While the term "compulsive liar" is not an official diagnosis, compulsive lying is recognized as a behavior that can be related to several mental illnesses or conditions.
In a 2012 scientific paper on trust in relationships, 100% of the participants reported feeling that trust was one of the most essential factors in a relationship. Trust in relationships can have many layers, and it may take time to fully trust someone based on their behaviors and the healthiness of the relationship. However, trusting someone and finding out they have been lying for years can be challenging for many. If you suspect you are married to someone who has been compulsively lying to you, you can proceed in a few ways.
What Is Compulsive Lying?
Compulsive lying is a behavioral pattern characterized by frequent dishonesty, often without a clear motive or purpose. Although many lies may be delivered to gain a benefit, compulsive or pathological liars may lie as a habit or struggle to tell the truth. In some cases, they may believe the lies they tell. Although compulsive lying is not recognized as a specific mental health condition, it can be considered a symptom of other conditions, including personality and mood disorders. No matter the cause, finding a mental health professional for support can be beneficial if you or a partner struggle with compulsive lying.
Compulsive lying often begins in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, but its presentation and motives can differ. Some individuals struggling with this compulsion may spend many years being dishonest with others, whereas others might be caught and continue struggling with lying patterns. When someone lies often, the people in their life may struggle to know when they are telling the truth, and trust may be challenging to achieve.
Although many people who lie compulsively may not have a reason for lying, others that lie often have motives surrounding their lies, such as a problematic past or a self-belief that makes them feel they can't be interesting, liked, or popular without making up stories. For some, lying may be a way to cover up unwanted behaviors or gain a job or group they wouldn't have been able to enter otherwise. Regardless of the reason for frequent lying, there are support options for those that lie and those impacted by lies.
How Is Compulsive Lying Treated?
Because compulsive lying is not a mental health condition, many people may think it cannot be treated with therapy. However, compulsive lying can be treated through various therapeutic modalities targeting behavior, and one does not need a mental illness to partake in treatment.
In some cases, compulsive lying may be a symptom of a mental illness like borderline personality disorder (BPD), antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), or bipolar disorder. However, it is not an "official" DSM-5 symptom, and it may be a behavior developed alongside other official symptoms as a coping mechanism. For example, someone living with BPD who fears abandonment may lie to convince someone to stay in a relationship. Regardless of the cause behind lying, support is available, and behaviors can be changed.
A therapist may work to address the underlying motivations behind compulsive lying. For example, if an individual's lies are primarily focused on themselves and the accomplishments they've "made," it may indicate that they feel self-conscious or unlovable. If someone lies about where they've been, it could suggest that they don't feel safe or trusting in relationships. However, in some cases, lying may be part of an abusive or unhealthy behavioral pattern. If you are in a relationship with someone that frequently lies and puts your safety or emotional and physical health in danger, it may benefit you to reach out for support.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
How Do You Know You're Married To Someone Who Lies Compulsively?
If you're married to someone you think may be lying to you compulsively, it can be challenging to maintain trust. You might feel that their lies are unfounded or that they could choose to tell the truth. Note that someone else's behavior is not a reflection of you, and you do not need to try to change it. However, long-term lying patterns can cause conflict in relationships, so bringing these behaviors to your partner as a concern may help you devise a plan together.
If you're unsure if your partner is lying, tell them you feel uncertain about specific topics they've brought up. You might also ask if they'd be open to therapy with you. Couples therapy can allow you to discuss your concerns in a safe environment with a neutral third-party present. Even if your partner is not ready to admit to lies or has shame about them, the therapist can help you open conversation in a non-judgmental way to get answers and express how their lies make you feel.
To know if your partner is lying to you, there may be a few signs you can look for, including the following:
A gut instinct that what they've said is a lie
Times, details, or names not adding up in a story they've told
Reports of continuous extenuating circumstances happening in their life
Avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, or looking nervous when telling specific stories
Defensiveness or aggression when lying is brought up
A busier or sudden "secretive" schedule
Defensiveness about their personal belongings, such as their phone, computer, or bills
Accusing you of lying when you bring it up (reflecting)
If you feel your partner is lying, do not resort to going through their belongings without consent. Science Daily states that going through your partner's phone may be associated with a relationship ending and losing trust. If you believe your partner is lying and refuse to admit it to you, it may be beneficial to end the relationship, go to couples therapy, or meet with an individual therapist to discuss healthy ways to find out the truth. Someone else's choice to not be honest is not a reflection on you.
