The Devastating Power of Lies in a Relationship

Donald Miller

I’ve only had two friends (that I know about) who’ve looked me in the eye and told me lies. Both of them were trying to cover up mistakes. I certainly had grace for their mistakes, but I’ve wondered looking back if I didn’t have grace for their lies.

Neither of these two friends are in contact anymore. We don’t talk. Being in a relationship with somebody who lies is tough. It’s not that you don’t love them or care about them, it’s just that you can’t connect.

Without trust, there’s no relationship.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend say that people lie for one of two reasons.

The first is out of shame or fear. Somebody may believe they won’t be accepted if they tell the truth about who they are, so they lie. You can see how religious communities that use shame and fear to motivate might increase a person’s temptation to lie, then. People who lie for this reason can get better and learn to tell the truth. Until they do, however, it’s impossible to connect with them, all the same.

The second kind of liar is less fortunate. Some people lie simply because they are selfish. These liars are pathological. They will lie even when it would be easier to tell the truth. Cloud and Townsend warn that we need to stay away from these people. Personally, I think people like this are pretty rare, but I agree, we simply can’t depend on them emotionally or practically.

Still I wonder if people who lie understand what they’re doing. I think some people want grace and certainly they can get grace, but when we lie, we make the people we are lying to feel badly about the relationships and about themselves. We like people who make us feel respected, cared about and honored. Lying to somebody communicates the opposite.

Here are the things that lies did to my two relationships:

  1. • When my friends lied, I felt disrespected and unimportant. They didn’t seem to care about me or trust me enough to tell the truth. This made me feel bad about myself, as though I were not important or trustworthy enough to be told the truth.
  2. • When I found out the extent of one of the lies, I felt like a fool. Technically, my friend didn’t really lie. She just told me “part” of the truth. It was as though she were testing out whether she was safe to be vulnerable. (She told many other lies, but this was just one of them.) But it backfired. When I found out things were worse than she’d made them seem, I felt tricked and deceived. Again, without meaning to, she’d made me feel bad about myself because I felt like somebody who could be conned.
  3. • I thought less of my friends. I knew they were willing to “cheat” in relationships. When we lie, we are stealing social commodity without having earned it. People can lie their way into power, and in one instance with a friend, she lied her way into moral superiority. Still, none of the authority or moral superiority (such a thing exists, and while it’s misused, it’s not a bad thing not unlike intellectual superiority or athletic superiority. It just is. An appropriate use of those two examples of superiority might be to lead a team or teach a class.)
  4. • I felt sad and lonely. When we think we are getting to know somebody, we are giving them parts of our hearts. But when they lie, we know they’ve actually held back their hearts while we’ve been giving them ours. This made me feel lonely and dumb.
  5. • I felt like I couldn’t trust them. The only thing more important than love in a relationship is trust. Trust is the soil love grows in. If there’s not trust, there’s no relationship. When my friends lied, our trust died. As much as I wanted to forgive them, and feel like I did and have, interacting with them was no longer the same. I doubted much of what they said. Sadly, I think both of them began to tell more and more of the truth. But it didn’t matter. Once trust is broken, it’s extremely hard to rebuild.
  6. • If they didn’t confess (and in one relationship lied in their confession) I felt like they didn’t care enough about me to come clean and make things right. They were still thinking of themselves.
Here’s what didn’t happen. I didn’t think less of them, and while I was angry, I wasn’t angry because I thought they were a bad person. The person who lied probably assumed I felt such things, but I didn’t. What really happened was I felt terrible about myself and when somebody makes us feel bad about ourselves, we tend to get hurt and move away.
To be sure, somebody who lies has a lot of other stuff going on and it’s not so easy to come clean. For a liar to change, they need a lot of help. Lying is manipulation, so if a person is a manipulator and gets caught lying, they are most likely going to keep manipulating. They may tell more lies to cover their lies, or manipulate by playing the victim. They may try to find things other people have done that they see as worse and try to make people focus on that. What they will have a hard time doing is facing the truth (which would be the easiest way out of their dilemma. It’s just that they don’t know how to do it. (They’re survivors, scrappers and have learned to cheat to stay alive socially.)


If you’ve lied in a relationship, though, and are truly wanting to LEARN to live on the up and up, what can you do? Well, there’s plenty. Life isn’t over yet. Here’s some places to start:

• Confess. And don’t half confess (just another lie) but actually confess. This may take some time for you. You may have to sit down with a pen and paper and write it all down. Your mind will want to lie, but you have to tame your mind. It may take you some time to even understand what the truth really is. You’re going to feel ashamed and at risk, but you have to go there anyway. People are much more kind and forgiving than you think. And if they’re not, you should confess and find people who are more safe.

• Accept the consequences. You’re going to have to pay for your lies. People will not and should not trust you as much as they did before. However, getting caught in a lie and confessing a lie are two different things. The former will cost you a bit, but you can rebuild quickly. The latter will cost you everything. Another thing to consider is that the truth might have lost you a small battle, but you’d have won the war because in the long run people would have trusted you. From here on out, be willing to suffer the slight, daily consequences of telling the truth. You’d be surprised at how much less tension there is in your life when you walk openly and honestly.

• Don’t expect the relationship to be the same, but if the person doesn’t forgive you, just know you can move on. You’ve confessed and hopefully apologized and you aren’t beholden to them anymore. They need to wrestle with forgiving you and that’s now their burden. It’s an unfair burden, but we all have to face such things.

