Home / Fear of Intimacy / Deception and the Destruction of Your Relationship

Deception and the Destruction of Your Relationship

love and deceptionWhen the topic of infidelity spills into our daily dose of media, we may say we saw it coming, or we may react with shock. Either way, we don’t exactly look away. Without even meaning to, we learn details, names, sources and suspicions. Most of us would admit that there is little point in speculating about the ins and outs, agreements and lies, secrets and circumstances of a stranger’s affair, but our fascination with the indiscretions of others should tell us something about ourselves and the world around us.

It’s hard to deny that, as a society, there’s a lot to be examined about the ethics of our own relationships. In the United States, 45 to 55 percent of married women and 50 to 60 percent of married men engage in extramarital sex at some time during their relationship, according to a 2002 study published in Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy. Still, other studies reveal that 90 percent of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong. Infidelity is inarguably prevalent, yet it is extensively frowned upon. Given this discrepancy, it is important for every couple to address how they are going to approach the subject of fidelity and to examine the level of honesty and openness in their relationship.

Earlier this week I got a call from a well-known women’s magazine and was asked to explain when it is okay for a woman to lie to her partner. I declined answering the question, for one simple reason: it’s not! Since when did lying become okay? Lying to someone, especially someone close to us, is one of the most basic violations of a person’s human rights. Whatever one’s stance is on open versus closed relationships, the most painful aspect of infidelity is often the fact that someone is hiding something so significant from their partner. Two adults can agree to whatever terms of a relationship they like, but the hidden violation of the agreement is what makes an act a betrayal and an affair unethical. Thus, the real villain behind infidelity isn’t necessarily the affair itself, but the many secrets and deceptions built around the affair.

In the book Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships, I cited extensive research on the subject of infidelity and posed the following:

Deception may be the most damaging aspect of infidelity. Deception and lies shatter the reality of others, eroding their belief in the veracity of their perceptions and subjective experience. The betrayal of trust brought about by a partner’s secret involvement with another person leads to a shocking and painful realization on the part of the deceived party that the person he or she has been involved with has a secret life and that there is an aspect of his or her partner that he or she had no knowledge of.

Damaging another person’s sense of reality is immoral. While keeping a relatively insignificant secret from someone you’re close to diminishes that person’s reality, going to great lengths to deceive someone can actually make them question their sanity. It’s true that feeling an attraction or falling in love may be experiences that are out of our control, but we do have control over whether we act on those emotions, and being honest about taking those actions is key to having a relationship based on real substance.

As kids, we are taught that it is wrong to lie; yet as we get older, the lines tend to become increasingly blurred. This is especially the case when we are faced with the challenging conditions that come with intimate relationships. Too often, when we get close to someone, our innermost defenses come into play, and we unintentionally alter ourselves to “make it work.” The baggage we carry from our past weighs heavily on us, and we have trouble breaking free from old destructive habits and harmful modes of relating that distort both ourselves and our partners. When this happens, jealousy, possessiveness insecurity and distrust can cause us to warp and misuse our relationships.

Once a relationship becomes about compromising ourselves or denying who we are, we are no longer living in the reality of what the relationship is but in a fantasy of what we think a relationship should be. An example of this might be a woman whose boyfriend gets so jealous that he forbids her to be alone with other men. Another example may be a man whose partner feels so insecure that she demands to be constantly reassured of his love and attraction to her. Though these couples may go along behaving as if everything is OK, they’ll more than likely begin to resent one another and lose interest in the relationship. This type of restrictive situation can become a hotbed for dishonesty. The woman may lie about time alone she spent with a male friend or co-worker, or the man may lie about an attraction he is starting to feel for another woman.

When we treat our partners with respect and honesty, we are true not only to them but to ourselves. We can make decisions about our lives and our actions without compromising our integrity or acting on a sense of guilt or obligation. When we restrict our partners, we can compromise their sense of vitality, and we inadvertently set the stage for deception. This is not to say that people shouldn’t expect their partners to be faithful, but rather that couples should try to maintain an open and honest dialogue about their feelings and their relationship.

If our partners trust us enough to admit that they find someone else attractive, we might just be able to trust them enough to believe them when they say they won’t act on this attraction. The more open we are with each other, the cleaner and more resilient our relationships become. Conversely, the more comfortable we become with keeping secrets, the more likely we become to tell bigger and bigger lies.

When an affair occurs, denial is an act of deception that works to preserve the fantasy that everything is okay. Admitting that something is not okay or that you are looking for something outside the relationship is information that your partner deserves to know. Emotions sprung from deception (like suspicion and anger) can tear a relationship apart, but more importantly they can truly hurt another person by shattering their sense of truth.

Psychologist and author Shirley Glass wrote in her book Not “Just Friends”:

Relationships are contingent on honesty and openness. They are built and maintained through our faith that we can believe what we are being told. However painful it is for a betrayed spouse to discover a trail of sexual encounters or emotional attachments, the lying and deception are the most appalling violations.

An ideal relationship is built on trust, openness, mutual respect and personal freedom. But real freedom comes with making a choice, not just about who we are with but how we will treat that person. Choosing to be honest with a partner every day is what keeps love real. And truly choosing that partner every day by one’s own free will is what makes love last. So while freedom to choose is a vital aspect of any healthy and honest union, deception is the third party that should never be welcome in a relationship.


