The Love Doctor

Making your relationships healthier and more fulfilling.

How Much Do You Trust Your Partner?

Expert tips to help identify deception, and to plan what to do afterward.

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Honesty with your partner builds trust and intimacy—and we all value honesty in our relationships. We also expect that in trusting relationships, both partners are totally honest and open with each other. When one partner has secrets or withholds information from the other, it violates those expectations of trust.

And yet studies show that most of us tell at least one lie per day. These lies may be small and harmless or they may be big and serious, but even minor ones can destroy a relationship if they become sufficiently frequent.

To start, it's important to know why we might lie to a partner. Most of the time, it's because we don't feel safe telling the truth. We fear their disapproval or rejection, so we think it's easier just to avoid the truth. We may also lie out of embarrassment or guilt at having done something wrong, especially something we know violated their expectations of trust and commitment in our relationship.

How Can You Tell?

Is your partner telling you lies? There isn't one sign that always indicates that a person isn't telling the truth, but there are some identifiable behavior patterns. No one is telltale, and most of us are not as adept at spotting liars as we think. If you discover one or two of the signs below in your partner, for example, it's as likely as not meaningless. But if you see enough of them, and repeatedly, it may be a significant pattern. (Some studies show that women are better at detecting lies than men, as they tend to be more likely to pick up on the nonverbal messages or signs of deception.)

Here are some signs that your partner might be lying to you:

  1. Evasiveness. At first, your partner may avoid outright lying and just become evasive. If this is not how your partner typically behaves, it can be a signal that something is up. It may feel like pulling teeth to have a conversation, and when you ask direct questions, your partner may avoid answering, or just repeat, "I don't know."
  2. Speech Patterns. When people are lying, they often speak hesitantly or in a higher pitch, and they make more grammatical errors and slips of the tongue than when they are telling the truth. Also, when people are lying, there are discrepancies or mismatches between their tone of voice and their facial expressions. Your partner may even cover his or her mouth while talking. It's as if they're subconsciously repressing the untruths they're saying. It may be as blatant as completely concealing the mouth or as subtle as a single finger placed in front of the lips.
  3. Body Talk. On many occasions, when people are lying, their mouth and the body are not in sync. The words sound convincing, but everything else about their body language sends a very different message. If your partner can't look you straight in the eye, it may also that mean he or she has something to hide. (Of course, if it's not their habit to look you in the eye when speaking, this may be less of a sign.) Also, when people are lying, their pupils dilate and they blink more often.

What should you do if you suspect that your partner is lying? First, try to understand the possible reason behind the lie. Most of the time, this is at least as important as the content of the secret or the fact of the deception itself.

Then, have a conversation with your partner—a "trust chat." Pick a good moment, without the distractions of children, television, or work. Go to your partner without judgment or shame, and talk to him or her about honesty, trust, and secrecy. Share your concerns and see your partner responds. His or her reactions could speak volumes.

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., is an Oakland University professor and research professor at The University of Michigan. more...

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