• Don’t lie anymore. It’s not important that everybody like you or approve of you. Allow people to get used to who you are. Telling the truth may mean you don’t get to be in control anymore or that people won’t like you as much. That’s fine. At least they are interacting with the real you. The deep connections you’ll make from telling the truth are worth it.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He helps people live a better story at and grow their business at Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

  • IndigoGirl

    Thanks so much for this post! It hit way too close to home today! Sadly – I did lie to someone who was very dear to me. And I didn’t come clean right away. That relationship is completely broken now and it breaks my heart everyday.
    However, I have taken the 3 steps you gave and have not been forgiven. I have continued to beat myself up and apologize over and over again. Reading your blog helped me realize I’ve done all I can humanly do. The restoration of the relationship is now in God’s hands.
    So I continue to pray that it will be healed!
    But this blog also helped to remind me of the heavy weight of the lies I lived under. I am living an honest life now and it is so freeing. I hope some day my friend will give me the opportunity to show them the changes I’ve made and how happy I am that I made them!

    • Don

      I am so glad you realized you did all you can do. I think in time that person may forgive you. We all hurt each other, so we all have to face both sides of this thing. You hurt somebody and it sounds like you handled it well. Sorry for your loss, though. That hurts.

  • D

    This hit very close to home for me as well. I am married and got too emotionally close to someone else and started to love him… something I never would have expected of myself. I have lied to my husband for a long time… not wanting to admit the truth to myself, feeling shame, and not wanting to hurt him. Now that he knows, I don’t know how honest to be with him. I guess I don’t know if it’s ok to not say all of my feelings because I don’t want him to be more hurt. The truth is that even though I have said goodbye to the other person… I feel so much loss and I have a lot of questions. I don’t expect any answers here… it is just a very relevant topic for me. I know my husband has lost a lot of trust for me, but I’m still not sure what I want.

    • Doug

      I feel for ya, I was (am) in the same situation, but I said goodbye to the wrong person…..

    • Sherri

      Having been in a similar situation…start by confessing everything to God and then ask him to help you know the words to say. Then tell your husband everything. And then reach out to other trustworthy people who will not judge you, but who will listen and hold you accountable, and tell them, too. When you speak the truth the shame will have no power over you. When we keep it inside we fall for every lie we tell ourselves. You’re human and humans make mistakes. There’s no shame in that. That’s what grace is for. A good counselor helped us to understand how we (because adultery is never a one-way street) ended up in that situation, helped me to forgive myself, and ultimately made our marriage stronger. My heart hurts for you because this is such a difficult path! Just know that any relationship built on lies is darkness, whether that be with your husband or with this other person. Keep moving toward the light.

  • Dave

    It’s a pretty good post but I think you emphasize too much on the person who did the lying. Honestly, it’s a two-way street. A lot of times people set themselves up to be lied to. They are unsafe or judgmental or critical or angry or any of a host of things that just make it really hard to tell them the truth. Especially for sensitive people or people who’ve been taught in the past that the truth isn’t always welcome. I used to lie a lot out of a desire to please others. I once asked God how I could love others better and He said, “tell the truth”. Since then I’ve tried to tell the truth all of the time. But a lot of people make it darned hard to tell it to them.

    • Sherri

      I agree that I do think at times an environment (or individual) can be created that fuels lying. I’ve worked in 2 environments where mistakes were not tolerated to an extreme. Shame and ridicule ran rampant. The pressure was so intense and the pace so overwhelming that it was impossible to not make mistakes – which fueled the fire further. Lying to cover your mistakes became culturally acceptable. At the second place, I found myself lying a couple of times and the guilt was so extreme that I confessed – “I told you that I had made that call yesterday afternoon, but I hadn’t called yet. I knew you’d be angry, and so I lied to avoid the conflict.” My confession not only helped me, but it helped change my relationship with that person and she started to respond differently when I made mistakes. However, I was still responsible for my bad behavior. And the other people were responsible for theirs. Now I’d rather take the hit in the moment than do the wrong thing and lie. And I’d rather not work for an organization (or be in a relationship) that generally responds to people without grace because I still make mistakes.

      • Lori Ventola

        I once worked for a church where showing unity and being a team were high values. Unfortunately, to make us all look like we were on the same page (which was the stated goal), I edited myself a lot. One day I found myself talking honestly to someone else and realized I’d be a better member of the community if I left the staff. I was right!

    • Nikki

      “But a lot of people make it darned hard to tell it to them.”

      I had to learn the hard way…that these people are not safe people. If we can’t be honest with people because of their inability to accept it, trust will never be built and then…I wonder what the point of the relationship is?

      There’s also this little piece of wisdom to consider…Truth doesn’t hurt, unless it is supposed to. To be true to who we are, we need to speak the truth regardless of another’s ability/inability to receive it. How they receive it is their work to do, not ours. We can still love ‘em. But lovin’ ‘em doesn’t mean we bend to their character; it means we remain steadfast in ours.

      • Morgan

        I love what you’ve written here, Nikki. “How they receive it is their work to do, not ours.” I’ve lied to protect someone, and it ultimately stunted his growth. That means I wasn’t being a good friend. Thanks again.

      • Kris

        Spot on, Nicki. Well-said. I so needed to hear those words in the exact way that you said them. Thank you!

    • shellybell

      I don’t know Dave…I’m probably coming from a different place than you were thinking, but I was in a marriage where my husband regularly fed me manipulating crap like, “I only lie because you don’t trust me.”

      I believed it, because you have to when you are married…or I should say, you have to go with it and your body and mind becomes ill through the process because things get so twisted up.

      Anyways, I don’t believe lying is a 2-way street. No one makes you lie. It’s a choice.

      If you are in a relationship that lying becomes a “means for survival or maintaining it”, then that relationship is beyond unhealthy and in all reality is no relationship at all.

