Wayne Baker
by Wayne Baker, M.A., LPC
Member, Affair Recovery Expert Panel

The Truth About Lying

We define infidelity as the keeping of secrets; it's a breach of trust that can lead to the collapse of even the strongest relationships. Infidelity is a complex issue with many underlying causes, and it creates a cascade of inter- and intra-relational turmoil. The most common and difficult elements for the betrayed spouse to work through are any kind of lie and deception that the wayward partners tell themselves and their partner about their behavior.

In the context of romantic partnerships, infidelity is a tortuous and baffling problem to deal with. The act itself is generally seen as unethical and destructive, but the reasons and self-deceptions that led to it remain a convoluted mystery that take time and hard work to unravel. We need to look further into the psycho-emotional roots of lying, betrayal, and deceit in order to have a better understanding of why people who are unfaithful to their spouses lie to themselves first and then to their partners and often their community.

The Meaning of the Term "Self-Deception"

Self-deception (lying to self) is a cognitive process in which individuals convince themselves of a falsehood, altering their vision of reality to coincide with their wants, desires, and beliefs. Generally speaking, self-deception occurs when an individual has a strong desire to do something but is unable to do so. Wayward spouses disregard, excuse, or minimize their actions even though they clearly violate agreed-upon personal, moral, and cultural values that they otherwise regard. This is an example of self-deception that occurs in the context of infidelity. This intricate mental maneuver is primarily motivated by cognitive dissonance, the need for moral justification, and the resolve to preserve one's own image.

Dissonance and Dishonesty Go Hand in Hand

The term "cognitive dissonance" was first used by Leon Festinger in 1957. It refers to the psychological discomfort that one has when their behaviors are inconsistent with their beliefs, ideals, and core values. Festinger found in the research he conducted out of Stanford University that participants naturally reduced their cognitive dissonance by "reevaluating" reality to make it more comfortable.1 Unfaithful partners frequently struggle with this internal conflict because, even though they are participating in an affair, they love and want to be with their spouse. As a means of alleviating this anxiety, individuals downplay the gravity of their behavior, and convince themselves that their dishonesty is not 'as horrible' as it looks. They also underestimate the pain that their unfaithfulness to their commitment as well as their partner will cause, and as a result, they lower the level of cognitive dissonance they experience. A very common example that I hear from wayward spouses is that they convince themselves that their extramarital affair isn't actually cheating if they have not had sex. Others will claim that there is no emotional connection and merely physical interaction between the two. These justifications make it possible for them to carry out their activities without experiencing an overwhelming amount of shame or guilt, at least for a season.

Wayne, along with the other therapists at EMS Weekend, are not only experts but have personally experienced infidelity. They can guide you as you untangle the confusig webs and devastating consequences of deception so you can cover more ground faster. Click the button below to learn more.

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Moral Justification and Dishonesty

It's possible for unfaithful spouses to rationalize their behavior by pointing to complex principles as a way to explain away their infidelity. They fabricate stories in which their infidelity is the consequence of the inadequacies of their relationship or of their emotional, physical, and sexual needs not being addressed. They are able to perceive themselves not as the perpetrator of the wrongdoing, but rather as the victim who is looking for consolation by transferring the blame onto their spouse, thereby making their affection, attraction, and connection to another seem acceptable. For instance, a spouse who is unfaithful to their relationship could persuade themselves that their adultery is okay since their partner isn't paying enough attention to them or doesn't understand them anymore. Because of this, they are able to justify their behavior by explaining it as a reaction to the shortcomings of their spouse rather than as their own act of betrayal.

Let me be clear about two things: first, these examples are not justifications for infidelity, they are simply common scenarios that I hear on a weekly basis. Remember, bad marriages don't cause infidelity, bad choices do. This reminds me of a story from my childhood. When I was a kid, my brother and I would get into a fights. We would hit each other. We would always get in trouble with my dad who would step in and say, "Two wrongs don't make a right." Second, if your spouse has been lying to cover up an affair or a sexual addiction, it will take time for them to get the whole truth out. Even if they are 100% committed to telling the truth. That is not a pass for the wayward spouse! Do everything you can to get the whole truth out and keep telling the truth until the truth is out. Commit to no more secrets going forward. Do this ASAP! It truly is one of the best gifts you can give your spouse and yourself.

Concealment of Intent and Self-Preservation

Another important function of self-deception is that it's a defense mechanism. Unfaithful partners protect their self-image and avoid the painful admission of their infidelity by telling lies to themselves in order to avoid looking at a host of other unresolved issues within. Recognizing the truth of their infidelity demands coming to terms with the damage they've done and the consequences that might result from it, including their own feelings of guilt, shame, sorrow, remorse, and the potential breakdown of their relationship. In addition to all the underlying circumstances, they choose to deceive themselves and perpetuate their deception rather than face the impacts of their actions and the potential healing and growth that they may experience down the road.

Deception of the Spouse or Partner

There are several reasons why a wayward spouse lies or deceives, whether intentionally or by omission. One of the most common reasons the wayward spouse will say that they lie is because they don't want to cause further pain for their partners. That is probably true in part, and it is also true that the wayward partner often lies about their secret sexual behavior because they still think their actions are justified due to their partner's neglect, anger, control, or unfaithfulness to them.

Maintaining the Status Quo

Some people feel that maintaining the connection to their betrayed partner is necessary because they are worried that coming clean about their affair would bring an end to the relationship and the life they've built together. As a result, they keep up the appearance of faithfulness so that this possible disruption (major disruption) to their lives does not occur. The wayward spouse endures a dual life, appearing to be committed while also having an affair. This behavior speaks powerfully about the intricate and complex nature of thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors.

