Power Differences and Lying

Power comes in many forms. Some people have power due to their resources, personality, social skills, connections, and so on (see French & Raven; Foa and Foa).

In a relationship or marriage, two people never have equal power. Power shifts back-and-forth between spouses depending on the issue or situation at hand. For instance, it is possible to have more power than a partner with respect to friends, family, and social connections but lack power with respect to financial decision-making (also see relationship dynamics).

These power differences are important to recognize because they influence the use of deception. As a general rule, the person in the low-power position is more likely to use deception.

When people lack power, they often feel like they lack control over what happens. Decisions are not necessarily their’s to make. People don’t like feeling powerless and having decisions made for them. So, deception is very useful when a husband or wife lacks control – it helps people level the playing field.

Through deception, people feel like they can gain the upper hand and have some influence over what happens (see protects privacy).

Consider the following examples:

Imagine that your spouse has a lot of social power. He or she has a lot of friends and tends to make all of the decisions when it comes to spending time with others. Now, imagine that you don’t always like doing what your spouse wants you to do. When placed in this type of situation, people often lie to get their way ("I have to work late tonight, why don’t you go without me.")

Or imagine that your spouse has a lot of financial power. He or she earns most of the money and likes to control how it is spent. And, of course, you are going to want to spend money on things that your spouse does not approve of. Again, when placed in this situation – people typically lie; they spend money as they see fit and then they hide it from their spouses.

Deception due to differences in power can also be seen in parent-child and employee-employer relationships. People who lack power (kids and employees) are much more likely to lie to those who have more power – parents and bosses.

The same dynamic occurs within marriage. Power differences often lead to the use of deception (see Bradac).