      It’s taken me years to untwist the manipulating crap that lies spin.

      (I probably shouldn’t have commented on this particular post because…well, just because…so I hope I didn’t overstep by defending the “lied to.” You probably weren’t referring to marriage or that sort of thing anyways.)

      • Michael

        Shelly, great post – and you should have posted because you’re spot on. Statements along the lines of “I lie because the other person’s behavior essentially makes me do it” is sadly weak and twisted. It can sound almost reasonable until you recognize that the father of lies is ultimately behind this kind of rhetoric. It sounds like Adam & Eve in the garden as they immediately began blaming each other for their individual sin. That didn’t work out too well and it still doesn’t today. There is nothing new under the son.

        While it is definitely hard at times to tell the truth, the question is one of love. If I love you, I am willing to risk pain in order to tell you the truth.

        Shame & fear come directly from the enemy. In the Garden — immediately after they lied, they recognized they were naked (shame) and tried to hide from God (fear).

        Yahweh is not a God of shame or fear.

        Friends – do not lie. Lying always starts off small but ultimately leads to utter darkness and despair.

        Truth is born out of love. Have the courage to throw yourself at the mercy and grace of God and tell the truth. He will be there for you.

  • Kate

    I agree with your post, totally makes sense and is so so sad this happens. But it left me thinking maybe there is a third reason people lie. You said they lie because of shame and fear and / or because they are selfish and it is pathological. I am wondering about people you lie because the other person in the relationship has high expectations that they can’t meet – like being perfect. Does that fit into the shame and fear lying or is it someone different where it becomes the other person’s fault too. I think it is sad when someone is trying (and ends up lying) to be moral and perfect because they have the feeling they are not good enough for the other person. And some people move to fast and have these expectations that person they think they are falling in love is on a pedestal not giving that person a chance to breathe, be comfortable and open up.

    • JP

      Kate, your post resonated with me when I read it, see I understand perfectionism quite well as I used to be a perfectionist. When expectations are so high we are unable to meet them, two things can happen: 1. We lie to make it look as though nothing is wrong to protect our image and gain acceptance, and 2. We begin to withdraw from other people emotionally and socially when the lies become too much of a burden to carry.

      It is unfortunate when standards are set so high that someone’s self worth can be influenced negatively, when they feel they haven’t been able to live up. So they shut down. This can be particularly frustrating and damaging for people in a setting where relationships are not easily severed (family, marriage, etc) and these people have to stick it out and deal with it.

      But what I’ve found is something like this can make you bitter or make you better. There comes a time when you realize you can’t change the influence of other people, only the way you respond to it. And the beautiful part is, if you respond in a way that makes you better (realizing you are not perfect, will never be, and if people can’t love you for who you are, they don’t truly love you) your character will become stronger, and your ability to be real with people will be strengthened.

      God loves to see our character grow, change and be strengthened by the people he puts in our lives. The thought of that makes me hopelessly fearful and yet confident in a way I’d have never thought possible.

  • Heather

    I was married to a pathological liar, and it breaks my heart that he now is teaching our boys that little lies are ok. They visibly struggle when they tell me something they have been coached to say but isn’t true. I always know when they are not being truthful, because it makes them feel terrible. I hope my influence and Gods protection will keep them from adapting this as a lifestyle.

  • Randall Frederick

    Don, having been on both sides of this, I completely relate. Thank you for bringing to light a recurrent problem in relationships – both within and without religious communities.

  • Michelle

    This post stirs up a lot of stuff for me, I can vouch that lies in a relationship do have very devastating effects. I grew up in a home with a step dad that was a pathological liar, he lied about everything, things that were absolutely absurd even, what seemed like for no reason at all, he lied all the time, and he got worse as he got older, I resented him for a lot of reasons and his lying was just one of them. I also have been lied to by the person I trusted the most (save Jesus) and it has been the most devastating thing I have endured in my life, I resonated highly with how you felt being lied to, I have felt all of those things. Lies shatter trust, they shatter intimacy, and though the damage can be restored it is a long and hard process. The one who lied most lie no more, period. The one who has been lied to must learn to walk in grace and forgiveness daily. I truly believe in restoration and hope, I have seen beauty for ashes coming out of this devastation in my marriage and trust is being rebuilt, but it takes both people to rebuild it, it takes both to be completely surrendered to Christ and allow something entirely new to be birthed. Thanks for writing about this subject Don!

  • Amy

    This was an extremely timely post. Thank you.

  • Kate

    Not that I don’t love reading your posts but we haven’t heard from Lucy in awhile. How’s she doing?

  • Tara

    Although I am thankfully not a habitual liar, I did lie to a friend a few months ago out of bitterness and jealousy. I’m now dealing with the consequences that come even after confession and forgiveness have happened. I’d take back the one-time life of a liar to gain his trust back in a heartbeat.

  • lindsey

    yup. lying sucks. one of the hardest things for me is seeing that someone is not only lying to me, but also lying to his/herself.

  • RH

    This was a tough read for me, since I was the one who did the lying in my marriage. I never thought of myself as a manipulator or a liar, until I got caught doing so. I even told more half-truths until I was later caught in those too. The most humbling/humiliating/devasting time in my life, and I can ultimately thank God for it. I wasn’t strong enough to confess, and God knew it. God did something for me I could not or would not do for myself, and as painful as it, for me for sure, but more so for my wife, being caught lying was one of the most loving things God has ever done for me! I have taken the steps Don outlined (no easy task for sure, and never perfectly) and it’s the only way to go. There really is no other choice. Well there is, but that choice is dark and lonely.

