Secrets and Lies by Darlene Lancer, LMFT


Most people who lie worry about the risks of being honest, but give little thought to the risks of dishonesty. Betrayal can sometimes damage a relationship beyond repair. It can be deceived. It can shatter the image of our partner, ourselves, our confidence, and even trust in reality itself.

Trust is fragile. Secrets and lies jeopardize trust that, once broken, is difficult to regain. Dishonesty also damages us. Honesty is more than simply not lying. It includes withholding information or feelings that are important because they affect the relationship and deprive the other person of freedom of choice and informed action.

The Harm Caused by Secrets and Lies

Some ways in which lies and secrets cause harm are:

1. They block real intimacy with a partner. Intimacy is based on trust and authenticity; the ability to be vulnerable or “naked” not only physically, but emotionally.

2. They lead to cover-up lies and omissions that can be hard to remember. These mount up, and if the truth comes out, it may be more hurtful than the original secret. The longer the truth is hidden, the greater becomes the hurdle of revelation.

3. The secret-holder normally feels guilty, or at least uncomfortable, during intimate moments with the deceived person. Closeness and certain topics tend to be avoided. Avoidance may include things like being preoccupied with work, friends, hobbies, or addictive behavior, and doing activities that leave little opportunity for private conversations. The deceiver might even provoke an argument to create distance.

4. When we violate religious or cultural norms by hiding the truth, we experience anxiety and guilt. It’s a physiological reaction that is the basis for lie detectors.

5. Violation of our values leads to not only guilt about our actions, but also it affects our self-concept. Over a long period, deception can eat away at our self-esteem. Ordinary guilt becomes shame and undermines our fundamental sense of worthiness as a person.

6. Ways of managing guilt and shame create more problems. We hide not only the secret but more of who we are. We might build resentments to justify our actions, withdraw, or become critical, irritable, or aggressive. Some people are able to compartmentalize their feelings or rationalize their actions to manage dishonestly. Psychological defenses help us deal with inner conflict and an undesirable reality. They can be so effective that we’re convinced lying supports the relationship.

7. Victims of deception may react to the avoidant behavior by feeling confused, anxious, angry, suspicious, abandoned, or needy. They may doubt themselves, and their self-esteem may suffer.

Victims of Betrayal

They can help the other person make sense of previously unexplained or confusing behavior. Unfortunately, frequently victims of betrayal blame themselves. We’re never responsible for someone else’s actions or omissions. If the relationship wasn’t working, both partners share responsibility to address problems.

Aggrieved partners begin to review details of prior events and conversations, looking for overlooked clues and evidence of lies. There’s a natural desire to seek explanations and to know more facts. They may realize that they and their partner have been living in two different realities they once believed were shared. Even if the relationship survives, it’s a loss when trust is broken. Our first reaction is denial, if not of the facts, then the severity of the impact. It takes time to accept the truth. Each of us will attribute a different meaning to the facts in order to heal and make peace with ourselves, our loved ones, and a disordered reality we once thought was safe and predictable.

When, and How to Reveal

What, when, why, and how we disclose are all essential factors. For everyone involved, the pain of the secrecy compounds the pain over the initial event, and the longer deception continues, the more damaging it is. Ideally, before revealing the truth to the person we’ve lied to, we should talk to someone nonjudgmental, whom we trust, or seek counseling.

Each case of betrayal is unique. The potential damage and complications that surround lying as well as disclosure are things to consider when telling lies and keeping secrets. Contemplation in advance about the consequences of our actions to ourselves, our loved ones, and our relationships requires a degree of self-awareness, but can prevent unnecessary suffering. For more information on affairs, see

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