THE BLOG

The Good & Bad Lies In Marriage

02/18/2015 12:22 am ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015

You better lie if you want to have a happy marriage. Strangers lie to each other an average of three times in the first 10 minutes of meeting each other. We are taught that lying is bad, end of story, and yet we all do it. Add lies by omission and it might be hard to keep count. But what to do when your spouse asks about looks, weight, or if what he or she said was really bad? Often, the kind person in you lies, "You look great." "Stop with your weight, you look terrific and slim." "What you said wasn't that bad. I've said the same sort of thing many times." Is it wrong to fib when we're trying to bolster our loved ones? But if you are supposed to lie, where does it end? Surely, you don't want to think that everything that comes out of your spouse's mouth is a lie.

Here's the good lie: lying about any opinion or thought meant to make your spouse feel good or better.

Here's the bad lie: lying about any distortion of reality.

When you say, "You look great," you may be thinking something different. However, you are lying about your opinion and let's face it, your opinion could be wrong. In fact, if you were in a better mood, perhaps not hungry or tired, you might even have a different opinion at the moment that you're lying. Since opinions are just that -- plus they are fleeting -- there's nothing wrong and everything right with putting a positive or supportive spin on them.

Did you ever hear about the sandwich approach to criticism? Basically, you start with a compliment, outline your criticism and end with another compliment. It's not a manipulative trick. It's just recognizing that our egos need to be stroked and we are all somewhat fragile.

The world is a tough enough place, why not be that positive spirit in our lover's life? We should do everything we can to critique as little and compliment as much as possible. If our compliment is a little more than we feel at the moment, okay. Even your spouse knows it. Surely, no one has taken a statistical survey before offering up, "You are the best husband/wife/mom/dad/person in the world." But we say that with great confidence even though we must know deep down that our evaluation, albeit meaningful, is not statistically reliable. So feel free to say, "It was nice having your Mom stay with us for the month." (You might want to practice that one before you try it.)

However, when you lie about reality, you are dismantling your relationship even if you think you're being nice. "I only paid $50 (you paid $150)." "I was at work all day (you left early to go to the racetrack)." "I didn't go off my diet this week (you just polished off a box of donuts)." These are changing real facts. Perhaps your spouse may never find out but it doesn't matter. Distorting your spouse's reality creates moments of confusion.

Your spouse is trusting you at your word and verifiable facts are being dismissed for creative lying. Once a spouse discovers that there has been a lie about reality, there is an automatic, sudden shift in the relationship. More than anything, we depend on our spouse. No matter what is going right or wrong, spouses need to know that they are there for each other. Once we are lied to, we are put on notice. We can't help but think, "What else have I been lied to about?" Suddenly, everything -- every single thing -- comes into question. If you think you're lying about reality to help your spouse, think again. It's just not worth it.

Plus, lying about reality is a slippery slope. Once you lie about that gift that you say you dropped off when you forgot to, you begin to convince yourself that you can lie about anything in your marriage to get you out of a jam. I often deal with the worst of offenders, cheaters, who I ask to take polygraph tests to prove that they are now telling the truth to their spouse.

Victims of cheating have often told me that the worst part of the infidelity was being lied to while looking into their spouse's eyes. They felt like they were going insane because their gut told them something other than what their spouse was saying. How could they ever trust again? There's no place for lying about reality. Your marriage is much better off learning to talk about your issues with honesty. If you promised to do something and forgot or simply blew it off, be honest and deal with it instead of lying and risking the trust in your marriage.

Tune in to the "Today Show" on Wednesday, February 18 for more from Gary on this topic.

To receive discounts on Gary's Creating Your Best Marriage Program
11 DVD set program, go www.NeumanMethod.com and use coupon code HUFFINGTON.

M. Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as "One of the best psychotherapists in the world."