    My relationship with my wife has not been the same, that’s for sure. In most respects it is SO much better than it ever was before! But it is also still painful. And asking for forgiveness is not a one time event either…

  • Chrissy

    As someone who was recently lied to in a significant relationship, I can add some other effects lies had on me.

    When my partner lied…

    *It made me feel just plain not good enough. My self-esteem took a hit and deep insecurity started to grow and fester as I began to doubt the foundation of our relationship. I got into a habit of comparing myself with his past girlfriends and other people.

    *It made me feel like I wasn’t the priority person in his life. He hid that he was in contact with girls from his past relationships because he thought I would get upset, which made me feel he was prioritizing them over me.

    *It drove me to feel the need to control situations and circumstances, in order to prevent him from lying and/or catch him in a lie. I became suspicious and paranoid, and was always searching for clues.

    *And lastly, as someone who has a tendency to try to “fix” people, it caused me to stay in the relationship, priding myself on being loving and forgiving, all the while trying to “save” him from himself. Which is God’s job, and God’s alone.

  • cate songbird

    This is a really important topic to think about and discuss – matters of the heart. Thanks, yet again, for being so vulnerable and sharing with your vast audience. I was wondering, though, if it’s the best approach to actually give advice to people based on your experience on your blogs. I know you mean for good, and a lot of times, it is very good advice, but it makes it sound like you’re an authority on the subject, rather than someone who has experienced something and wants to be open about it with others. I, personally, appreciate much more openness and sharing, rather than someone telling me how to do things better. It helps me to be more introspective and reflect on my own. I think your posts used to bend the latter way much more. Lately, I’ve noticed that you present a lot of “fix it in 3 steps” ideas in your blogs, which is totally against the grain of your writing style in general, in my opinion. I wonder if this is intentional?

    • Jordan R

      To be fair, Don is an authority on the subject. Most of us are, because most of us have gone through the situations of being lied to and being the liar. Knowing Don through his writing, I can safely speak a response on his behalf that he is not suggesting that his responses, be it 3 or 4 action points in nature, is the ONLY way. He is suggesting that these are some key thoughts to have when you are walking through these situations. If I may be so bold, I would suggest that how you read / feel after you read these blogs is perhaps more reflective of what you may be going through yourself rather than the intention of the author.

  • shellybell


    “I felt like a fool”…To this day, I still don’t trust myself. I consider myself someone who must have zero discernment. Not just to be conned, but CHOOSING, willing to compromise when my gut was telling me no, not trusting God to walk away when red flags were present…it’s haunted me, it still haunts me.

    • “I felt sad and lonely. When we think we are getting to know somebody, we are giving them parts of our hearts.”

    My biggest fear in ever getting married again is the seeming “power” someone else has over our hearts and our lives. We place both in the hands of the other, and we have to trust that they will love and protect them…and not just ours, but the children created in that marriage.

    I’m afraid it will take an act of God to soften that side of my defenses…I regularly pray He softens it.

    Great post.

  • chris vonada

    Wow, powerful and meaningful…

    Thank God that we can know love… forgiveness… mercy… and grace.

  • Ethan

    Don, this is excellent.

    I was a liar. I lied to everyone, in every relationship with every person, until the web would get too heavy and come crashing down. Then I’d move on to a new group and start all over again. This went on and on until I found myself completely and utterly alone. Through the mind-boggling power of the gospel, I was able to confess (getting caught wasn’t a problem; everyone already knew) and begin to allow the Spirit to bring change.

    I pay the price for my lies constantly. Out of 27 years of life, I have only a tiny handful of relationships that have survived. Special events, holidays, and the like are spent, usually, alone. Memories are forever tainted. New relationships are difficult to forge because of my honesty about my past. But still, it’s so worth it. It’s so much better to be living even a shell of the life I dreamt of as an honest man than to have the entire world handed to me based on lies.

    You hit the nail on the head brilliantly in this post, and you used your voice to reach out towards liars and invite them in. I don’t have words to tell you how amazing that is and how much it matters, but trust me (!) it does. It matters. So much.

    One thing that I wanted to thank you for was the way you painted out how lies affect the friends and loved ones of the liar. I didn’t know. I didn’t even fathom that’s what my lies were doing to people. I was too afraid to ever even pause and find out what was happening to see. It wasn’t until years later, and scores upon scores of relationships later, that I was able to begin to comprehend, and that only once I committed to change. I understand better all the time just how reprehensible my actions were, and just how much damage they caused.

    I feel like we live in a culture that’s very accepting and understanding of lies. White lies, politicians, you name it. I know that my case is the extreme, but having lived the extreme… I can’t see much difference between a lifestyle of lies and just one little white lie. At least I don’t see much difference in what they represent and what they bring to relationships: death.

    Your words rocked me to the core, and I know that there will be other liars and former liars out there who will benefit from them. But I also think that your words, and people’s reactions to them, will benefit “normal” liars as well. Normal people who don’t live life so integrated in lying, but only delve into it occassionaly.

    I think it helps us all alike to remember just what lies do to everyone involved, and just what they cost.

    Don, thank you. Ardently.

    • Joyce

      I am so proud of you for your honesty. It is not easy bringing our”stuff” into the light.

      Much love,

    • Michael

      Ethan, as a former liar myself, I hope I might be able to be of some encouragement to you.

      At 27 years of age my life came crashing down because of my lies. Coming face to face with what I had done was nearly overwhelming and almost ended my life.

      But we serve the God of love, mercy, and grace in whom there is no shame.

      Continue to throw yourself before Him in utter humility. He will lift you up for His glory.

      Some, maybe many, of the relationships your lies damaged will never recover in this lifetime – which can be a sad and bitter pill to accept.

