A Psychologist Explains The 4 ‘Love Lies’ That Couples Tell Each Other

A Psychologist Explains The 4 ‘Love Lies’ That Couples Tell Each Other

Love can make us do crazy things—including deception. Here’s why we do, and the sweet (and … [+] not-so-sweet) forms that they take on.


When we truly love someone, we often go to great lengths to protect and preserve that love. And sometimes, along the way, this means telling little white lies to the person we care about—ones that don’t necessarily serve to harm, but rather to protect the peace.

According to a 2013 study from the journal Communication Sciences, these lies aren’t the same as the everyday fibs we’re used to. The study found that there are four main reasons we tell these lies to our partners, resulting in a mix of sweet little lies, and others that aren’t quite so sweet. Here’s how “love lies” often manifest, and the different ways they protect our relationships—and, sometimes, endanger them.

1. Relationship Maintenance

The authors outline that one of the major reasons why partners lie to one another is for the sake of maintaining the relationship. Some partners might slip out the occasional white lie for the sake of avoiding confrontation or lightening the mood. However, these kinds of lies occasionally serve to elicit negative feelings—such as jealousy—for the sake of making oneself feel better. For instance:

  1. Avoiding turbulence. One participant in the study shared, “Today I started having a pregnancy scare, but I didn’t want to tell him, because if it was nothing, he would have been scared and worried for nothing.” These kinds of lies serve to avoid arguments, stress or tension.
  2. Maintaining positivity. After a hang out with his partners colleagues, another participant sweetly confessed, “I told her I was having a good time when I really wasn’t. I know it is important to her that I get along with her work friends.” You might tell these kinds of lies to make your partner happy.
  3. Eliciting guilt. Another participant expressed how, to restore balance after an argument, they lied about crying: “I wanted to make him know that I was really upset about a rude comment. By telling him I cried, he felt more sorry.” These lies are less benevolent, and serve to promote equity by maladaptive means.

2. Managing Face Needs

The authors also explained that some forms of deception serve to protect face needs. Specifically, face needs refer to our (or our partner’s) need to feel respected, included and liked. In essence, these lies are told in the hopes to spare our or our partner’s feelings—especially in situations where the truth might be harsh or hurtful. For example:

  1. Self-presentation. You might lie to your partner to “save face,” or not give off a bad image. For example, one participant exaggerated the amount of work she’d done for the day to her partner, and explained, “He wants me to do good, and I didn’t want to look like a slacker.”
  2. Protecting your partner’s feelings. One participant sheepishly confessed, “She asked me if I thought her cheeks were getting fatter. I kind of did, but I told her no. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” These lies are much less affronting than certain truths.
  3. To avoid unwanted activities. Often, we might lie to avoid doing certain things. One participant lied about why she suddenly wasn’t able to visit her partner, and said, “I didn’t feel like going over to his house, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”

3. Negotiating Tensions

Sometimes, we lie in hopes to rectify imbalances between our and our partner’s needs, wants or desires. When we want one thing, and our partner wants something else, a white lie can sway them in our favor. For example:

  1. Autonomy vs. connection. One partner in the study wanted to spend time with another, but the latter partner wasn’t in the mood—thus, they lied about needing to “have some personal time and space,” because he “just needed to be alone.” Others, however, told more wholesome lies in order to get their other half to spend more time with them: “I told the little lie so I could spend a few more minutes with him driving back to my place. It usually drives me nuts to waste time like that, but it never hurts to spend a few more minutes together.”
  2. Openness vs. closedness. Sometimes, partners may lie to avoid divulging information that the other desperately wants to know. One participant—after lying about the true nature of their secret—expressed that they, “Don’t feel it’s any of his business,” while another shared, “It’s private, and I wouldn’t tell him.”

4. Establishing Control

Some lies have more malicious purposes. These deceptions serve to give one partner an edge over the other, to make the other feel bad, or—more malevolently—to blatantly control their thoughts or actions.

  1. Guilt-tripping. Some lies serve to “guilt” partners into making changes. One participant lied in order “to make her feel bad about sleeping all day and getting nothing done”—which he claimed to be in the hopes of her being more productive thereafter.
  2. Gaining the upper hand. One participant explained that, after telling their partner a nasty lie, “I did this to make her feel bad and then comfort her out of this to build myself up.” This lie served to place him in a savior-like position.
  3. Outright controlling. One participant lied to his partner in order to spend the night how he had wished, and explained “A friend of mine who gets along really well with my girlfriend kept texting me about getting lunch and watching the game together—us 3. I ignored his texts and didn’t tell my girlfriend … because she probably would have wanted to hang out.” This lie of omission served to control a situation in a way he deemed fit.

It’s no secret that we all lie from time to time, even to the ones that we love. However, not all lies are created equally. Some come from a place of genuine love and affection, whereas some serve to place boundaries that would otherwise be difficult to make—and others have more toxic purposes. While well-intentioned lies can sometimes smooth over minor bumps in the road, they should never become a go-to option. In a truly loving and healthy relationship, honesty and openness are vital. That being said, some love lies allow partners to bask in the bliss of ignorance. When told from a place of affection, they help us keep the peace, protect feelings and even add a touch of sweetness to our interactions.

Are lies silently infecting your relationship? Take the Authenticity In Relationships Scale to know if you need professional support.

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