Best Way to Confront Lying

When a romantic partner gets caught lying it is often more productive to focus on the specific issue at hand (e.g., contact with others, flirting, use of pornography, etc.). Again, focusing on the use of deception rather than the underlying issue often turns out to be counterproductive (see previous page – making matters worse).

Listed below are some useful suggestions for trying to confront a romantic partner or spouse about his or her problematic behavior (based on the work of Gibb’s, Cupach and Canary).

The best way to deal with such problems is to discuss them in a calm, rational manner—in such a way that the other person can hear what you are trying to say without feeling like they are being attacked (even if they are to blame for what happened).

It also helps if you can think about such discussions, not as a "confrontation" but as a "conversation." That is, as two individuals trying to come together to solve a problem.

Approaching the discussion as a "confrontation" usually results in a competitive mindset, causing a partner to react defensively (i.e., withdrawal, counter attacks, hostility, denials). In other words, trying to blame, attack or point out your partner’s misdeeds won’t get you very far.

Consider for a moment, how you would like your spouse or romantic partner to discuss a similar problem with you.

Again, when you bring up the topic with your spouse, it helps to focus on your feelings, not his or her behavior. For instance, saying the following is not very useful:

  • Did you...
  • I know that you...
  • Why are you lying to me about...

Making such accusations almost always leads to a defensive reaction, which only gets in the way of genuine understanding and a resolution of the problem.

Rather than focusing on your partner’s use of deception, try to phrase the problem in the least judgmental way possible by focusing on your own feelings. For instance, it helps to start such conversations by saying:

  • Something I discovered is upsetting me. I’m concerned (sad, hurt, frustrated) about... and I want to be able to talk with you about it...

If you focus on your feelings—and discuss your partner’s underlying behavior tentatively, in the least judgmental way that you can, you have the best chance of being heard. And being heard (understood) is the ultimate goal when trying to work through problems with a partner (see talk about problems).

Of course, this method is far from perfect, and it usually requires that both people have good communication skills. But, this method does work better than simply attacking or blaming a partner for his or her deceptive behavior.

The added benefit of using this approach is that if you can create a sense of understanding and a willingness to discuss problems without a lot of negativity, partners will feel more comfortable discussing issues in the future (see getting others to be honest).

If, however, you think you are dealing with a compulsive liar, more advice is provided on the pages that follow....