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What to do about my husband's white lies?
April 24, 2009 3:56 PM   Subscribe

My husband tells white lies and it really bothers me. I'm not sure what to do.

First, I am absolutely certain my husband isn't lying about anything major, like infidelity, drug use, a gambling addiction, etc. But his little lies drive me up a wall.

For example, he'll promise to do the laundry, and when I come home he'll say he didn't have time, when he was clearly playing videogames or watching movies. I'll call him and he won't answer, then he'll say work called (he has one of those jobs where he's on call 24/7), but the phone records say otherwise. He'll say he's going to take his lunch to work to save money, but the credit card statement shows charges to restaurants. (I handle the bills btw.)

I'm pretty sure he's telling these lies to avoid arguments. In the first example, he was being lazy; in the second, he didn't feel like talking; and in the third he forgot to take his lunch. None of these things are a big deal to me; it's the LYING that bothers me. When confronted, he focuses on the act itself and not the lie. He doesn't understand why I don't trust him, and he says I'm being petty when I bring up these things.

He grew up with an extremely controlling parent who monitored his every move, and my theory is that these types of lies became habitual for him in order to avoid trouble. "Yes, I have my homework done" is a pretty normal lie for a teenager. I don't want to turn into that parent, but it's still really frustrating. I ask him a question ("I thought you said you had to work late tonight?") and he acts like it's an interrogation.

He's also really forgetful and not detail-oriented at all, whereas I'm very literal. For example, when I say I woke up around 6 am, I mean that within 5 minutes either way. He'll say he got up around 6 but he could mean 5:30 or he could mean 7.

He is a wonderful, patient, generous guy who treats me well and loves me more than anything, so this is not part of some larger pattern of jerkiness. I love him too and I don't want this to be a source of strain on our marriage.

So, am I making a big deal over nothing? Is this just normal behavior? Should I call him on these things or let them go?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't want to turn into that parent, but it's still really frustrating.

It really sounds like you already have, if you are double-checking the phone records. That's a little bit crazy, to be honest.
posted by smackfu at 4:05 PM on April 24, 2009 [16 favorites]


Possible passive aggressive personality? See here, here, here and here, you may recognise some of it.

You're probably spot on about the controlling parent and the coping mechanisms he has learnt.
posted by fire&wings at 4:06 PM on April 24, 2009


Not to jump the gun, but if you're checking phone records and credit card statements, it sounds like the "I don't want to be the controlling parent" moment might have already passed. I'd be annoyed if my partner lied about little things. I'd also be annoyed if I thought my partner cared about stuff like where I get my lunch.

Maybe you should sit down and have a conversation about mutual expectations? It sounds like there's maybe stuff going on on both ends of the spectrum here, that might be worth talking through so it doesn't get out of hand.
posted by puckish at 4:08 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. I feel like I could've written this exact entry - it is shocking to me how much I could have written it.

I know how it feels to have your husband do this to you (obviously). For a long time it made me feel like I was going crazy, actually. I would question myself constantly: was he really lying? Am I just paranoid? etc. The best thing I did was to talk to him and tell him exactly what I just said, over and over and over again. Explain that it makes you feel betrayed, it makes you feel like you're going crazy, and you don't know what to believe anymore.

To be honest, I am not precisely sure that he's completely stopped, but I think it has gotten better. The only advice I can give you is to really pay attention to all of his good qualities. No one is perfect. This particular imperfection is really annoying for a variety of reasons, but again, no one is perfect. At least you have someone that seems pretty good.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:08 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean this nicely, but... perhaps be a little less controlling? You are right -- it does not matter whether he chose to eat a sack lunch or buy lunch, it does not matter whether his work called or not, and it certainly doesn't matter what exact minute he woke up. So, stop asking. That will immediately make the white lies stop. And maybe, he'll relax enough to feel like it's ok to tell you the truth.

And please, for his sake, stop checking up on, and verifying, all his statements. If it really doesn't matter to you, then stop checking to see if he's lying -- because it probably definitely matters to him that every statement he makes is being tested for truth. Like you said, it's not that he's hiding anything big, so allow him a little space.
posted by Houstonian at 4:13 PM on April 24, 2009 [14 favorites]


Let them go, and the next time you do something similar (like not picking up the phone because you don't want to talk, running out of time to make your own lunch, shirking chores to play, etc.--you might have to come up with different ones for yourself), bring up your own behavior. Not in a self-flagellating way, but in the way you might share any other small details of your life in conversation when you are chatting over dinner, etc., perhaps as a prelude to asking for help with making your lunch or getting up early, a reminder to stop watching movies at a certain time, etc.

I feel a lot more comfortable telling people that I'm behind on something, or not reaching a goal, or just feeling antisocial that day if they share those kind of details about themselves with me in a casual, non-blaming way.
posted by PY at 4:14 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sounds to me like you are married to a human male.

Nice gender stereotyping there. Men are all liars, essentially?

I don't think that you are necessarily monitoring your husband as others are accusing, OP, because if you do the household financial stuff, then you'll naturally see the bills.

But hopefully you've tried talking to him. If not, you must do so, and not confrontationally. Don't make him feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Make sure you've explicitly told him this: None of these things are a big deal to me; it's the LYING that bothers me.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:15 PM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure he's telling these lies to avoid arguments
But are his fears justified?

Would forgetting to do laundry really result in an argument? Or not feeling like a chat on the phone? Or forgetting to make lunch and deciding to treat himself?

If I thought my wife was going to complain about such petty things I would lie.



For example, when I say I woke up around 6 am, I mean that within 5 minutes either way. He'll say he got up around 6 but he could mean 5:30 or he could mean 7.

Wow, are you ex-military or something? Lighten up a bit and he might not feel the need to lie to you. You probably have the poor guy on edge.
posted by twistedonion at 4:24 PM on April 24, 2009 [11 favorites]


He grew up with an extremely controlling parent who monitored his every move, and my theory is that these types of lies became habitual for him in order to avoid trouble.

