Relationship column: What to do about a lying boyfriend
November 16, 2013
Dear Neil: My boyfriend of four years has issues telling the truth. When I confront him he becomes very defensive. His constant excuse is that: "I wasn't lying. I just forgot to tell you." He has lied about going to a strip club, driving drunk, smoking, talking with ex-girlfriends, exchanging pictures with ex-girlfriends, etc. The actions themselves are things we can work through, but the lying about it makes me question the future of our relationship. He insists he is happy with me and wants to marry me someday, but every few months something like this comes up.
But now he has to move across the country for an extended amount of time (he is in the military), and I just don't feel that I can handle the lack of trust. I love him very much and I don't know what to do. Am I being too hard on him, or is it time to let him go?
— Stressed Out in San Diego
Dear Stressed: The problem with being in a relationship with a liar is that you never know when you are being told the truth, so you never get to feel comfortable, stable and secure in a relationship with him. Is he telling the truth when he says he wants to marry you someday, or is that a misleading statement? How can you know when he is telling the truth and when he isn't?
Plain and simple, if you can’t trust him, you can’t afford to stay in a relationship with him.
It's next to impossible to trust someone who doesn't act trustworthy. Acting deceptive, withholding information or being dishonest is guaranteed to make you question whether he is a wise choice for you — and him not taking accountability for his dishonesty makes him sound more than a little crooked. If this issue is not resolved before he leaves town, then you are not likely to believe him when he tells you where he is, who he's with or what he's doing — and that lack of trust alone will very likely destroy your relationship with him.
Is smoking or going to a strip club is a deal-breaker for you? I ask that because you are talking about someone in a military environment where such things may be commonplace (and perhaps even expected) when all the guys get together socially. So my question to you: might you be unduly controlling of him, where he may be afraid to tell you the truth because you have such a strong response? Could that be a factor in all of this, or is this simply his lack of honesty, integrity and accountability?
The answer to that question is likely the answer to the larger question of whether you should stay with him or not. It is extremely difficult to have a long-distance relationship with someone that you don't think is operating with honor or integrity. Plain and simple, if you can't trust him, you can't afford to stay in a relationship with him.
Ways to a Possible Solution
If he were genuinely interested in keeping you and helping you to feel safe and secure with him, here are some things he could do if he were motivated to defeat this issue.
First, when he got busted as a kid for wrongdoing, was he severely disciplined? It could be that's what's getting triggered for him — and it would make him a stronger person if he were to deal with his fear of being caught doing something "wrong."
Second, is he ready to be tied down and exclusive? It's possible that he still needs the validation that comes from being available, single and attractive. If so, he may not be ready to fully commit to anyone quite yet. Third, how are you ever going to know what he's doing if you live far apart from each other? In the end, the question is going to boil down to you identifying what you would need from him in order to feel safe enough to consider a long-distance relationship with him — and whether he is then willing to do it in both the letter and the spirit of your request.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.