Perception Matters

By Truth About Deception

Close relationships are full of paradoxes and double standards. For example, people want their partners to be exciting and fun, but predictable at the same time. Along the same line, people want to share their feelings with a partner, while also maintaining some sense of privacy.

When it comes to the use of deception in a romantic relationship, paradoxes abound. The latest research on deception in romantic relationships highlights some of the paradoxes that exist.

To begin with, people tend to hold two sets of rules about the use of deception:

  • Obligatory Rules – my partner should always tell me the truth.
  • Discretionary Rules – my partner should have some flexibility about what he or she wants to share with me.

While people more strongly endorsed obligatory rules, people simultaneously valued discretionary rules. In short, people want it both ways.

The study also investigated how well couples understood each other with respect to their rules about the use of deception. That is, are people aware of their partner’s rules about the use of deception? And do couples actually understand each other?

For relational scholars the results were not surprising.

Perceived agreement (thinking a partner was on the same page) was higher than actual agreement (being on the same page), which was higher than understanding (being aware that you are in agreement or not).

In short, people think they understand their partner’s rules about using deception, more than they actually share the same rules. And people think they understand their partner’s rules about deception, more than they actually understand what is going on.

This lack of accuracy, however, is useful. People, who thought they understood their partner, but failed to see things accurately, had less conflict than those who actually understood where their partner was coming from.

Perception, not accuracy, is what helps make a relationship work.


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