I had this problem, too, for the same reasons, but I got over it when I left home, and I only really lied to my parents. I didn't even understand why I lied sometimes. It could be some completely mundane question, but I'd answer dishonestly and immediately think, "Huh? Why did I say that?" The reasons were fear and habit. I had a parent who would turn every minute detail into a criminal investigation. I mean, everything. So I got into the habit of tailoring my responses just to avoid the emotional strife. No, it didn't always work, but I think I thought that I would be treated like a criminal or ridiculed no matter what, so I might as well at least try to say something pleasing even if it was... incorrect.

So, yeah. This might be something your husband's still working through. And if your husband's anything like I was, the best solution is patience. Don't investigate the lies unless it's something big. Don't look for a battle. If you suspect he's lying as he's talking to you, then say something, but don't turn it into a big event. Move on to something else. He shouldn't be lying to his wife, but there may be underlying causes with which he needs your help and understanding to get past.
posted by katillathehun at 4:30 PM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nice gender stereotyping there. Men are all liars, essentially?

We're not liars, necessarily, but when we get the screws put to us over petty transgressions, it becomes easier to slide by with a lie than to engage in a silly and ultimately harmful argument.

I do this same stuff all the time, and my parents could not have been less controlling. It's just a way to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
posted by martens at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a similar negative reaction to white lies. And I've met people, both male and female, who appear to tell white lies reflexively and unhesitatingly. I think that people who are accustomed to doing this barely even distinguish it from other kinds of communication.

Despite having experienced this behavior all over the place, even with members of my own family, it still really shocks me and basically hurts me when I realize that someone has done this to me. (Recently, it occurred to me that perhaps I'm sensitive to it because members of my family who I felt I ought to be able to unquestionably trust would do it so much, and often for more "grey" reasons rather than white reasons.)

In my experience, it's not enough and it's ineffective to point out things that are actually white lies - lies they're telling to smooth over issues of etiquette or to avoid disagreement. What you really have to do is catch them in instances where the lie being told is obviously and demonstrably self-serving and point this out to them without flinching and articulate the way it makes you feel. In fact in addition to expressing hurt feelings I often try to describe what they've said as, "It feels like you're simply trying to get X out of me" or "It feels like you just want X regardless of the facts here" rather than just hammering on "Y is obviously untrue."

You need to not put up with any dissembling and show that a third party observing the exchange would agree with your interpretation. And you need to relate this behavior to the instances of white lies to show the person that it's a pattern on their part, not simply an isolated incident.

I think that if you can emphasize to them that regardless of what's true or untrue, this is how it makes you feel and this is how it looks to you, you can persuade them to start being aware of and curbing the behavior without necessarily having to convince them that they're lying all the time.
posted by XMLicious at 4:44 PM on April 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


(And I'm a man, BTW.)
posted by XMLicious at 4:45 PM on April 24, 2009


What stands out for me is that the three examples have in common one thing: how he spends his personal time when you're not around. Most people need some level of personal time where they're not accountable to anybody, but a lot of men I know (myself included in past relationships) feel a bit sheepish about it. Rather than admit "I blew three hours playing video games" or "I blew ten bucks going out for lunch because I needed to get out of the office," they say something that seems less likely to be judged as adolescent or selfish. I'm fortunate in my marriage in that my wife is okay that I burn time on questionable pursuits when I need to as long as in general I'm doing my part. It takes the pressure off admitting, "Yeah, I spent all day watching MMA on the Spike Channel" if I know she doesn't really care, so long as I help with the laundry.
posted by ga$money at 4:51 PM on April 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think the only thing that you can do is be honest with both him and yourself about what his and your needs are. While I can understand his desire to not feel like he's being monitored or checked up on, if you need him to be completely open and honest with you then I'd say it is important that he understand that.

I'd suggest that you just make sure that he is fully aware that he needs to be 100% honest with you. I'd also say that it is valid to have this irk you. After all, a marriage is a partnership and if his little white lies make it feel like you guys aren't on the same team, then that can lead to some serious aggravation.

I know that you've said that every time you try and discuss this with him that it ends badly. I think you need to have a serious, calm, and in-depth conversation with him about. Make sure that you don't come off as accusing or as if you're spying on him, likewise he should hear your concerns and not get defensive. Make sure that he is aware that this is important to you and that if he cares about you then it should be important to him as well.
posted by jaybeans at 4:51 PM on April 24, 2009


I'm a bit embarrassed to say I have that tendency also, but that I'm almost over it. I don't lie, but I still avoid mentioning certain things if I know it's going to cause a 30+ minute Q and A session and I'm not up for that.

Some quick tips:
Let him know you know immediately, but non-confrontationally. Example: "I must have missed the call when work called." You: "Oh, you just didn't feel like talking. That's ok, you can just pick up and say that, I won't get mad at you. Anyway, what I wanted to tell you is..." Move on, though, don't linger on shooting down all his protestations - let him out of the lie gracefully. Also, keep it focused on you, like: "Oh, man. I was so happy you were going to do the laundry, and now I'm disappointed. Like a kid who dropped her ice cream cone." Guilt trip? Maybe, but he may not realize it affects you at all. After all, you were going to do the laundry, then he was going to, but didn't, back where we started, right? What's the difference?

Also, sometimes he needs to go out to lunch with the guys. It's just part of the social thing at work. You can take your lunch most times. Was he just afraid of explaining that, like you'd think he was "cheating" on the "saving money" thing and get mad? Not to pick on just one example.

I'm a forgetful person, too. That doesn't mean I'm all hippy-whatever-man all the time (just sometimes), I get upset at myself for things like that, too. When I am kind of pissed at myself, like forgetting my lunch, or turning the rental car in with my cell phone still in the glove box (real story, came out ok,) at that time I'm very sensitive to "piling on" of criticism from my wife. She's learned to know the difference most of the time and HELP nicely (but not patronizingly, which can be a fine line, from the receiver's point of view) instead of criticize. I've also learned to recognize that feeling and try not be mean or snarky to her for no reason. It takes practice.