      But this God we serve who is full of love, mercy, and grace is THE God of second birth and new beginnings. You and I are evidence of this.

      As you continue to seek Him daily in utter humility, He will bring new and wonderful friendships into your life – and you will cherish and love them.

      I’m now 50. At 27 I thought my life was over, but this God of Second Chances knew otherwise. I’ve been married to an amazing “truth-teller” for 20 years. She loves me unconditionally. I have many friendships that go back 20 to 30 years.

      Today God has taken that darkness and used it all for His glory. Some of the relationships that were broken He graciously allowed to be restored. Others not. But those that have not, I’ll see on the other side — there will be time.

      Live one day at a time. Do not look too far ahead as it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Lean into Him constantly. It will get easier and it will get better. Let Him use your experience for His glory to help others still living with the lies.

      Although I truly can’t quite comprehend it, He loves us so much. Peace & hope to you, my friend.

  • Jaimie

    I figured out one of my friends was telling random lies to impress me. She would make elaborate stories up to entertain me, totally fiction but I believed them. When I confronted her, she came clean.

    And we’re still friends today. I’m worried my trusting of her will come back to bite me again later, but I take a “two strikes you’re out” mentality. Everyone deserves a second chance. Mind, I question a lot of her stories now and I’m not putting myself in any kind of vulnerable position with her.

    She seems to be a great person besides. I just don’t know. It’s scary if I think about it, but I try not to.

  • http://accountingadvantage.vpweb,com Becky

    Ya know… this was really awesome that you shared this tonight. I am going through steps 8 & 9 in my 12 Step Study and so this was really timely. I’m dealing with forgiveness for my ex-husband of 29 year marriage. Divorced for almost 10 years now and still working on the forgiveness portion. Over the 29 year marriage there was a lot of the “pathological lying” going on… and over the years I chose to look the other way. I realize now that type of lying comes from an underlying personal character flaw that is so afraid of looking bad in others eyes. When I had enough of the lying and started confronting it and requiring honesty and healing that ended the marriage. While I’m sure I had my part in all of it, creating it, nurturing it, etc… now, my part is to forgive and move on into the life God has for me now. Thanks, Bro!

  • Sarah

    I loved every bit of this. I’ve been going through this awful situation with a friend who lied to me about her affair, came partially clean, and then kept lying for a year. I felt like I was also getting cheated on, and like I couldn’t believe her at all. It’s brutal because I love her, and I still want to work on our friendship, but there’s this part of me that will always be distrustful. I’ve tried explaining this to her, but she just can’t see it from where she’s at right now. I have prayed and prayed for her and her family. I just hope that by finally coming clean with her about my own feelings and walking through this icky part, maybe she’ll find the courage to be honest with herself and those around her. Thanks for putting graceful, loving words to that.

  • Gail

    As usual, Don, you hit the nail on the head. I was married to a true pathological liar and I can tell you it was horribly painful and degrading. The emotional and verbal abuse it became was beyond my ability to handle since I came from a loving, truthful family. After years of being cynical and unforgiving for the pain it caused me and our son, I think I have come to understand it as a very sad sickness he had. I am sorry I did not truly forgive him before he died. Much of my ability to forgive and move on came through my wonderful second husband who was no more able to tell a lie than he was to not breathe! Trust is everything in a relationship. I learned how much it hurts and it made it very difficult for me to lie to anyone about anything. Lies are never worth the pain they cause. I forgive those who do lie, but it pretty much takes them off my list of friends.

    Thank you for writing about this.

  • James in StumpJazz

    As you know words are powerful whether lies or love. But …just as powerful are words never spoken. Never telling a child “I love you” is as powerful as a lie. Never giving mention or credit to an employee or child, or friend/colleague is as powerful as a lie.

    I listen to people (especially older people (at mid-age) talk about those multitudes of people in their life, who had the power to say a few words to honor or recognize them and those people chose to not say a word. These people . . . . often bitter over the experience often have great difficulty giving their frustration and hurt over to God and receiving His peace.

    You may feel good over the fact you may not lie or have not told a lie since grade school, but how many people have we hurt by holding back recognition to the very deserving?

    Silence often hurts more than a lie. ….and quite possibly much worse. *See Proverbs

  • James in StumpJazz

    I had to think on this one for awhile. I realized I lied to a guy for years because I did not want to put in jeopardy . . . his ability to underwrite my home building projects. Here is how I mastered the lie:

    *When he would be-little his wife several times a day, I said nothing! When I saw his destructive attitude and perfectionism /controlling personality pushing his 4 children down the plank on the ship, I played powder-puff football with him in my comments . . . when I should have been up in his face with a firm grip on his face-mask. ( I was his “Best-man” in his wedding.

    When he called the poor and dirty, and homeless, just a bunch of “Lazy freeloaders” 24/7 for 30 years while he bought homes in Italy and Mt Hood and had 3 Mercedes in his garage, and claimed to love Jesus and so on . . . I offered tip toe, smartly worded responses that had little sting. All because I wanted the loans he kept dangling out in front of me. Well he never loaned the money, and broke a multitude of promises and agreements with me…and for and encore, attacked me in every possible way . . . even calling my wife a free-loader and telling everyone I should leave her.

    That was my big pay-off for neglecting my responsibility to be faithful to this one guy and tell him the truth about himself. I just shake my head too…. for I have always told it like I saw it and would rather have a crappy relationship that is real, than a fake .. pretty good one. Ask all my college and HS friends…they will tell you that about me.

    Holding back and saying nothing or little…I want to call that a lie!

  • D.D.