In addition, there can be times when someone is not lying, and it seems they are. In these cases, talking to a professional may help you understand why you struggle to trust or what is causing their behavior to look suspicious. You may struggle with communication in the relationship or have fears from your past relationships that impact how you see your marriage now. Many possibilities could occur, so consider talking to a therapist.
How Can The Family Of A Compulsive Liar Seek Treatment?
Often, compulsive lying may impact the family of an individual. People with compulsive lying habits may lie about how their family treated them or how they grew up, which can affect a family's reputation. Family therapy can be beneficial in these cases. Compulsive lying often begins in childhood, so it may be a lifelong pattern that an individual's parents, siblings, or other family are aware of. A family therapist can help the family open a respectful dialogue with their loved one to incite change.
Many therapists study compulsive behaviors, and a type of family or couples therapy that may benefit those with lying habits is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In this type of therapy, clients can learn how their cognitive distortions (unhelpful thoughts and beliefs) impact their lying habits and relationships. In treatment, many clients can find hope and self-esteem and see that lying does not have to be a core part of themselves and can be separated into a behavior that can be treated. A commitment to growth, goal setting, and happiness may improve family life and romantic relationships.
Independent Treatment For Those Who Lie
Those experiencing lying compulsions may also benefit from independent therapy. While a support group, family therapy, or couples counseling can also be beneficial, lying patterns often grow from childhood experiences, personal beliefs, or thought patterns. Targeting the behavior itself may improve relationships. Therapists can use techniques like clickers, tracking journals, and other types of behavioral reinforcement to help clients know when they're lying. Pathological lying can be treatable if the client admits they have a problem and want to change.
Once the individual has entered therapy and has seen improvement, the entire family or the spouse may also join in therapy or set up an outside appointment to discuss progress and how they feel about the experience. Over time, bonds may be restored as the individual works to make amends and live a more honest life. Compassion on all sides can be beneficial during this process. Find a therapist that suits your mental health needs and can mediate during challenging conversations.
With time and a willingness to heal and move forward, families may learn more effective communication patterns, how to heal their pain, and how to let go of past wounds healthily. Relationships may sometimes need to be held at a distance to create safe and healthy boundaries. If your spouse is in treatment for lying, it can be healthy and okay to take a step back and acknowledge that you cannot control the behavior of a compulsive liar and are allowed to create some distance for yourself.
Is Therapy For Lying Effective?
Because the exact cause of pathological lying is unknown, outcomes vary from person to person. One study found that pathological lying might possess a physiological cause, as more people who struggled with the behavior had slightly below-average IQs and had previously experienced physical trauma, such as a blow to the head or epilepsy. In these cases, treating the physical source of the problem could alleviate some of the behavior.
Aside from physical intervention, the effectiveness of treatment may depend on whether a person notices their patterns, feels remorseful, or desires to improve. If someone is lying and thinks it is okay to do because they feel they should be able to have anything they want, that may be a sign of an unhealthy pattern. However, if someone feels remorseful, wants to change, and knows they are harming others, they may find rewards from treatment.
Some studies indicate that including pathological lying as a mental illness in the DSM-5 or ICD may help therapists study more effective ways to treat this behavior, as many clinicians reported meeting with clients who experienced it. Although this behavior is not currently considered a mental illness, it may give some traits with psychological addiction and dependencies like gambling addiction or compulsions like those of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Treatments oriented toward behavior and dependence may be beneficial in treating compulsive lying.
If your spouse continually seems to lie, you may be experiencing the impacts of compulsive lying. Constant lying may cause trust issues, difficulty communicating, or fear. You're not alone in experiencing these feelings, and support is available. If you're open to discussing these challenges with your spouse, you might consider couples therapy, which can be done in person or online. Many couples appreciate online therapy because it can be done from two separate locations or an environment that feels safe for telling difficult topics, such as your home.
In addition, online couples therapy has been found as effective as face-to-face couples therapy, with clients showing reductions in anxiety, depression, and stress in their relationships after meeting online. With added benefits, such as low cost and flexibility, online therapy can offer a feasible alternative for many couples. Whether you're married or not, you can partake in this type of therapy, and you do not have to have a mental illness diagnosis to talk to a therapist.
If you're interested in meeting with a counselor for a consultation, you can sign up before your partner for a platform like Regain, allowing you to have an initial conversation with the therapist about your concerns before bringing your partner on. Once you have signed up, you and your partner can participate in weekly sessions, and your therapist can offer worksheets and resources as you tackle your challenges.