He's going to have to learn that it's ok to say what he's thinking. That might mean at first suppressing your natural compulsion to get details. The response to "I forgot my lunch today" isn't a bunch of questions about how such a thing could happen and how much money was spent, it's "Oh, I'm sorry, hon. Can I do something to help you remember?" The details compulsion (that my wife also has by the way) can very well feel like an accusatory interrogation, even if you don't mean it that way. Also be aware that a criticism thinly disguised as an honest question is even worse than a simple critical statement. The statement I can ignore, but the question I have to answer. Sometimes after counting to three in my head.

Subtle wording cues may matter, until your communication skills with each other are more practiced. "I thought you said you had to work late" is an accusation. Better: "oh great, you didn't have to work late after all?" Best: you say whatever comes out, and he knows what you meant. That takes time.
posted by ctmf at 4:55 PM on April 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


That would make me crazy, too, and I think reasonably so--honesty matters, even on little things, if only so that you don't overdraw on the joint checking because you thought he hadn't been buying his lunch (or something similarly small but annoying). But that said, it seems like your way of asking questions is exactly wrong for him, and also maybe the timing. Is there another way for him to keep track of this stuff besides you asking him why you're seeing higher bills than you expected (etc.)? For instance, can he keep a separate credit card or checking account that he can use for lunch (or whatever) with no questions from you*? Can the two of you have a standing agreement that if you call while he's on call for work, he doesn't need to give you a reason for not answering? In other words, can you remove the "rules" you've put in place (or that have just sort of developed) so that he can get comfortable being honest with you? I know you say he's forgetful, and maybe you both agree that you're better about paying bills and managing money, but if the odd late fee could buy you each some peace of mind, it might be worth it.

*My partner and I each have accounts like this--there's the shared pile, and then each of us has the personal, no-questions-asked pile. It works well for us.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:57 PM on April 24, 2009


I think XMLicious is right, but I think there needs to be a longer conversation about expectations. You obviously expect him not to lie and simply do what he is supposed to, or at least say that he didn't do X. But his perception of this - why he chooses to say that he didn't have time, or that he did take lunch, etc instead of simply saying "Nope, sorry" is equally important. Ask him to think about the reason behind that. Maybe its because of the way he grew up, maybe its because he feels you will react negatively.

Either way, ask him what role you play in this. Examine your past behavior. People are often resistant to being told what to do, and he may have serious issues with that and is using they lying to avoid the confrontation of that fact.

Yes, he should stop lying, but there is a good chance that you will have to change your behavior and your expectations. If these failings are not an issue, let them go. Let him know lying is not okay, period. Then step back and assume that as an adult, he can take care of his business by himself. Both of you need to be aware what the shared and individual household responsibilities are so that it doesn't matter WHY the laundry isn't done, it was his job, and he didn't do it.

If he thinks he's a pretty princess and wants to only work and then play while at home, that's a whole other problem.
posted by anniek at 4:58 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that something which is evident from the other comments here is that, if you do persuade him to stop doing this one way or another, you can't be asking these questions in the first place to force him or corner him into some sort of other behavior or situation.
posted by XMLicious at 5:00 PM on April 24, 2009


For those of you who don't get why this is annoying at best or a betrayal at worst is that those kind of white lies seem to indicate a lack of trust or faith in the other partner. That's how it feels when someone white lies. A big lie can almost be forgiven more easily but the little white lies really chip away at the trust that should be the foundation of the relationship.

You and your spouse need to have a serious discussion about this. Here's some reasons he might be lying: he doesn't want to get nagged, he doesn't want to even deal with any negativity in regards to his actions, he doesn't want to be accountable to anyone, he does it reflexively. He needs to know that he can disappoint you without setting off fireworks. You need to take disappointment and react constructively. Once that deal is struck then you both need to behave accordingly. When people white lie they are ultimately just jerking people around regardless of whether that is their intent.

White lie: I didn't do the laundry because I had work to do.
Not a white lie: I totally forgot about the laundry and didn't get to it. I'll get to it at X time.

Maybe more-than-a-white lie: I ate the lunch I brought today.
Not a white lie: You know, I brought my lunch but I really needed to get out of the office yesterday.

If you two are trying to save money then it is important whether he eats the lunch he brought in or not. Or, it's super annoying if you're making him lunch as a favor and he's not eating it. If the rules of the game aren't working, then you need to reassess the rules but you can't do that if he's not honest about what is going on. That is what being part of a functioning supportive team is all about.

So, anon, I think you absolutely should address this and both of you should examine your actions. I think anyone who wants to say this is no big deal has either not been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior or is a white lier themselves. If you can't be honest with your spouse -- who can you be honest with?
posted by amanda at 5:02 PM on April 24, 2009 [10 favorites]


Wow! Don't take this the wrong way but I was cringing as I read your post. I ended up feeling sorry for the guy. My God, I thought, she checks the phone calls, she's on him about the laundry, and she channels him into a five minute window in conversations about time!

Please! Leave the poor man alone!

You don't want to become "that kind of parent" but you already are. And he probably resents marrying his parent. Yuck! He probably thought he finally got away from his controlling parent and breathed a sigh of relief only to find out he'll be spending the rest of his life under his parent's thumb. I can tell you, not only am I pretty darn sure he lies to avoid arguing with you but the reality is everybody lies. That means you lie to him, too.

He plays video games to relax and to remind himself he is his own boss. He'll do what he wants when he wants (in his own mind). He lies because he's tired of being that kid answering to his super controlling parent.

Do you nag him about his lunch? About his phone use? About other bills like how much water he uses, how much electricity he uses, and what he does with extra cash at the end of the month? (Be honest with yourself.) Nagging never, ever, ever, EVER works. So here's what you do.

Just relax. Realize that he doesn't have to fit into the box you've made for him. Let him be the rebel you love him to be. Prove to yourself that these issues really don't matter to you (I know. You said the lying bothers you). If they don't matter to you then his response shouldn't bother you either.

For one week, every time you catch him in a lie do two things. 1) Remember a lie you told him in the last 24 hours (I promise, you can find one.) and 2) remember how wonderful and loving and patient and generous he is.