    Great post. Half truths send me flying emotionally. I hate being manipulated. I also struggle with people who lie about their achievements as in make them sound bigger than they are. I probably err on the over honest side with mine – I’m just starting a new career and have a massive learning curve, and I tell people that upfront. Being in recovery, I’ve heard it all in my life, and I have far more respect for the person who comes clean with their brokenness (I value the trust) than I do someone who lays blame and makes excuses. I once had a married boss make a pass at me and lie about it. Rather than come clean, he used my past as ammunition to “prove” that I don’t know the difference between a man who is hitting on me and one who is just being nice. Sadly, I’ve been in recovery long enough that I do know the difference. I eventually forgave his fear and his lies, but this man is no longer in my life.

  • Renee

    Under the “accept the consequences” part, are the latter and former mixed up? Maybe I am reasding it wrong, but wouldn’t it be more devastating to be caught in a lie, than to confess one?

    • Jordan R

      Agreed. It’s backwards.

  • kari

    what did jesus say about forgiveness? if they still don’t listen, treat them as you would a tax collector or pagan. and how did jesus treat tax collectors and pagans? he died for them. and broke bread with them. and had relationship with them.

    there is a third option beyond either taking abuse or cutting and running. maybe the process of building character and true love is learning how to say no to the abuse others would do to you while staying in relationship. maybe the most toxic of your friends are specifically given to you because you have a unique talent in how you can love them.

    • H

      Have you done this?

      I am not sure I agree with that interpretation of the verse to justify staying in bad relationships. His audience didn’t treat tax collectors or pagans well, so going with that understanding, it’s not about how Jesus treated them. I think he would have clarified more if he meant “Treat them really well, as I do.”

      Beyond that…I’m not sure how I would stay in relationship with a liar because I would never know when s/he was lying…so it would end up being a fairly shallow or guarded relationship b/c my human heart would probably not feel safe or at ease. I think it’s okay to take care of your heart–guard it–and admit pain hurts and causes damage. (Sin causes pain–that’s why we shouldn’t do it.)

      I can say that unless I sense and feel true repentance, trust is gone. Trust is also earned back over time, if at all.

  • ChadJ

    this is simply brilliant!

    It’s such a shame that we do this to one another.

    Used to be, I lied to protect my reputation (or what I perceived it to be); now, that reputation is in God’s hands. Where it always was to begin with. I find that, as in real life, people online are looking for the same thing: honesty.

    I have revealed things about myself that I thought surely would lose me friends (and influence), only to find acceptance. I think this gets back to what Jesus said: “He who seeks to save his life shall lose it… the one who loses his life… finds it.”

    Still, I worry that I come across more “exroverted” online than I am IRL.

    Good words, Don. Thanks for sharing from your heart!

  • Tom

    Really? I mean really?

    Generally I like alot of the insight you share Don but I respectfully think you are off the mark on this one, although at first glance it can sound “comforting”. (as in what a hurt person would want to hear so they can continue in their hurt or at the very least, impede healing).

    In an attempt at a concise description, this sounds like a page out of the “legalist’s Pharisaic handbook”. Quid pro quo (when it really hurt or matters – the rest of the time we can pretend we extend the grace taht has been given to us through Jesus).

    Who hasn’t/doesn’t lie, or at least tell half truths (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – how often is the whole truth part left out), going along with someone else’s lies when we could correct it with our knowledge of the truth, saying nothing and letting someone continue in ignorance (not the same as well advised silence), and so on, and so on….

    We talk about not trusting another. If we applied the same yardstick under close scrutinu of our own broken promises (lies) to ourselves and God, who could pretgend that we can even trust ourselves.

    We are lied to in relationships of various descriptions by the world (politics, marketing, etc), our personal concentric circles of relationships and by and within the church where so often the stakes are high because the power and manipulation game is so impactful because we so want that trustworthy place of refuge.

    Should we be surprised? Satan is is a liar! I just suspect we are naive at “how good/effective he is at his job”.

    I don’t think I’m naive and I’m not talking about remaining a co-dependent victim when someone continues in a pattern of denial and untrustworthiness (pathological), but to provide justification for on-going unforgiveness (the hurt takes time to heal but to continue to justify holding it against that person is nothing short of keeping oneself in the prison of one’s own unforgiveness).

    To “remember their sin no more” does not mean that we won’t “recall” it during the healing process, but rather that we don’t “re” (once again) “member” (attach ourselves or the other) to the sin.

    “Forgive as you have been forgiven” is the new covenant way and which one of us that has come to appreciate just how great the forgiveness of Jesus is, and the “grace in which we now stand” (abide), dare not forgive another (debtor parable).

    With the greatest of respect, my sense is that this was written from a place of hurt rather than a process of healing (even if it is claimed it ain’t so) where grace has administered a cure (healing can take time after the introduction of the cure).

    Real forgiveness is a work of the Holy Spirit that is delivered in the context of, or in “rear view” of, the forgiveness of past, current and future sin that we received by us at the point of belief in the person of Jesus the Christ.

    It is for freedom that we have been set free…regardless of how elaborate the attempt to justify the deception that we can forgive but remain attached to, and imprisoned by, the sin committed against us.

    Perhaps the most important dynamic about deception is that you don’t know it is occurring…otherwise it is just a case of yielding to temptation.

    • H

      I’m curious. Have you been lied to, felt hurt, and then healed a personal relationship? I’ve found it quite hard to heal some relationships after I’ve been lied to. (And after a pattern of half-truths and a lie, it did seem codependent to stick around.) If you were able to trust again, what did that look or feel like?

