Should You Overlook Dishonesty To Maintain Romance?

Research Reveals How Some Partners Subvert Suspicion

Posted Apr 21, 2018

Of course, appearances are not always reality.  And extending the benefit of the doubt is better than jumping to conclusions.  Yet as a practical matter, optics matter. The interpretation of a scene, however, depends on the lens of the viewer.  Consider the following scenario.

The Appearance of Impropriety

You see a good friend´s husband out with another woman on a Friday night at an upscale restaurant.  They are engrossed in what appears to be a private conversation, judging from their close proximity at a candlelit, corner table for two. 

You notice he is not wearing his wedding ring.  But was he wearing it the last time you saw he and your friend together?  You can´t remember.  Maybe he is one of those spouses who finds bands of matrimony “unnecessary” or uncomfortable.  

Some observers would tell you to mind your own business.  But because you would want someone to tell you if it were your husband, you strike a compromise position.  You tell your friend you “saw Bill” at a restaurant Friday night, without providing any details.  Unfazed, she does not ask for any.  She explains that he had a client dinner meeting.  Period.  For you, however, the “meeting” sure looked like a date in disguise—and not a very good disguise.  

Within established unions, however, partners view social circumstances differently.  Some people would be unconcerned if they had been the one who spotted their spouse at the upscale restaurant.  Others would find the sighting deeply troubling and cause for concern. 

Your friend appears to be in the first group.  You were struck by how nonchalant she appeared when you broke the news.  Although it is noteworthy that she did not ask any questions.  Why?  Because for some partners, when confronted with circumstances that could threaten relational longevity, the less information the better.  

Stability Breeds Security 

Stable relationships provide structure and security.  What some lack in passion, they make up in predictability—often even in the face of potential dishonesty.

Sure, partners with less-than-perfect “better halves” could always call it quits and begin a new search, seeking to replace their current paramour with someone more trustworthy. But that would involve venturing back into the jungle of single life, something many people are grateful to have avoided for years.  The anxiety and unpredictability of re-entering the dating scene creates incentive to make a current relationship “work,” even within an environment of doubt and distrust.

How do they cope? Through engaging in behavior designed to preserve the relationship, and maintaining a positive view of their partner—even if it is undeserved. 

Establishing Home Court Advantage: Relational Maintenance and Positive Illusions

Healthy relationships are not indefinitely self-sustaining; they require maintenance.  Partners who place high value on their relationships roll up their sleeves and put in the work, viewing it as the labor of love.    

Research by Laura Stafford (2013) found that partners who view marriage as sacred are more likely to engage in more relational maintenance behavior—which is in turn, tied to the marital satisfaction of their spouse.[i]But can you perform maintenance behavior within a relationship of distrust and suspicion?  Perhaps, if you replace reality with positive illusions.

Positive illusions about your partner are not necessarily bad, and may in some cases improve relationships.  Yet they also explain how wives with husbands like Bill can cope with the situation.  As explained by Miller et al. in  “Positive Illusions in Marital Relationships,” (2006), people ignore or downplay unpleasant or damaging information in order to maintain a positive view of their partner.[ii]   

They explain that positive illusions are particularly prevalent where there is relational investment. A person who has poured considerable effort and time into a relationship is motivated to avoid having to begin all over again with a new partner. In order to maintain the relationship, they misperceive their partner’s weaknesses in a fashion that allows them to continue to view their partner in a positive light.

Although positive illusions may improve relational satisfaction for some couples, ignoring problems can damage relationships in the long term by decreasing the motivation to address them.   

Transparency Yields Trust: Trading Rose Colored Glasses for Reading Glasses

Viewing concerning behavior objectively within an established relationship is easier said than done.  Yet an unbiased outlook provides a better view than a mindset of complete denial, or a mentality of suspicion. Voicing questions and concerns in a non-accusatory, respectful manner can strengthen relationships in the long run, and improve relational satisfaction for both partners.   

Maybe it was just a client meeting.  Perhaps with better spousal communication, the next one will take place in an office conference room.


[i]Laura Stafford, “Marital Sanctity, Relationship Maintenance, and Marital Quality,” Journal of Family Issues 37, iss. 1 (2013): 119 – 131.

[ii]Paul J. E. Miller, Sylvia Niehuis, and Ted L. Huston, “Positive Illusions in Marital Relationships: A 13-Year Longitudinal Study,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32, no. 12 (2006): 1579–1594.