Then after one week, on a Saturday when both of you are relaxing, snuggle up to him and quietly ask him, "Is there something I can do for you?"

It might be the best week of your marriage and you'll light up his face.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 5:03 PM on April 24, 2009 [12 favorites]


A lot of comments while I was writing that talk about changing up the rules which I think is a really good idea. I have a feeling that this is a bad pattern you guys are in and you should take it seriously and y'all should have conversations about this. It's going to be a two-way street to come to a solution but you'll both be happier if you can come to grips with this.
posted by amanda at 5:08 PM on April 24, 2009


His lying sounds annoying and passive aggressive. I would just start my own little set of white lies ("I totally meant to take your shirt to the cleaners...I just didn't have time!" Just carry a couple of shopping bags from Macy's while you do it.)

I suggest this because there's no way you can change him or make an attempt without seeming like an ogre and nag. Why care about running the house and being fair if he's not playing?
posted by anniecat at 5:08 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


My boyfriend and I had this problem, but compounded with a couple BIG lies that he was telling because he didn't think the truth was important, even though he knew I thought it was important. We fought about the big stuff and resolved those problems, but he'd still tell white-lies.

Anyway, the way we dealt with it was that I sat him down in a calm moment and said "honey, I feel like recently there have been some small honesty problems between us, and I haven't pointed them all out because I haven't wanted to come off as controlling. But here are some examples I've noticed over the past couple weeks, etc." Then I listed a few small examples, acknowledging that they're trivial and shrugging them off, not making him get defensive about them but just acknowledging that he didn't 'get away with it.' But then i said "I'm not mad about them, but even little lies like this eventually build up and undermine my trust in you over time, and your credibility is important to me. Can we try an experiment where I don't interrogate you about anything, and just let things slide a lot more than I usually do, but in exchange you are 100% honest with me about even trivial things like where you bought lunch? I won't ask, but if you offer, please make sure that what you say is true." He agreed, and for the last six months my trust in him has been restored, because he knows that it's important to me, and that ultimately it's gaining him a lot more "wiggle room" in the sense that I don't feel the need to fact-check him all the time anymore.

YMMV
posted by egeanin at 5:10 PM on April 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


anniecat,
Sorry, but that's a recipe for disaster.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 5:18 PM on April 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am in this situation with a close friend right now, and it's driven a huge wedge into our friendship. I know how crazy this kind of lying can drive a person, and how easily you can find yourself checking up on someone. -- if for no other reason, than to prove you're not losing your mind, and that your perceptions about these lies are correct.

I also think that you're not necessarily a controlling person. Depending on how deeply shaped your husband was by his former family dynamics, he could be prone to forming this kind of relationship. And if your husband is mainly lying about things he's screwed up -- well, he has a legacy of avoiding unpleasant conflict, and of being defensive. This is the particular way his family fucked him up. You have your ways, too.

(Although I have to say, I lied to my mother for similar reasons that your husband lied. Many, many, many kids do! But not all of them drag this behavior into adult relationships between equals.)

Maybe you're like me, and are really big on honesty, accuracy, and straightfowardness. As it turns out, some people are apparently really big on communicating whatever it is that will get them through the moment with the least conflict possible. And some people have a lifelong need to subvert and rebel against the main figures in their lives, if only in minor ways.

It frustrates the living hell out of people like us, but I am starting to believe (based on my interactions with my friend) that such people don't define "lying" the same way that we do. To them, it's only lying if it's about something really harmful, or if they don't want to lie at that moment, or if they are found out. for instance, my friend will claim all the time that he's a "horrible liar", and will get really anxious if he's forced to lie to someone who he doesn't have this rebellious-teenager relationship with. But he'll roll out lie after lie in the right situation. He has also told me that he really wants his lies to be true, and I really think he believes that just because he wishes he wasn't lying, means that he isn't lying.

I don't have good advice for you, because I have severely limited contact with my friend as a result of his bullshit, and you don't have that option. I just wanted to offer that my friend with similar behavior has a really weird definition of "lying", in case it offers insight to your husband.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:26 PM on April 24, 2009


I would just start my own little set of white lies ("I totally meant to take your shirt to the cleaners...I just didn't have time!" Just carry a couple of shopping bags from Macy's while you do it.)

Right, because that's not passive aggressive at all.
posted by mpls2 at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


I was the exact situation.

He was so sure I would react to things the way his mom would that he would lie to me automatically (always about dumb stuff, like your fella). Of course, this drove me nuts because I started feeling like I was married to a 10-year-old, and I started to get controlling and pissy. So, while I didn't start out like his mom, I sure ended up like her. From his POV, I was always yelling at him over "nothing", and from my POV he was always lying about "nothing". Kinda ridiculous when you look at it that way. We came to an agreement: if he would work on the lying, I would work on my reaction to the truth.

It has been several years since we came to our agreement, and although it was hard at first, it worked very well for us. Every one ahead of me who said that it's a matter of expectations is right. Rather than try to live up to what he thought were my expectations, it was easier for him to lie about why he couldn't. Once I understood that, all of my anger about the lying faded. With no anger from me, he found it easier to tell the truth about everything. I have made it very clear to him that I only expect him to be the man I love (even if it means he forgets the laundry due to a mammoth GTA session). Knowing that I only expect him to be the good and kind person I know he is, he regularly exceeds expectations.

I'm a lucky girl.
posted by dogmom at 5:32 PM on April 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't think that you are necessarily monitoring your husband as others are accusing, OP, because if you do the household financial stuff, then you'll naturally see the bills.

I disagree. Sure, she might notice regular credit card charges or what have you. But, the phone records are a different story... I receive and place hundreds of phonecalls in a month. To actually look through that record, correlate it with the day and time that her husband didn't answer, at the end of the month (presumably sometimes weeks after the fact), implies effort specifically expended to verify her husband's claims. It's even more damning if, after the discussion, she immediately goes online and checks the phone records.

