Frances Cohen Praver Ph.D.

Love Doc

Lying to Yourself in Your Love Life

How does lying to yourself help or hurt you?

Posted Jan 01, 2012

"She told me it's over just before the New Year. And I have no idea why." Bruce tried to maintain his cool.

I asked, "How did she explain it?"

Looking confused, Bruce said, "She said she was in love with Kent and that he's her soul mate. It doesn't make sense. Kent died a month ago. How can she be in love with a dead man?"

"Maybe something else died?" I suggested.

Tears welled up as Bruce said, "Yeah, her love for me died. It's a shock to me. We were planning to get married."

I commiserated, "It is sad. How long were you together?"

"We knew each other for 10 years, and lived together for the last eight years." Bruce responded.

I wanted some explanations of what really happened. "Were things always good between you?"

Bruce paused a moment and said, "I thought so, but recently things changed. Last week she stayed out all night. I was worried but she said she was with her girl friend Anise who I never heard of."
"Were there any other times that she was out late?" I continued to explore.

"On Friday nights, she would come home at 3 in the morning. She said she was with her girl friends." Bruce looked down.

"And you thought nothing of it?" I asked.

"I didn't like it, but when I said something she told me I was suffocating her. Last year we almost broke up about it. She was seeing this one friend who lived across the hall from us and they spent nights together." He recalled some truths.

"I guess she was not that into you, but you didn't want to see it." I interpreted.

Bruce looked up and said, "You opened my eyes about Christine. Maybe there's been another man."

"Or another woman?" I suggested.

In therapy, Bruce told me about Christine's unstable childhood, her multiple moves, her sexual identity confusion, and that she was not able to stick to one profession. Not only did Bruce open his eyes about Christine but he became interested in why he needed to deceive himself. The insight helped him to see that he liked unstable women who were exciting because they enlivened him. We are now working on new ways for Bruce to feel vibrant and exciting. He realizes that his job at the social security office is safe, with good benefits but not satisfying or exciting and he is considering going back to school to study communications.

Bruce is one of many patients I see that seem to lie to themselves in their love lives. When they discover the truth, they end the relationship just before New Years. Perhaps it is the wish to bring truth and love into the New Year.

But why do we deceive ourselves in the first place? In his review of The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception by Robert Trivers, New York Times, Book Review, p 12, 12-25-11 John Horgan gives us some answers. Trivers, an evolutionary biologist, writes that deceit is a deep feature of life given gene's struggle to prevail.

Trivers writes that edible butterflies adopt the color of poisonous species in order to deter predators. Cukoos avoid the stress of raising offspring by laying their eggs in other birds' nests, presumably so they can be free to keep reproducing. Humans often deceive themselves by thinking they are smarter, sexier, and more righteous so they can attract and seduce others. They also lie to themselves as to their wonderful relationship for the sake of propagation of the species.

Lying to yourself can be a good thing. But self deceit can also have devastating consequences in the case of disillusion of a relationship. Then there is our health. Much has been written about the power of positive thinking on your health. Trivers, however, refutes that notion by using the example of a daughter who lies to herself about her abusive alcoholic father and believes he is a wonderful man. Her illusion requires so much effort to maintain that it drains energy away from our immune system.

The immortal words of Polonius In Shakespeare's Hamlet "This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" come to mind.

Self deceit may help regeneration of the genes, but beware. Knowing yourself and facing your frailties and the problems in the relationship paves the way for lasting true love.

For more about solving problems in the relationship read The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011).

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About the Author

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and relational psychoanalyst and author.

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