Once, my partner cooked dinner using a new recipe. Cacio de Pepe. But he had used way too much black pepper. I took the first bite and it was like licking our pepper shaker. I looked across the table.
“This is delicious,” I said. My eyes were watering.
We all lie. It’s an unfortunate truth. Honesty is not always the best policy1. We lie to get out of work. We lie to keep from hurting someone’s feelings. We even lie to protect ourselves when things get hard or don’t go our way.
Lies are a way for us to control our relationships. We tell lies to keep the peace, protect people’s feelings, and help them succeed. These are prosocial lies or little white lies.
But when you’re building a relationship, honesty helps you to manage your expectations. Trust means you don’t question your partner’s motives. It helps you know where you stand.
So, why do men lie?
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The vast majority of people find it acceptable to tell small lies. But a lot of those lies are “paternalistic,” or based on what we think the other person wants to hear. We tell these lies in all of our relationships, family, friends, and romantic partners.
If you do a quick search for reasons women lie versus why guys lie, you’ll find mixed information. Studies show that men think they are better liars and lie about 4% more than women. One study says that women lie to make others feel good, while men lie to make themselves look better.
I take all of those studies with a grain of salt. The study that shows men think they’re better liars? It also suggests that a small number of great liars tell significantly more lies than most people. One study published this year reports no significant difference2 in lies between men and women.
People lie for many reasons. In online dating, people often lie to make themselves more attractive to potential matches. In established relationships, people often lie to avoid conflict.
I’m going to do my best to answer the most asked questions about why men lie, using my professional experience and available research. But this is not a substitute for talking with your partner or getting professional support.
Cheating is any act that goes outside of the bounds of your relationship. That is why an emotional affair can be just as difficult to deal with as a physical one. In a report published in 2014, it was found that between 20-40 percent of divorces3 were the result of infidelity.
Many people find it hard to trust their partner after infidelity. They have to question everything. It’s hard to maintain a relationship like that.
If your husband lies about cheating, he is trying to avoid the consequences of his actions. He is trying to tell you what he thinks you want to hear so that he will no longer be “in trouble.”
Many people have difficulty defining their relationships. Whether he is dating multiple people, separated from his spouse, or just not sure what he wants, it can be easier to lie than to be honest.
Some men struggle with being honest when the truth will make a potential girlfriend uninterested. Some men want to wait to tell the truth until they feel they are less likely to be rejected.
Some men lie because they want something they think they can’t get without lying.
Casual sex has been on the decline for men and women for almost a decade. Additionally, since the overturning of Roe v. Wade4, many women don’t want to risk pregnancy.
Men who lie about wanting sex know that if they told the truth, they would have a hard time getting the kind of women they want to sleep with. It’s not any woman’s fault for falling victim to this deception. When we think our goals line up with someone else’s, we’re more likely to trust (and sleep with) them.
There are certain things people expect when they start dating, and monogamy is often included.
It is possible to be ethically non-monogamous. Establishing those types of relationships takes a lot of emotional vulnerability. And, to be honest, many men don’t want to be ethically non-monogamous. They want to have access to women without being held accountable.
The reasons I’ve come across for these lies boil down to personal issues. A lack of trust in a new partner’s intentions makes some men lie as a form of self-preservation. Other men lie about monogamy as a way to lash out about past relationship issues.
A new project, helping a friend move, taking a leadership position – committing to anything can cause anxiety.
Committing to a relationship comes with a lot of expectations. These expectations can be in the form of a relationship escalator. This is the concept that many people “escalate” their relationships over time, even if they’re not ready.
If a man doesn’t feel sure about what he wants, he may lie to try to preserve the relationship. He thinks he knows what you want. Even though that’s not what he wants, he doesn’t want to break up. The longer the relationship goes, the more lies he has to tell.
Continuing to say “I love you” if you don’t is one of the most destructive lies I see as a therapist. It puts a lot of things into question, especially in a long-term relationship.
These situations are always tricky because love is almost impossible to define. For some it’s an all-encompassing fire, for others, it’s a still pond. If you feel affection, but not the same way your partner does, is it a lie to say “I love you, too?”
Many men have difficulty understanding their emotions. Your boyfriend might not know how he feels. He may know he feels differently than you do, but he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. Even an honest man may tell a white lie to avoid conflict.
Men want to preserve their vitality. The cold hard truth is that as we age, our bodies change. For older men, circulation problems can lead to erectile dysfunction. Many men try to find medical ways to reverse these changes5.