I think this sort of behavior is just going to perpetuate and exacerbate the problem. He lies about something inconsequential; she checks it and calls him on it; he sees the extent to which she goes to make sure that some trivial thing occurred like he said, and thinks (incorrectly, but nonetheless) that this thing he thought was trivial really is going to start arguments, and lies again next time.

I believe that the OP's analysis, that he's lying to avoid arguments after living with a controlling parent, is probably correct. I actually doubt he even views these actions as lying, which is why he focuses on the activity itself and not the lie when questioned about it. I also wonder why he feels the same in this marriage as he did as a child.

I wonder what the OP's response would be if her husband responded to, "Why didn't you do the laundry?" with, "I know I said I'd do it, but I prioritized video games over laundry tonight, because I didn't feel like doing laundry." That's (probably) the truth. Would the OP grin and say, "Okay, well, would you do it now then?" or would the OP then come back at her husband with an accusation that the original promise was then a lie? "I didn't have time" doesn't feel like a lie to me; it feels like shorthand for, "I did something else instead".

The lie that work called is, perhaps, more troublesome. That's not a shorthand excuse; that's fabrication of a completely fictitious event. But, it's also one I can understand. I've been in relationships where, if I simply told my girlfriend, "I didn't want to talk to you right then," there would have been a whole night's histrionics about why not. If the OP is that sort of person, I can definitely see the desire to defuse the situation ahead of time by claiming some legitimate excuse--even if it's fabricated.

Basically, what I'm getting at is that if the OP wants truthfulness, she needs to make absolutely sure that telling the truth is a viable option. If it's really not about the laundry, but about the lie, then the OP needs to build an expectation that the truth will be treated positively regardless of its content*.

Everybody in a marriage says things and then doesn't follow through. My wife says she'll get milk, and then skips the store on the way home because it's inconvenient or she's tired. I say I'll sweep the deck, but then I get almost too high to breathe, let alone sweep. In our marriage, those are valid reasons not to do a thing--although repeated or continued neglect of those tasks might not be so trivially dismissed. If the OP wants an environment in which people don't lie about those things, then she needs to help create an environment in which it's okay to (occasionally) shirk these trivial commitments with no more substantial an excuse than "Meh, didn't feel like it."

The OP also needs to help create an environment in which it's okay not to commit to these sorts of things in the first place. It needs to be okay to answer, "Will you get some milk?" with, "Maybe, if I'm not too tired after work." It needs to be okay not to answer the phone; or for things to work out differently than they were stated. It shouldn't be "I thought you said you were working late;" it should be, "Hi, honey! You're home early! How was work?" If these things don't matter, then why does it even get to the point that he needs to lie?

Unless, of course, it really is about the laundry. Which, uncharitably, I kind of think it is.

*I don't mean to imply that the husband should be given free reign to shirk his responsibilities. I also don't mean to imply that the OP should treat with smiles and open arms admissions of wrongdoing--infidelity, gambling losses, drug addiction, etc.
posted by Netzapper at 5:32 PM on April 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


On preview, what egeanin said.
posted by dogmom at 5:33 PM on April 24, 2009


You've got the rest of your lives together. You can spend them arguing about inane shit or you can spend time having fun, which one sounds better?

Neither of you is wrong and neither of you is right, your personal issues/personalities are just rubbing up against each other in the wrong way. Ya'll need to talk about that or 5/10 years from now you'll be in divorce court.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:37 PM on April 24, 2009


He grew up with an extremely controlling parent who monitored his every move, and my theory is that these types of lies became habitual for him in order to avoid trouble.

Knowing nothing else about the two of you than this, I would lay 90% odds that he married someone who was extremely controlling - unless he's spent a fair amount of time in counseling, or is seriously good (superior to the vast majority of mortals) at self-examination... which is inconsistent with the lying.

So, without saying anything at all about exact individual "guilt" in this relationship, I'd say both of you could benefit from couples counseling, and/or private counseling.

If you really want the situation to improve, use the best tools available for the problem. And give up on the unfair assumption that the majority of the problems in the relationship are strictly his fault; they're problems with the interaction between the two of you.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm reading a lot of defense of the husband for lying, however...

It is unacceptable in a relationship to habitually lie, no matter how "large" that lie might be. If someone is lying to avoid an argument, maybe that's an argument that really needs to happen. It is ridiculous to blame this on the person being lied to.

Further, people who are comfortable lying about the little things, are equally comfortable lying about things that actually matter. That feeling that "something isn't right" "I must be going crazy" "I am just being paranoid, right?" are all your brain trying to tell you that you are exactly on to something. Don't put up with it.

Wherever this behavior comes from in childhood, it is not okay to act it out in adulthood. Maybe that means some joint counseling to negotiate a level of truth and trust between you.

If you are finding unexplained charges on your credit cards, unaccounted for time and general disrespect with truth, you've got a deeper problem here than "white lies".
posted by Edubya at 6:18 PM on April 24, 2009 [11 favorites]


His white lies obviously mean that he doesn't trust you. I think the best way for him to feel more trusting is for you to trust him.

He said he'd do the laundry, and didn't. Don't ask why he didn't do it -- trust that he is an adult, a good person, and that the reason that it didn't get done is a good one. If he chose to play video games instead, maybe he really needed that unwinding time -- trust him to make that decision. You can be sad/bummed/surprised that he didn't do it, but not upset at the reason that he didn't do it -- the reason is his own.

When you call and he doesn't answer the phone, don't later ask why he didn't/couldn't take your call. Assume that his choice to not answer was the right choice. You know he loves you, right? So there can only be reasons that are okay, eg, he was tired, didn't feel like talking, work called, he was in the shower. Ditto with the lunch. Maybe you two had an agreement about saving money by eating packed lunches. Well, since he's such a lovable, trustworthy, and responsible husband, he probably had a really good reason to eat out, right? Trust in his ability (and right) to make that decision.

When he senses your trust, he'll trust you. And (gender-stereotype warning), he needs to see your trust in your actions: men are not mind-readers.