  1. Absolutely brilliant, living through this at the moment, the key is to be yourself and allow your partner to be themselves, that is their true self not the one they fabricated for the relationship.

  2. I wish i know what to do.15 years ago i decided to believe her thinking that no person has the capacity to deceive another at such depth.i begged her to tell me if she did sleep with my friend and to consider that my life was at stake.like a fool i gave her the benefit of the doubt.i tortured myself for years with her bearing witness to my spiralling life.now only that im mature and married to her with2 kids do i realise that she deceived me.after examining the past again for the millionth time i realise that i put too much trust in others and that people wl deceive even God if they cn get away with it.my dilemma nw is how do i deal with this without hurting my kids

    • Hi ‘fool’
      How are you coping with this situation, I’ve just discovered that my long term gf has been doing the same, for the last 11 years she repeatedly denied being involved with someone I hate, finally she has admitted that she did and it is tearing me apart, I have no children with her and could walk away but I haven’t yet. The details of what she did trouble me so much, it sounds crazy I know but I could accept kinda if it had been a drunken one night stand but it turns out she was totally sober and had sex with him twice in his car over a two month period meaning to me that she actually fancied him! She also lied to me by not telling me she had stopped taking the pill three years ago, I found found a year ago. It makes me feel like I’m a total mug, I’ve stood by her through a lot of illness and now I look back and all I see is a relationship founded on lies.

  3. Hi, recently had the revelation that my partner of 11 years had sex with a real player of a guy with a pregnant girlfriend someone I don’t like, this happened before we were together but she has repeatedly denied anything ever happened.
    What I find particularly hard to understand is that she was totally sober and it happened more than once. If it had been a drunken one off thing then I would find it easier to accept but the fact that she obviously fancied him troubles me greatly, added to this is that she stopped taking the pill three years ago and didn’t tell me for two years. We have both been through a lot as she was very I’ll in the early years of our relationship but when I look back all I can see is a relationship based on lies and what a mug ive been, how can i be sure our shared experiences and lives werent lies as well? The girl I thought I fell in love with wouldnt do what she did. I really need a way through this, I’ve tried talking but it ends in an argument and she insists I should just stop thinking about it! I am angry as hell and I know I’m crazy to stay,
    I could walk away as we have no children but I still love her, does this sound salvageable?

    • I think if she could admit why, be honest about how it made her feel, why she wouldn’t do something like that again, why it was wrong, and be honest about all the emotions associated with it, you should be able to move on in your relationship, but if she can’t face it, doesn’t accept why it poses a problem or threat to you rather, then more than likely, it will only get worse.

  4. Your articles got mu attention about the fear of trust when one has been wounded in a pass relationship. My wife past away a year ago rhis month I have met sone six weeks ago of whom I’m very fond of. She loves the Lord and in her an way I believe she cares for me. My problem is the thoughts of distrust.. I think it is unfair. Andb even though I fond of her i dont think she know about my issues it affects my ability to let go of the pass and give ger the love she deserves. Wgat can I do?.

    • The love you feel is a tribute to the relationship you had with your beloved wife. Freud said that the one left behind, if there was a true love relationship, will go on a frantic search to replace the lost love object. Everything takes some time, but grief, although it will never leave you, as I also personally know, you will eventually adjust and the pain of your loss will not crowd out everything else. I think right now you are still much too grief stricken to think clearly. Try to find enjoyment with this woman, but don’t do anything permanent-I have seen many of these “replacing the lost love object” go awry. Some people need to be loved, some people need someone to love. The selfless love is that which you think only about giving-and although you may not have recognized this in yourself, that is where your mind and motivation is. This is beautiful and you will eventually be able to give this beauty to someone in its fullest glory. One guidepost, allow one year of recovery for every five years of marriage. Blessings.

  5. When i’m in a relationship, i’m honest and open. When i find some other man attractive, firstly i will tell my bf. Secondly i’ll cut ties with that guy! For me it’s cheating when i’m fantasizing about another man. I won’t allow myself to do that kind of bullshit.
    Why keeping someone around when your in a relationship and you find someone else attractive? Why keeping that person around you? Pffff. Nope, I will cut ties!

  6. Lost and betrayed

    Hi, reading all of the different things people have or are going thru I felt I could put some of my heartache out there. I’ve been married for 2 years and we were together for 5 years before many times in our relationship throughout the years I have been tormented, bullied, abused, betrayed and still to this day I continue to go thru it we have a child together and I stay to keep the family together . The problem is that there is always another girl there always has been one he can confide in spend time with take that person out and have a good time with in which I have had to find out on my own every time. The moment I bring it up to get a better understanding the guilt the blame and the wrong doing is all placed on me. Forcing me to rethink all that I’ve done to save this but everytime is the same result. There is no communicating with him everything that I do and say is wrong and is my fault that he does the things he does to me to our family. And now I sit here trying to keep my thoughts clear praying that things will somehow change but I’m left feeling as if everything has always been my fault that I’m the one not good enough. I don’t know how to get past all this hurt it follows me like a dark cloud everywhere I go in everything I do am I crazy? Am I the one who needs help? I’m so lost in my life at this point

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Scroll To Top
Subscribe to PsychAlive. It's Free!

Sign up today to get the latest news from PsychAlive.org