Trying to Stay Away from Consequences

Similar to the last one, yet a bit different: One of the most common reasons that wayward partners lie to themselves and their partner is that they are trying to avoid confrontation or more conflict. They may be afraid that admitting their infidelity will lead to endless conflict and other negative consequences, so they try to keep their behavior hidden. Occasionally, by lying, they can continue to have their cake and eat it too, enjoying the benefits of their infidelity while avoiding the repercussions. The major motivation for lying is the desire to steer clear of consequences. When the wayward partner admits fault and takes accountability for their actions, they are subjecting themselves to feelings of personal guilt and sorrow but also to disappointment, rage, and maybe the rejection of their partner or even kids and other family members. Additionally, it may result in a loss of social standing as well as friendships and respect among others in their community.

Protecting One's Partner from Harm

Ironically, some couples who cheat on each other lie because they feel they need to protect themselves from each other. They delude themselves into thinking that by keeping their cheating a secret, they are protecting their spouse from emotional anguish. This is more of an effort on their side to reduce the amount of guilt they feel, but they still persuade themselves that they are lying to protect the mental health of their spouse.

Lying about infidelity is rarely a sustainable strategy. In most cases, the truth eventually comes out, either through confession or discovery. When this happens, the damage to the relationship will be severe. Psychological safety and trust are a fundamental component of any healthy relationship, and infidelity can shatter that in a nanosecond. Even if the unfaithful partner sincerely apologizes and promises to do the necessary work to heal and help their spouse heal, the betrayed partner will struggle to move past the betrayal. It will be hard for them to feel safe and rebuild trust without the effort to understand why the unfaithful partner acted in the way that they did. In the progression of therapy, the wayward spouse must share with their betrayed partner the insights that they are discovering about themselves. This is a key component of creating safety for themselves and their partner, as well as working to repair and heal their wounds around shame, blame, avoidance, and fear.

Infidelity, and the dishonesty that often accompanies it, are multidimensional problems with roots in shame and fear. The reasons, rationalizations, and excuses that lie under the surface tell as much about the human inclination for self-deception as they do about the values and standards that are prevalent in our society. While awareness of these processes does not constitute an endorsement of dishonesty, it can provide insight into why dishonesty occurs and how it might be prevented. When we learn how to handle conflict well and there is open communication, emotional transparency, deep and generous listening, and mutual understanding between two people in a relationship, it will go a long way toward eliminating the behaviors of self-deception and more betrayal.

If you are struggling to find hope and a way to be honest with yourself and your spouse, I'd encourage you to consider the EMS Weekend offered by Affair Recovery. In almost 20 years of working with betrayal trauma, the EMS Weekend is the most transformative experience a couple can go through in their journey toward recovery. There is often a finite window of time in which both spouses are willing to work hard at this. Don't wait. During the EMS Weekend, most couples experience a safe place with practical solutions designed to help them find clarity, freedom, acceptance, and hope.

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Here is another one to add to the collection. Because he had left me a note, blaming me for his unhappiness, and moved out, he still can't be accountable for his deception. Within a couple of months he was having sex with his married, but also unhappy, receptionist. After a couple more months, she then left her spouse a note and moved in with my husband. A few people knew that he told, as he knew they would never tell me. Again, he was looking for support and big "OK" to what he was doing. I knew none of this until my intuition finally came through and after confronting him for the truth, he then disclosed his relationship. In his mind, it was not an affair or cheating since we were not living together. Yet he took no real action to sell our house, get the rest of his things, say what he wanted to do. He left me in limbo. We obviously did get back together but it's been 4 years and I feel like it was yesterday. Deception by omission to me is still lieing but apparently, not to him. What would you say to him if you could?

LYING reply Anonymous

Communication is almost non existent ! Hence justifying I have not lied! Omission. She had done this with friends and her children. Even went so far as to feign friendship with her co-adulterers wife, inviting them to our house. Took me to his family home to console the wife whom had lost her father, oh such a good woman she was but an adulterer in complete denial as to her doing wrong! The fellow was not what most girls would consider attractive being fat arrogant foul mouthed and a heavy smoker which she detested, albeit bought him aftershave to conceal the smell. Discovery ended that with him having her lose her job due to his complaint. She then bemoaned "he did not love me !" To date she claims to be working back but on checking is her car there or is she actually on the premises it cannot be confirmed but appears she is not.. So can she be trusted ?

Lies, deceptions, and total dishonesty with self & everyone elve

After almost 2 years of trying, at least on my part, but being deceived by him, thinking, he was also trying to save our marriage. He wasn’t doing the work. he was waiting for an opportunity to leave then behind my back, he filed for divorce and would have just walked out the door, and I wouldn’t have found out until after I was served, except that he made a mistake, and I found out early by only a couple of days. And this all occurred 10 years after he started having affairs that I am aware of
The affairs are one thing, but the lies the deceptions the self-centeredness cross the line when he went behind my back this last time there is no recovery for him
This is all his choice but now I’m making mine and I’m done
When the house is sold in the final, I’m out of here

Lies almost worse than the cheating

It took a poly and even then he tried to lie for the 1st one. The 2nd one still showing some signs of dishonesty for the dates. That's what it took to start to get to the truth 17 years later and a serial cheater.
It's true the lies, the trickle truth was almost worse than the actual acts of him cheating.
We have been separated for 4 years and I'm still working daily on my own recovery from the abusive gaslighting, manipulation, blameshifting, and lies that he used to keep cheating.
You can't heal and save a marriage with any lies and secrets left. He is by himself because he values his secrets and lies more than his family and marriage.

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