Unless, of course, the real issue is that you don't think that your husband’s a responsible adult, or that he's capable of setting priorities and making good decisions. It's a parent's duty to help their child learn to make good decisions, set proper priorities, and effectively manage their time and money; you shouldn’t feel the need to do this. Whether that would be his fault or yours is a separate question.
posted by thebazilist at 6:44 PM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


For one week, every time you catch him in a lie do two things. 1) Remember a lie you told him in the last 24 hours (I promise, you can find one.)

why would you assume this?

It certainly seems from the responses in the thread that the importance of lies differs greatly for different people. Many of us at least grow up learning to lie part of the time - sometimes it's just known as "being polite" - and people live by habit, so if it isn't dealt with directly, it's sure to become part of the standard way of interacting. It may seem different to you between husband and wife, or as adults than as children, but when it's just part of your social reality, I doubt it stands out.

I think the main things you can do to increase someone's truth quotient are a) make sure they realize how central honesty is to you, by telling them and by being honest yourself and b) make sure they trust you and feel safe telling you things. If your husband knows he'll be judged or looked down on or otherwise subtly given attention if he answers honestly, he may feel uncomfortable doing so, even if he's not entirely conscious of the choice he makes. I know I prefer to be honest but have told these kinds of lies at times out of embarrassment or other seemingly stupid motivations. It's what you're conditioned to think is normal combined with your emotional responses...

But as responses here show, to many people this is simply not important - white lies are just another rhetorical device, a way to keep certain things private. Because it is important to you, you have to explain that to him, and find a way to work it out. Maybe he is bothered by his own tendency to lie, or maybe he thinks it's nothing to worry about. How would you feel if he answered that he didn't want to discuss something? Do you feel you have the right to know anything you ask of him?
posted by mdn at 7:02 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


If he forgets to do what you want, you nag him. If he gets caught in a lie, he gets bitched out. At least when he lies, he as a chance of avoiding his punishment. I second what many others have said. You're not his mommy.
posted by Crotalus at 7:49 PM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would try to talk with him about this dynamic. Not only why the white lies bother you but also tell him you have been wondering if he does it because he feels you are being too intrusive or that you will get angry. (Family systems theory says that the problem is in the relationship, not in the individuals.)

Depending on his answers, one way to change the whole dynamic is tell him that whenever you ask him a question that he doesn't feel like answering, instead of a white lie, he can say to you, "Is that something you really need to know?" This should make you stop and think if it is casual curiosity or if it is something important. I suspect that if you stop and think about it, many of the questions aren't really that important - once he draws your attention to it, you can let him have his privacy. If it is important, explain why you wanted to know and expect an honest answer. At the same time, while you stop and think about why you asked, you can also prepare yourself to hear the answer, whatever it is, without getting angry.

In exchange, his job is not to lie, when you first ask and if you tell him it is important. He might say "I don't want to talk about this because..." but it needs to be honest.
posted by metahawk at 7:57 PM on April 24, 2009


He is a wonderful, patient, generous guy who treats me well and loves me more than anything...

I'd say don't push it, then. Everybody's got their stuff. As someone with his own array of childhood-based personality faults and moodiness and such, I appreciate having people close to me who aren't in my shit about it all the time; in return, I try to be generous about overlooking others' hangups and such. It's like a gift you give to people you love.
posted by troybob at 7:58 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


1) Remember a lie you told him in the last 24 hours (I promise, you can find one.)

No, I really can't- I make it a point not to live my life this way.

But I can say that when someone is lying about little things it means something's really wrong on the liar's part. Maybe it's related to you, and maybe it has nothing to do with you. If he won't say, you really can't know.

The part that IS about you is how you're reacting to him. As you've figured out already, turning into his mom, though completely understandable, isn't going to get you the results you want.

(I'm not saying it isn't completely frustrating. For myself I always end up feeling like "Do you think I'm STUPID?!" It's insulting to be lied to about dumb stuff!)

I am saying there's something bigger going on and it's worth meeting with a counselor to figure it out.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:58 PM on April 24, 2009


this problem isn't really about lying at all.

If he promise to do X he probaby meant it when he said it.

When he was gone he got engrossed in doing something for himself, and forgot to do what you asked of him.

I bet if he started saying "i forgot" or simply "i didn't do it" with no other explanation you would still be upset, and he isn't lying. If that is the case, what you are really upset with isn't lying at all, but him not doing what you ask when you ask. If you look at it that way, he isn't a liar, and the problem seems a bit more two sided.
posted by jester69 at 10:11 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gak! So many typos, sorry.
posted by jester69 at 10:15 PM on April 24, 2009


I would let them go. You already have some insight into why he might do it, so stop trying to catch him in his lies. If it truly doesn't matter, and it's only a matter of principal, then address the behavior that you might want to change (such as doing the laundry when expected, or being clear about work schedules) and learn to accept the momentary freakout/blurted lie as something that will disappear with time and trust. Focus on the positive and seek to change only those things that are changeable.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:19 PM on April 24, 2009


I'm reading a lot of defense of the husband for lying, however...

I'm not seeing any defense for the husband lying--all of us are trying to arrive at a situation where he does not lie. I am, however, seeing a lot of discussion about the dynamic between the liar and the OP.

It is unacceptable in a relationship to habitually lie, no matter how "large" that lie might be.

Oh please. That kind of inflexible morality only causes pain. Lying is an integral part of lubricating social interactions, preserving necessary fictions.

"How was your day?"; "Oh, fine," can be a lie. It's a lie intended to keep the shitstorm that was work from spilling over into a tranquil home. Yes, arguably, "It was shitty but I don't want to talk about it," is probably more healthy. But, how many of us have partners who would then try to "help" when there's nothing to be helped?

"Do you think I'm as hot as when we got married?" The "real" answer is probably, "No, not as hot. But still plenty hot enough." This is the wrong answer, because nothing can come of that truth but pain.

"Do you want to go to this concert with me?" The "real" answer could very well be, "Not even a little bit, but I'll go because it's important to you." If I told my wife that, she'd cancel her plans--because she doesn't want me to have to endure something I find distasteful or uncomfortable. But, since I want her to be happy and enjoy the things she loves, I'll answer, "Sure."