      • EP

        I’ve found this post extraordinarily thought provoking and helpful, especially since I’m in the midst of figuring out how to navigate a close relationship in which I have done all I know to do to address similar situations (though I’m not sure I’d label them lying – but can see how that term could be applied), with little/unsustained response. I’d say what differentiates the situations to which Don refers from the “little white lies” we all commit from time to time is the fact that there is a consistent pattern of behavior on the part of the “liar” and corresponding feelings (as a result of the pattern, not necessarily the individual ‘lie.’) he describes on the part of the ‘lie-ee’. That’s what struck me so about this post relative to my own situation is that the description of the feelings is SPOT ON, and I’m realizing that, while I had thought this was a result of my own insecurity and failures – and no doubt I need to own up to some of this – I also need to understand that I’ve been working really hard to maintain a relationship with someone who does not meet me half-way. And by not recognizing that and changing my behavior in the relationship according to the responses I’m getting, I’m doing both of us a disservice. I think it is possible in some of these situations to remain in the relationship, but as Don says, the relationship is never the same, and as a result, I’m wondering if that changed relationship is sustainable. For example, in my own situation I’ve decided to let her lead the way, and I will respond in accordance with how she acts. I will no longer bend over backwards to maintain the relationship, but will respond with love when she makes genuine gestures. It’s hard to discern the line between this and a ‘tit-for-tat’ approach, which isn’t what I’m advocating, admittedly. I guess I’m just thinking that “responding with love” means love for the other person AND love for oneself such that our responses mirror the relationship the other person wants and is willing to participate in, as reflected by their words and actions.

        Hard topic. Very helpful posts and responses. Thanks.

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  • Jonathan

    Hi, I enjoy this blog very much… I´m from Chile… if you want to come someday, you can stay in my house (I know, this is pretty weird, but after reading your books, I feel like you are a friend, plus I study literature).


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  • sherri b.

    I’ve lived and received this from two people as well. I felt foolish, for sure. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I did that brought it on. In the end I realized it was never truly about me–mostly it was about the other people trying to live out some sort of role that they perceived as being more valuable than honesty. It makes me sad to this day.

    After a long period of doubting and questioning myself, I came to realize that some people just suck–that’s their prerogative but I won’t let it change how I treat them.

    I’m sorry that you had to live that as well.

  • http://none Tim McCormick

    It has been a tough road indeed for me. I lived a life of lies and manipulation out of fear and survival (not an excuse, just a fact). Jesus has been walking me through the only road to sanity and it has not been easy; but it has been rewarding. Ironically, the rewards don’t look like much from an external, superficial perspective; Nevertheless, I have gained something so significant that I can willingly accept the loss of all things material and social. Because of Jesus, I don’t have to live a lie to be accepted. Because of Jesus, I don’t have to have the American dream to feel a sense of worth or accomplishment. My future could very well be homelessness, but I am not worried because I have a home waiting for me when I die. I did not earn it, I simply accepted His invitation to be saved by Him and let Him take away everything about me that is destructive to this universe, only to put in me everything that is good and eternally beautiful. I still have to reap in this life what I have sown in rebellion for so many years. Somehow, such suffering makes me respect and love Jesus even more because it shows me how priceless His gift is. Thank you Lord.

  • carmel g

    Fascinating blog. amazed how common lying is, everyone does it and experiences it in some shape or form. When I lied I hated the feeling of being found out or the feeling that I knew the person knew I was lying. The worry and feeling is not worth it. As my mum used to say ‘the truth will out’, and there’s a famous saying ‘tell the truth and you don’t have anything to remember’ (don’t know who said it) but how true. In response to James in StumpJazz I couldn’t agree more about telling a child ‘I love you’. If they don’t hear it they won’t know to pass it forward. Anyone know why it takes us so long to figure out things in life? xx

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  • Holli

    Great post Don. The only thing I would argue is that there are more liars out there than any of would care to admit…if you go with the fact that manipulating is lying. I’ve read that part about the 2 types of liars by Townsend and Cloud…and I just feel like there is much more grey area than we would like to admit. I say this coming out of an abusive relationship…and I say it because of this statement by Lewis Smedes: “First we deceive ourselves and then we convince ourselves we aren’t deceiving ourselves.”

    In my case, this statement applied to both my ex and I. When we got married, I had no clue that I was deceiving myself and him about what I wanted out of a relationship and life. I would have told you I was being completely honest and forthright with who I was and what I wanted…but I was really caught up in a pseudo relationship. And for his part, he too was caught in deception about what he wanted in a wife and a marriage – the duplicity becoming evident only years into the marriage. He would completely disagree with me…but then again that is part of the deception we can all find ourselves wrapped up in.

    It’s amazing the further and further I get away from my old self the more and more ways I find how I was being deceived and how I deceived myself. This is Satan’s biggest weapon against us, is it not…getting us to look at life thru the wrong lens and thus getting us to believe lies about ourselves, about God and about others…about our very reality.

    It is a LOT of work to come out of deception. I think your four steps are good for those evident lies we commit…but I think lies seek deeper into our souls than we ever realize. This is the veil that is cast over our eyes that only Jesus can remove…by giving us a clearer vision, a right vision of what REALITY really is. Without it, our hearts are veiled even to our own deception of ourselves. Praying for God to remove this deception…that is a powerful, scary and healing prayer…

    I’m about to put up my next post in a couple of days about “Whose Reality is it anyways?” which is part of the series – Is God bigger than the Christian Church found here:

    Thanks as always for your amazing work and insight!!!

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  • Mark

    Donald has obviously not had children yet :)

  • Shyla


    I am a former lying child who grew into a lying young adult who walked away from lying quite some years ago once I gave my life to Christ. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

    As an adult and a parent I have experienced the betrayal of being lied to by loved ones, including lying children. Payback, huh? Our job is to do our best to teach them the truths shared here. Press on!