Experiencing compulsive lying challenges in your relationship can be difficult to cope with. Individual or couples therapy with a provider may benefit you in these cases. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional to learn more about how therapy can allow you to cope with these experiences.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are a few frequently asked questions about compulsive lying.
What Do You Do When Your Husband Is A Compulsive Liar?
If you're experiencing mental or emotional health challenges due to your spouse's lying, opening a dialogue with him may be beneficial. Let him know when he's lying and how it makes you feel. Calling out the behavior may help him notice when it's happening, as compulsive lying may be unconscious for some people. In addition, you can ask him to seek treatment with a mental health professional or go to couples therapy with you to address this behavior.
How Can I Tell If My Husband Is A Pathological Liar?
If your husband is lying compulsively, you may notice that many different lies are told and that there doesn't seem to be a pattern between them. They may be mundane and inconsequential or have significant impacts on your life. Learning the signs of lying and confronting your spouse when he tries to deceive you or others may be beneficial. However, if you're unsure, couples therapy may benefit you.
Can A Compulsive Liar Stop Lying?
Compulsive liars can go to therapy to treat the underlying cause of their compulsive lying. Often, compulsive lying is a symptom of a mental health condition. It can also be a years-long habit, starting in children or young adults. Therapy can also help the compulsive liar build self-esteem and coping strategies. Since lying is a behavior, it can be changed with techniques from standard behavioral therapies if the client is willing, able, and open to changing it.
How Do You Trust A Compulsive Liar?
Telling lies may not be conducive to trust. You may struggle to trust your spouse if they lie because you may not know how to tell if what they say is true. It is not your responsibility to trust someone that has lost your trust. Instead, it can be your responsibility to tell the person why you have lost confidence and what you need to regain it. The individual lying can choose to get treatment and support or continue to lie. If they continue to lie, you can decide to leave the relationship if you feel it is the healthiest choice.
What Are The Five Signs That Someone Is Lying?
There are often five signs when someone lies, including the following:
A physical gesture, such as touching the throat, neck, or mouth while they talk
Repeating themselves or stammering while talking
Pausing before responding
Looking at an exit or their watch
Not blinking or making too much eye contact
Note that some behaviors can be symptoms of another concern, so reading body language may not be as effective as opening a conversation about your concerns with someone. Body language can help, but everyone acts differently, so it is not a foolproof method.
How Do You Get Truth Out Of Someone Who Is Lying?
You may be more likely to be told the truth when you approach the individual one-on-one and compassionately express your concerns. Try not to come at them with judgments, direct accusations, a raised voice, or anger, as they may become defensive and reinforce their lies. You can ask direct questions like "did you lie to me?" Look at their body language as they respond. If you feel they continue to lie, let them know how you feel about the situation and if you are considering any boundaries or decisions.
Should You Leave Your Partner If They Lie To You?
Only you can decide whether to leave a lying partner. If you don't want to leave your relationship, you might find couples therapy beneficial in keeping a healthy conversation about your spouse's habits. Note that you can set your boundaries. If lying is a dealbreaker for you, leaving the relationship or marriage can be healthy. If you feel that you can forgive your partner with time and effort on their part, you may communicate this to them.
Can A Marriage Survive Compulsive Lying?
Yes, some marriages may survive chronic lying. You may develop a healthy relationship if your partner can take responsibility for their behavior and choose to change. Asking your partner to see a therapist individually or with you can be one way to take a step toward this change. If your partner refuses to acknowledge their lies, go to therapy, or change, it may be up to you whether you'd like to stay in the relationship.
How Do You Cope With A Deceitful Spouse?
If you are experiencing challenging emotional responses to your partner's lying, it may benefit you to see an individual therapist. Seeing a therapist doesn't mean you've done something "wrong," but it can be a way to express your emotions, receive professional advice, and consider your next steps. You can also try self-care through the following methods:
Journaling about how the lying affects you
Talking to a friend or family about the lies
Going for a walk in nature
Cooking your favorite meal
Taking a self-care weekend away from your spouse
What Does Lying Do To A Marriage?
Lying behaviors can cause different outcomes in different marriages. Some spouses may feel that their spouse's lying causes a lack of trust and an unhealthy climate in the marriage. Others might not know their spouse is lying until years into the marriage. Whatever the situation, individual, couples, or family therapy may benefit you.
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