A Partner’s Expectations Can Influence Lying

Everyone holds expectations about how a romantic partner or spouse should behave.

In fact, romantic partners place a lot of expectations on each other. People have expectations about how their spouses should spend their free time, behave at work, act in social situations, and so on. And in some cases, people hold expectations about how their partners should think, act, talk, walk, eat, dress, etc.

man chasing a womanAnd for the most part, people try to live up to their partner’s expectations. In general, people do not like to disappoint someone they love.

No one, however, is perfect. Everyone makes an honest mistake (and, sometimes a not so honest mistake). Everyone falls short of their spouse’s expectations. And when this happens, people generally try to cover their mistakes through the use of deception (see Millar & Tessar).

For example:

You know you are suppose to call your spouse at a certain time, but you are out having fun so you don’t call. Later, when you finally talk to your husband or wife, you are likely to lie about why you did not call. Most people would not tell the truth in such a situation ("I was having a lot of fun and didn’t feel like talking to you at the time"). Rather people tend to make-up excuses – "My phone wasn’t working," or "Sorry, I lost track of time."

When people violate a partner’s expectations they have two choices:

  1. Tell the truth and disappoint a partner – endure a certain negative outcome.
  2. Or try to cover-up their mistake through deception – try to achieve a positive outcome (avoid punishment).

And without giving it much thought, most people take the second option when faced with such a dilemma.

Better to take a chance and try to cover one’s mistake than to face certain and known consequence – a partner’s disapproval and possible retribution.

Kids do the exact same thing when they fall short of their parent’s expectations – they try to hide their shortcomings (see lying comes easy). Romantic partners tend to act just like children in this respect.

To make matters worse, people tend to place the most expectations on their romantic partners. For instance, people don’t care how strangers behave – it’s their own business. But, we do care about how our spouses act.

Because of this, it is often easier to tell a complete stranger the absolute truth than it is to tell one’s spouse. Strangers, people with little expectations about our behavior, care a lot less about how we behave. Have you ever had someone on an airplane tell all of their secrets? It is easy to tell the truth when people don’t care what you have to say.

Simply put:

  • A partner’s expectations often underlie one’s deceptive behavior – people lie about what their partner’s care about.

For instance, if your partner does not care how you spend money, you are less likely to lie about it.

If, however, your spouse is deeply concerned about your spending habits, then you are more likely to lie about it.

Unfortunately, much of our dishonest behavior is tied to issues that would upset a romantic partner (see lies lovers tell – survey results).

And having a partner react particularly poorly to the truth does not help...