    God’s peace.

  • Ron

    I’m no angel and have done things to hurt my wife in the past including having an extra marital affair. I was a different person back then as I am now. Now that I realize how much I cherish my family, now my wife is having some sort of relationship with another man. What exactly I do not know, not if physical or emotional, but she will not even discuss it with me saying I’m bullying her in trying to talk about it. Nothing is getting resolved, but just lie after lie. She says she’ll do marriage counseling (at least its a start), but I get the feeling she is not really liking that idea. I’m starting to think she will lie her way through this, and we’ll be back together as we were before she got caught, but I know this will only corrode our relationship more, something I think she is unaware of, or doesn’t care. Looking to God for guidance and healing from this, helps a great deal, but it still hurts! Started working off to get my mind off of it, I just hope we can be honest with eachother in the near future, REAL honesty.

    • Ron

      *working out

  • Linda

    I read this and thought oh my god this was my whole relationship.. He lied to me soo much that I blamed myself for destroying the relationship.. I was asking for his forgiveness.. He ran from me I emailed his roommate who went and told everyone the were a couple.. He claims they were not. Then how come I was not able to meet his family or go to parties he and his roommate had he told me it was a complicated situation.. Meanwhile they were togather along..

  • Chris the “Gman”

    Dear Don,

    First I must give you a bleated thanks for all your books and I just watched the movie last night I loved it :)
    Second I find it very timely that I visit your website to see lies in relationships as the topic. I must confess I’m a big lair on the road to recovery and if not for the grace of Christ I would probably be dead. I concur my reasons for lying were the fear of rejection, loss of love and shame of my circumstances. I was sexual abused from the age of 11 to 13 by a family friend, he did devastatingly gross and perverted things I could never openly discuss. But these experiences shaped my world view and perception of the truth from relaity and trust. It took me decades before the dysfunctional behavior of lying in my relationships and to myself and addiction to numb the pain in my soul before I faced what happened and entered into professional treatment. Im glad to say thru the grace and love of christ and support of my Angel of a wife and my five amazing children there is life, love and truth on the other side of deception, self destruction of relationships, fear, lies, addiction and abuse of any kind. I write all this to say those of you that know what Im talking about you are not alone and there is hope :) time for the truth to shine. Keep up the great work Don. In Him, Sincerely Chris

    BTW I’m dying to know how is Penny?

  • Chris the “Gman”

    also if u want to know my whole story I would love to share it with you.

  • Jenna Chapman

    Thank-you for this article, its so true, I have recently been lied to, I wonder how I’ll trust the person again, the lie was out of shame, but how do I know they’ll change and not lie out of shame of what others would think again. I know I can forgive, but I cannot forget.

  • DannaWright

    Some lie because their brains become addicted to the adrenaline rush their lying gives them. For the initial moment of the lie, the liar is the only one who knows s/he’s lying. This gives them pleasure to have this feeling of power. It’s called Duper’s Delight by the FBI.

    And so, there’s a 3rd reason people lie. Cloud and Townsend are addressing only people who have a normal capacity for empathy, remorse, and reciprocation of good will.

    Principles that apply well to normal people do not work at all for those with seared consciences and reprobate minds.

    The biggest problem is they’re such good liars….so charming and skilled with manipulation techniques and acting skills….it’s hard to distinguish normals from reprobates.

    Bernie Madoff was able to dupe 1000s of smart and wealthy people. Among his trail of devastation: One son committed suicide (in this case, Madoff’s betrayals are akin to murder by proxy) and the other son has cancer from the stress.

  • Sr. D A MACOY

    if you can become a 20 yr member better known as a true elder to most or any of the law n order sires… you’ll be able to read them in 10 mins flat.

    • Mr Ben


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  • Erica donald

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  • Meg

    Hi I have recently caught my best friend in multiple lies. After watching her lie and manipulate multiple people I never thought she would be silly enough to do it to me. I caught her in these lies and confronted her about them, she immediately got extremely defensive and started saying things to me that she knew would hurt me. After an hour of being picked on I asked her why she lied… She told me it was because she didn’t want to deal with me getting upset and that she just didn’t even want to deal with me… Coming from my best friend this all really hurt. So I eventually got mad and informed her that the only way she knows how to get herself out of trouble is by lying. Even though I was mad and couldn’t trust her I made up with her. Then the next morning I wake up to a bunch of indirect tweets that ik we’re about me…I didn’t even have to say anything and she texted me saying that they weren’t about me. I was like yeah sure…? Then she was like fine they are and that’s when I told her I was done. One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. And the sad part is she doesn’t even think she has done anything wrong she always try’s to manipulate things to make t look like she’s the victim and never accepts responsibility. Usually it works she always has to have control over everyone and she always made me feel like I was in the wrong…not this time I’m putting my foot down and not letting her manipulate me anymore. The thing is tho is my ego really worth the friendship or do I need to keep my foot down so that she learns a lesson?

    • Theresa

      My boyfriend has been caught twice communicating with a girl that has been threatening to our relationship and has hurt him in the past. She and he were at one time married for a short while and she abandoned him for
      another man. He never really got his closure. He felt duped. When I met him he was getting counseling for this. He gave up counseling and has been with me for three years.
      It’s been hard having this ghost girl in our relationship but harder when she resurfaced and he kept her resurfacing a secret.
      I found out they were in contact by picking up his phone when a text came in.
      I asked him about it and he lied to me until I showed him the phone and that I already knew.
      He gave the same excuse your friend did.
      I want to believe him and move forward but it’s hard to think it won’t happen again even though he now promises to be honest.