretty rare, but I agree we simply can’t depend on them emotionally or practically.)

Still, I wonder if people who lie understand what they’re doing. I think some people want grace, and certainly they can get grace, but when we lie, we make the people we are lying to feel badly about the relationship and about themselves. We like people who make us feel respected, cared about and honored. Lying to somebody communicates the opposite.

Here are the things lies did to my two relationships (and what they often do in any deceitful relationship):
When my friends lied, I felt disrespected and unimportant. They didn’t seem to care about me or trust me enough to tell the truth. This made me feel bad about myself, as though I were not important or trustworthy enough to be told the truth.
When I found out the extent of one of the lies, I felt like a fool. Technically, my friend didn’t really lie. She just told me “part” of the truth. When I found out things were worse than she’d made them seem, I felt tricked and deceived. Again, without meaning to, she’d made me feel bad about myself because I felt like somebody who could be conned.
I thought less of my friends. I knew they were willing to “cheat” in relationships. When we lie, we are stealing social commodity without having earned it.
I felt sad and lonely. When we think we are getting to know somebody, we are giving them parts of our hearts. But when they lie, we know they’ve actually held back their hearts while we’ve been giving them ours. This made me feel lonely and dumb.
I felt like I couldn’t trust them. The only thing more important than love in a relationship is trust. Trust is the soil love grows in. If there’s not trust, there’s no relationship. Once trust is broken, it’s extremely hard to rebuild.

Recovering from deceit

For a liar to change, they need a lot of help. Lying is manipulation, so if a person is a manipulator and gets caught lying, they are most likely going to keep manipulating. They may tell more lies to cover their lies, or manipulate by playing the victim. They may try to find things other people have done that they see as worse and try to make people focus on that. What they will have a hard time doing is facing the truth—which would be the easiest way out of their dilemma.

If you’ve lied in a relationship, though, and are truly wanting to learn to live on the up and up, what can you do? Well, there’s plenty. Life isn’t over yet. Here are some places to start.

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Confess. And don’t half-confess (which is just another lie), but actually confess. This may take some time for you. You may have to sit down with a pen and paper and write it all down. Your mind will want to lie, but you have to tame your mind. It may take you some time to even understand what the truth really is. You’re going to feel ashamed and at risk, but you have to go there anyway. People are much more kind and forgiving than you think. And if they’re not, you should confess and find people who are more safe.
Accept the consequences. You’re going to have to pay for your lies. People will not and should not trust you as much as they did before. However, getting caught in a lie and confessing a lie are two different things. The former will cost you a bit, but you can rebuild quickly. The latter will cost you everything. From here on out, be willing to suffer the slight, daily consequences of telling the truth. You’ll be surprised at how much less tension there is in your life when you walk openly and honestly.
Don’t expect the relationship to be the same—but if the person doesn’t forgive you, just know you can move on. You’ve confessed and hopefully apologized, and you aren’t beholden to them anymore. They need to wrestle with forgiving you, and that’s now their burden. It’s an unfair burden, but we all have to face such things.
Don’t lie anymore. It’s not important that everybody like you or approve of you. Allow people to get used to who you are. Telling the truth may mean you don’t get to be in control anymore or that people won’t like you as much. That’s fine. At least they are interacting with the real you. The deep connections you’ll make from telling the truth are worth it.

This article was adapted from one that appeared on



Cliffcapehart commented…

Good article and I am a great admirer of Drs. Cloud and Townsend, there teachings have helped me tremendously through the years as a pastor. Because of my ministry positions I have had to deal with a lot of lying and cover ups over the years. The break down of trust is extremely painful when you add God and Faith into a relationship and then find out that the person or persons you thought truly valued your friendship only valued your title so they could make themselves feel more important by saying they hung out with you. What is even more difficult is when people say they value you like family and then they get caught lying to you over and over. I personally felt betrayed, belittled, foolish, dumb, sucker punched, and often mad. It was and still is difficult to understand why people would invest so much time into building friendships to then lie and destroy them.


frogster commented…

I don't think lying is quite that simple. Some people compulsively lie because a fantasy world is safer and more controllable than the real world. Often these people were victims of abuse or trauma at a very young age. We can not simply cast these people outside of our friendship circles because they lie. It is true that it is difficult to connect to these people or feel like one can actually share life, but you can experience life in the present with them -- you know that is real. I do think that you can't have a real relationship without some element of truth though.


Guest commented…

Doesnt this kind of reflect a selfish nature though? If someone lies to you, its strange to assume its all about you. People who lies like this arent seeking to make you feel betrayed, belittled, foolish, dumb, sucker punched or mad. They are protecting themselves for whatever reason. So yes, they are being selfish...but why is that any worse than any other sin? Are you constantly selfless? Surely you would be seeking to discover why these people fall back on a habit of lying (which has nothing to do with your relationship to them). There have been people in my life that lie and lie and lie and when i looked a little deeper it turned out there was a lot of abuse in their past, emotional and physical which they had developed habits of lying about to protect family members etc or to hide what a repulsive person they viewed themselves as.

Especially as a person in a ministry position you should be thinking less about "why is this happening TO ME." and more of "why is this happening AT ALL?"
Its interested how humanity's selfish nature warps this issue on both sides.



Cierra commented…

So true. My boyfriend lied to me about his past mistakes when we started dating. He did it because he knew where I stood on the issues and he didn't think i would have given him a chance and he didn't want to hurt me. Two days after he told me, he surrendered his life to God. But the truth is, I still have trouble believing everything he tells me. I think trust has to build itself back. I love him with all of my heart though so I am willing to take that time.

Elizabeth Hallman


Elizabeth Hallman commented…

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Depo Mepo

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