If you speak the truth, all the time, I feel very, very sorry for the few friends you maintain. I feel very sorry for the children whose self-esteem you shatter ("That doesn't look at all like an elephant."). I feel sorry for you.

If someone is lying to avoid an argument, maybe that's an argument that really needs to happen.

Or maybe that argument never needs to happen, but routinely does. I watch a lot of couples argue repeatedly over trivial shit that really doesn't deserve they energy they spend on it. Yes, there're issues they need to address in their relationships; but the sloppiness of parallel parking isn't actually one of them. It's a manifestation of other things... things that they'll never talk about if they fight so much that all affection is gone.

It is ridiculous to blame this on the person being lied to.

I think most people hold the husband responsible for his lies. It's just that none of us believes he lives in a vacuum. We don't think the very real problems underlying this conflict are going to be resolved by somebody telling the husband, "Speak only the truth, goddamnit!". The relationship between both people needs work. And that requires work from both parties.

Furthermore, the OP came here for advice. We're giving her advice on the only thing she can control: her own behavior and attitudes. We're offering her ways she might improve the situation. If she just came to mefi in hopes that we'd say, "Yeah, he's a shit head. You're totally right," then she came to the wrong place.
posted by Netzapper at 10:20 PM on April 24, 2009 [19 favorites]


I have a sort of a Schrodinger's box problem with my answer, but if anonymous would like to memail me, or e-mail the address in my profile from some throwaway account (to stay anonymous) I can suggest it usefully.
posted by rokusan at 11:38 PM on April 24, 2009


Oh boy, some of you guys are a bit harsh on the OP, because some of those examples are exactly what we do in our relationship, and we do them to avoid the "guess" culture thing that is discussed often enough in Metafilter. How was your day? It was fine (it wasn't really, but I don't trust you to respond in a way that I will be comfortable with.) We just don't do that anymore and sure, a lot of it is (what we used to do, lie or control) about our families of origin where he was beaten for not doing what his father expected, and I was in trouble one way or another for not reading my mother's mind, and anticipating her emotional meltdowns.

I see habitual lying about small stuff as quite erosive, because of my experiences, and this is one of the reasons I don't lie. So, my kid shows me an elephant that doesn't look like an elephant, and I say, "wow, great use of colour there. You've been really imaginative in the approach you took to this. Let me tell you about some abstract artists." As a result, my teen kids actually trust me to tell them the truth, and not come up with some polite fiction. So if my husband lies to me about the washing that he didn't feel like doing and I'm wondering, what else is he lying about? Am I going to end up with a tax bill because he didn't tell me the truth about how his employer is handling the contract (happened - $15K, because he couldn't tell me).

For the OP, when the husband was clearly playing video games instead of doing the laundry and chooses not to tell the truth, it's also about respect. "you're clearly so stupid that I can pull the wool over your eyes about this, and I don't owe you responsibility for household chores, and I don't value it." Hey, he might not be thinking this, but if she's not allowed to say, hey, what's really going on here, how will she know? The lunch thing, no biggie if you have plenty of money, but if one of you is rethreading elastic through their undies to keep them up and pay debts incurred by someone who made a couple of white lies, and the other person (the one who lied, who incurred the debts) is buying lunch and lying about it, that's really not fair.

The terrible thing is when one partner abdicates responsibilities for chores, for finances, for acting like an adult in a relationship, the other partner has to be responsible, has to balance the books, has to do more chores, has to nag and remind and set themselves up to be the parent (yech) and that's quite destructive and tiring.

So, OP, what I truly recommend to you is some therapy where you both learn to say the truth to each other about how you feel so that you can get past this. Hopefully one day, your partner will be able to say to you, "i didn't feel like doing the laundry and I didn't. I understand that you need clothes for work tomorrow, and I'll make sure you have them." and you can say "that's cool, so long as I have something to wear." or "you know, i get quite frustrated when you put off chores like the laundry and I end up wearing damp clothes. If you really dislike doing the laundry, could we maybe swap tasks, or something because this is not working for me." No animosity, just partnership. Respect for each other and always, always courtesy.

Oh, last thing OP, me and my guy have a difference of understanding about time. For me, I know what the time is to the nearest 10 minutes at any stage of the day. It's one of the ways I remain productive. For him, being productive means being in the zone. Sometimes when I speak to him, it can take him a minute to answer (I've timed him, you haters) and he has no idea. So when he says, I'll be ready at ten, I add on half an hour. When he says, this chore will take me 1 day, I multiply by three. I know, if he could, he would be more accurate, but he can't. He's living on a different timeline. This is not meant to be a lie, it's a different perception of the world. May not be the same thing for your guy, but then again it might.
posted by b33j at 1:32 AM on April 25, 2009 [22 favorites]


I see habitual lying about small stuff as quite erosive, because of my experiences, and this is one of the reasons I don't lie. So, my kid shows me an elephant that doesn't look like an elephant, and I say, "wow, great use of colour there. You've been really imaginative in the approach you took to this. Let me tell you about some abstract artists." As a result, my teen kids actually trust me to tell them the truth, and not come up with some polite fiction. So if my husband lies to me about the washing that he didn't feel like doing and I'm wondering, what else is he lying about? Am I going to end up with a tax bill because he didn't tell me the truth about how his employer is handling the contract (happened - $15K, because he couldn't tell me).

I grew up in a family where I literally could not get in trouble if I told the truth. So, I'd break a vase, and go running to my mother, "Mama, I broke your vase in the living room." There were sometimes consequences, and I had to try to make things right if I could... but, my parents never went off the handle, never moralized, never told me I'd been bad if I told them the truth.

As a result, in my teen years, I felt comfortable responding to queries about my plans with, "I'm going to go smoke pot with Jake," because I knew that my folks would say, "Well, don't drive while you're high."

