In a society increasingly dominated by ‘alternative facts’ it is beginning to feel like bending the truth is replacing good, old-fashioned honesty. More alarming is the implied acceptance that bending the truth or even lying outright no longer carries with it consequences.
“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.” Otto von Bismarck.
Politicians, business leaders, adults and kids may believe the consequences of being economical with the truth do not outweigh the benefits. More seats in parliament, more money or more sweeties might seem like a good reason to bend the truth. Of course that is as untrue as many of the alternative truths being peddled today. When it comes to relationships in particular the consequences of bending the truth can in some cases be devastating.
Bending the truth – the first step on a slippery slope
Lying is easy and it is addictive. The idiom goes that ‘lies breed lies’ and experience suggest it is pretty much spot on. Couples coming to counselling often find that a few seemingly inconsequential acts of bending the truth have started to snowball into something bigger.
Medical research is starting to conclusively prove that lying is addictive and leads to a gradual increase in the scale of the lies being told. Research by University College London found that our brains can become desensitised to lying. In practice this can lead to lies escalating over time and the act of lying itself to effectively become a habit.
Therefore, when your partner asks how much you spent gambling and you ’round down’, it sets in motion something that could become a habit. Similarly bending the truth about how attractive you find a work colleague could be the start of a slippery slope.
The irreparable damage of lies and bending the truth
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Charles Spurgeon
Spurgeon was ahead of his time when he wrote this. The advent of social media has facilitated the world-wide spread of alternative facts at an alarming speed. Within an hour bended truths can become ‘fact’. Whether a tweet from a questionably coiffured President or unfounded gossip about a friend, bending the truth can cause irreparable damage.
It is impossible to put a cost on the impact lies have on the mental and emotional wellbeing of an individual. Our counsellors work regularly with individuals coping with the aftermath of dishonesty in relationships. From deliberate office gossip to bitter words amongst family members that are eventually exposed, the damage caused by lies can be irreparable. Relationships are built on care, mutual trust and empathy. Lies undermine and, in time, can destroy those foundations.
Can trust be fully recovered?
“A liar will not be believed even when he speaks the truth.” Aesop
You can probably remember the story your mum told you about the boy who cried wolf. Despite the best efforts of parents, teachers and we humans can all too easily fall in to the role of the shepherd boy. Nowhere is this more apparent in relationships than when infidelity has been discovered.
Sadly we know this because relationship infidelity remains a common issue our counsellors tackle with couples every day. Where a couple decide to remain together, the ability of an adulterer to regain their partner’s trust is a massive challenge.
Will I ever trust them again?
On an emotional level there are doubts that are fundamental to what their relationship had been built upon in the past. Will they ever truly believe a partner is remorseful about their actions? Will ‘I love you’ continue to mean I love you or something else? Can they reach a point where it is not the first thing they think about upon seeing their partner?
Even the most basic and day-to-day actions can become fraught with doubt, anger and hurt. When a spouse says they are going to meet friends, will their partner be able to believe them? Are they just popping down to the shops or doing something else?
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Looking through social media, the news and political soundbites you would be forgiven for thinking that consequence-free alternative facts are here to stay. It is hard to stomach the idea that the truth will forevermore be subject to manipulation. When it comes to relationships the consequences are massive and can be life shattering.
Relationships are of course the building blocks of society. Therefore, the significance of a growing acceptance of alternative facts as appropriate is one we should not ignore.
Have you been hurt by lies in your relationships?
The Spark is available to help individuals, couples and families coping with the consequences of lies and broken trust. As a COSCA-accredited counselling provider our counsellors are highly experienced and skilled in working with individuals, couples and families.