Romantic Relationships Are Hotbeds for Serious Lies

09/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mark Sanford. John Ensign. Newt Gingrich. Silvio Berlusconi. Bill Clinton. John Edwards. James McGreevey. Rudy Giuliani... They are a diverse cast of characters, all tied together by their affairs and their lies about them. They may never tell us the unvarnished truth about what they were thinking (or not thinking) or feeling when they engaged in their infidelities. For years, though, I asked ordinary people to tell me and my research team about the most serious lies they told in their lives, and the most serious lies that were ever told to them. They did so, often at length, knowing that their real names would never be associated with their stories.

What my colleagues and I found was that romantic relationships -- both of the married and the unmarried variety -- are hotbeds for serious lies. When we categorized the lies according to the topics that people were lying about, we found that more serious lies were about infidelity than about any other matter.

The people in our studies lied to their partners about lots of other things, too. Money, for instance, as in the story of the man who promised his wife that he would not invest in the stock market the money they were saving for a down payment on a house; he did and they lost it all. The participants also lied about their relationships and marriages; one woman, for decades, lived the lie of pretending to be married because she did not want anyone to know that she wasn't. For someone like me who loves single life, that is just so sad.

As I explained briefly here, the little lies of everyday life are not told any more often to the people we care about the most. It is the BIG lies, the ones we consider most serious, that are told by and to the people with whom we are most intimate.

My colleagues and I published the results of our serious lies research in an academic journal a few years ago. (That publication and related ones are listed here.) In journal articles, though, there is no room to relate the stories of people's most serious lies in any detail, nor to speculate at any length about what it all might mean. So I decided to make some of the back-stories of the serious lies available, along with some of the lessons I've learned about the biggest liars and their lies from my years of studying them. The book is called Behind the Door of Deceit: Understanding the Biggest Liars in Our Lives. It is a very short book, and I hope you find it engaging. You can order the paperback here or from Amazon. A Kindle version is available, too.

Behind the Door of Deceit: Table of Contents

Part 1: Stories from the Dupes

1. Lies about love and sex
2. Deadly lies
3. Lies that are a matter of honor
4. Whose flesh and blood? Lies about kinship
5. Lies about fortune and livelihood

Part 2: Deeper into Deceit

6. The why and how of serious lies, and what happens afterwards

Part 3: Stories from the Liars

7. The most primitive lie: Avoiding punishment and blame
8. Entitlement lies: Lying for what you think you deserve
9. Instrumental lies
10. Lies about passions
11. Identity lies: Becoming a different person
12. Taking a fall: Lies told to cover for someone else
13. Living a lie

Part 4: Lessons for Liars and Dupes

14. Tips for turning down the heat on deceit

A. Lies that liars tell themselves
B. Lie no longer: How to come clean
C. Tips for truth-tellers: How to help yourself avoid the temptation to tell serious lies
D. How to be a dupe without really trying: Some warnings

A different version of this post first appeared here on my Living Single blog at Psychology Today. To read other Living Single posts, click here.