Intimacy also Creates the Need for Lying and Deception
Not only do close relationships create an opportunity for deception to occur, they also create the need.
While romantic relationships or marriages offer many rewards, they also tend to be overly constrictive. Everyone has felt the constraints of a close relationship from time to time; quite simply you are no longer free to do what you want, when you want, and with whom you want.
So intimacy provides tremendous rewards, but at an enormous cost – the loss of your freedom and autonomy (see Baxter).
Lying to a romantic partner or spouse helps us deal with the constraints that our intimate relationships impose. Quite frankly, deceiving a romantic partner turns out to be the most efficient and effective way of maintaining the rewards we get from our romantic relationships while pursuing extra-relational goals and activities behind a partner’s back.
After years of studying deceptive behavior, we have noticed that people tend to mislead their husbands and wives when unique and valued opportunities can be pursued in a way that imposes a minimal strain on their relationship.
The following example provided by a friend, Steve, helps illustrate this point.
Example of Steve lying to his girlfriend of two years:
On a recent afternoon my friend Brian stopped by my office. Brian wanted to go out for drinks, but there was a problem. My girlfriend doesn’t like it when I spend a lot of time with him because he is not terribly supportive of our relationship. Brian is single and constantly mentions how much fun I used to be, before I settled down. Despite the fact that Brian isn’t overly supportive of my relationship, he is a good friend. My professional life has been greatly enriched through my friendship with Brian; he is in “the know” at work, has all the inside gossip, and introduces me to a lot of people.
So, when Brian drops by my office on the spur of the moment, suggesting we go for drinks, I really want to go. On the other hand, I also know my girlfriend is expecting me to cook dinner and we have plans to spend some time together. What am I to do? Call and explain the situation to her? “Hi. I’d like to come over and spend some time with you as planned, but going out for drinks with Brian also sounds like a lot of fun. Do you mind if I go out with Brian tonight and make it up to you later?” Having such a conversation would take a lot of time, energy, and effort and most likely result in a fight.
And even if I’m lucky enough to avoid an argument, this conversation would undoubtedly come back to haunt me down the road with my girlfriend using this incident against me when she wants to. So, when I find myself in situations like this, I do what comes naturally – I lie. Before you know it, I’m telling her that “My boss wants some last minute revisions, sorry, I’m going to be working late tonight.”
As Steve’s example shows, people mislead their romantic partners in order to spend some time doing the things that they really want to do – the things they value doing. If Steve were asked to go out for drinks by someone he disliked, he would be having dinner with his girlfriend.
We are also more likely to cheat when opportunities are unique – the kind that don’t always present themselves. Again, if Steve had the opportunity to go out drinking with Brian every night – then he’d probably just wait until he didn’t have to break a promise to do so. But since it is difficult for Steve to plan things with Brian – Steve took the opportunity when he had the chance.
Finally, we are more likely to cheat when cheating doesn’t put a lot of strain on our relationship; that is, when we can seize opportunities while breaking the fewest commitments and obligations to our partners. Again, Steve’s breaking a dinner date is something he thinks he can get away with from time to time – it puts some strain on his relationship, but in this case, not enough to seriously damage it.