Sometimes women forget that feeling “old” can hurt men’s egos just as much as ours. But fear of aging is one of the most common reasons men lie. When a man lies about his age, he is trying to present himself as full of life.
Men lie about their penis size because they often think of length as desirable and masculine. The average penis length is about 5 inches6, but many men don’t want to believe that. They believe the opposite sex thinks bigger is better.
If your guy is lying about his penis length, he may have a fragile ego, but he also just might not know the statistics. If his performance in bed is satisfying to you, this one might be an okay lie to let slide.
Studies suggest that nearly half of all women on dating sites want their potential match to be taller than them. Women said they feel more protected with taller men, and also more feminine. This pressure to present themselves as taller has men lying just to be able to start a conversation.
Height is not necessarily correlated to relationship satisfaction. But when height is linked to ideas of masculinity, protection, and being a provider, a lot of good men get looked over.
For whatever reason, there is an untrue assumption that shoe size correlates with penis size. The bigger the boot, the bigger the penis. This is, of course, untrue.
Lies about shoe size might be explained by experiences of adolescence. Many young men feel that they have to prove their masculinity and worth by comparing their bodies to others. This often includes penis size, body hair growth, and, yes, height. These lies can persist well into adulthood.
These days, there are a lot more articles encouraging people to go gray with style. But just like lying about their age, men lie about dying their hair to appear younger. Being seen as young and attractive is quite the ego boost.
But it’s not just about being romantically attractive. Studies found that 44% of men surveyed - across generations - are insecure about their gray hair. They feel less confident and that translates to how they see themselves in other arenas.
In a poll by the American Psychological Association, more than 80% of respondents reported anxiety about the current financial landscape. This anxiety sometimes makes people avoid addressing the issue, often by lying. Financial lies affect about 1 in 5 marriages in America.
Americans in general believe that a man needs to be a financial provider to be a good husband. There is a lot of pressure for men to present themselves as earning enough to support a family. Even if he intends to be up front about his finances later on, he might suggest he’s wealthier at the beginning of a relationship to make a good impression.
The age old question: “How do I look?”
He takes in your new dress, your smile, and your excited glow. He tells you you look great!
He means for it to be an ego booster, but you later find out that it’s beyond unflattering. Your confidence falls through the floor, because he assumed you wanted a pretty lie, not an honest assessment.
Not all men are lying to make your life harder. But when the little lies begin building up, they go from being white lies to paternalistic. These lies are often intended to benefit the receiver, but miss the mark. These lies are meant to address short-term goals and keep the peace.
Lying is a common defense mechanism. By age 4, many children have learned how to lie7, often so that they might avoid being in trouble. We often do that as adults, even when the truth is obvious.
When we get caught lying, it is a reflex to defend ourselves. We point out reasons why lying was justified, or caused by the actions of another person. A man might give excuses to avoid thinking of himself as a liar.
That cacio de pepe my partner made? Turns out he lied. It wasn’t supposed to be that dish. But when he accidentally poured half a container of pepper into the pot, he scooped out what he could and called it good.
(Upon reading this, he said “I wouldn’t say I called it ‘good.’ I was just trying to call it what it was. Pasta with pepper.)
Honesty allows you to know and understand your partner.
Being honest, even about little things, requires vulnerability. We have to trust that the other person isn’t going to punish us for telling the truth. If you don't already trust each other, opening up that way can be difficult.
To build trust, start with yourself. Do you know what you want? Do you express yourself honestly? If your partner isn’t sure what you want, he’s more likely to lie.
Next, discuss together how you will handle difficult situations as a team. Create a time and place to discuss differences of opinion or unmet needs. Make sure that you set rules for engagement, and follow them! If he is honest with you and you criticize or stonewall him, he will be discouraged from being honest in the future.
That doesn’t mean you need to lie about how you feel. Be honest. Tell him if you’re hurt or feeling insecure. Let him know that you need time and space to process. Let him know if you’re angry.
Give him space to respond.
You’re not always going to like each other’s reactions. Sometimes both of your feelings are going to be hurt. That’s okay. It’s part of being honest and recognizing that the two of you are separate people.
If you think you would need support in working together to establish trust, you’re in good company. Changing relationship patterns can be tough to do on your own. Consult a therapist, relationship counselor, spiritual leader or trusted mentor about how to approach being honest with one another.
We all tell lies. Most lies are told to protect someone’s feelings, whether that’s the person lying or the receiver. The most commonly asked questions about the lies men tell show that they are most often prompted by anxiety or feelings of inadequacy.
Rebuilding a foundation of trust and honesty can be difficult, but it’s not impossible if everyone commits.