As a result of that, I'm really frank and honest with everybody I meet. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I disadvantage myself in business deals because I refuse to tell my clients what they want to hear. I'll spend $25 on something frivolous without asking my wife and spend the whole day waiting for her to come home so that I can inform her. Her response is always, "Dude, it's twenty-five bucks. You don't need to ask me or tell me." But I still do it every time.

It took me years to learn that, sometimes, lying is the (morally, ethically) right thing to do. "Isn't my baby just the cutest thing you've ever seen?" The answer is invariably, unequivocally "yes" every damn time--the pause as I try to figure out some evasive oh-her-toes-are-cute non-sequitur is perceptible, and as hurtful as a straight "no, she's ugly". Fuck, in my opinion, if your kid asks, "Isn't this a great drawing of an elephant?" (not "Do you like this picture?") and you give the line you quote, it's a lie by omission--you're preserving a(n im)polite fiction that a poor representational drawing is equivalent to abstract art.

Now, I really hope that the OP and her husband do get some counseling and can arrive at a point where they can both be honest with one another. And, I certainly, in no way, am excusing any repeated failure of the OP's husband to fulfill his responsibilities with regard to household duties. And I really hope that the lying isn't representative of his dealings in important matters (like your tax bill, for instance).

But, I find highly offensive the knee-jerk claims that telling the literal truth 100% of the time is somehow morally superior to usually telling the truth (and always telling the truth about important stuff), but lying to prevent anguish or drama. You can hurt me as brutally with the truth as you can with a lie. And, for me at least, (potential) pain caused is the only metric of morality.
posted by Netzapper at 2:36 AM on April 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I really like b33j's explanation of why this is important. But I think it's possible that you can sort this out without therapy. Sometimes the cure for dishonesty is just more honesty. So tell him everything - that you've been checking up on him, why, why it's important to you that you can trust him on these little things. Then try to talk about what would be a good way for things to go if, say, he hasn't remembered to do the laundry. Let him tell you about why he finds it so difficult to tell you about it.

I have had this problem, in a small way, with a housemate who would reflexively lie to avoid confrontations, without even realising he was doing it. What you need to do is teach him how to argue with you without it being the end of the world. Maybe this is something you need to learn to do, too. So talk to him about how the two of you need to be able to have conflicts and then move on from them, and agree to try to figure out how to do it together. Having good arguments is like having good sex - not as easy as everyone makes it out to be, but generally something you can figure out together if you're prepared to loosen up and help each other.
posted by Acheman at 3:38 AM on April 25, 2009


For the OP, when the husband was clearly playing video games instead of doing the laundry and chooses not to tell the truth, it's also about respect.

Nah, it's about two people seeing things differently and one side insisting that their point of view is the correct and only way and if the other person doesn't agree, they are bad.

This isn't about respect or lying, instead their separate issues are crashing against each other.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:06 AM on April 25, 2009


I have little to add, but I think it's worth pointing out that truth and lies are not polar opposites. Everyone is, by necessity, selective about which particular truths they draw attention to, and 100% true statements can be intentionally misleading or distracting or otherwise serve to shape the outcome of a discussion in less-than-noble ways.

Beyond that, the OP should reconcile herself to the fact that she probably has some of the traits that her husband so disliked in his parents. That's just the nature of things -- people choose mates that have the qualities, both good and bad, of their childhood caretakers. The OP may feel especially angry about her husband's parents' controlling behavior because she knows, on some level, that she struggles with the same issues; his parents' ugly behavior probably reminds her of her own ugly behavior, which is, of course, uncomfortable.

I think the OP is allowing herself to be sucked into a sort of tribal dance. She asks uncomfortable questions. He lies to avoid confrontation. She checks up on him and asks more uncomfortable questions. The dance continues because she's playing her part perfectly. She's always exactly where he expects her to be. She is participating, but pretending that it's all his doing.

It might also help to understand that the lies are serving a purpose that needs, somehow, to be served. You need him to be honest, but he apparently needs to avoid confrontation and/or nagging. He'll be much more likely to give up lying if you can help him see that there are better ways to avoid confrontation and/or nagging.
posted by jon1270 at 5:43 AM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have to join the pileon and say that I'm uncomfortable with the way you present your case as well. You do seem a bit controlling.

My wife and I have this problem, with the same dynamics you describe - I've told white lies, and she's caught me in some of them.

Recently, though, I've kind of decided to "turn the tables". In my vindictive moments I've realized that I can jump on her about innocuous things she does that bug ME. "You said you'd be going to see X today, why aren't you ready? It's almost 2." "You've been telling me for 3 months now that you're going to start studying English." (This is a huge one for us, but I understand the scale of it, and it's not something I should nag about.) "You've been watching TV all afternoon, when are you going to help me organize the books?"

This gets us nowhere. It leads to fights. And when she asks me why X isn't done, I've been answering honestly. And she'll start with the questions, and I say, "Remember how it felt when I asked you about you watching TV yesterday afternoon? That's what this feels like right now! Am I allowed to make a mistake, or do we have to do this every time?" Fights, too.

Two weeks ago, things were pretty bad. But after a marathon day of accusations, she walked out the door. She came back an hour later and said, "This gets us nowhere. I'm sorry, and you'd better be too." I was. "When you pick at things like this, when we have this neverending arguments about whose fault something is, about who was/is supposed to do what, about who has the wrong values, it doesn't accomplish anything. It makes me hate you, and I don't want to hate you. So I'm not going to. Do you hate me?" Almost never. Just when we do this. "Ok, then let's not do this anymore."

It's been much better since. I kind of figured it would, but I wish we could have worked this out without the 3-month cold war and hurtful words. It still hurts to think about, and I think it'll be a long time healing.

The point is, you should be able to do this without the pain. You have to find a way. It's like was said above, if you don't resolve this, it's divorce court in 10 years. She and I have always been stormy (because she's so STUBBORN/because I'm so CARELESS and ANALYTICAL), but we're much, much better now than we were a year ago, and I know we're rock solid. We're quickly finding ways to communicate without the snarling. In Chinese they call this the 讨厌期/"annoyance period", and it starts 2-3 years in. If you can survive it, you're a shoe-in for a lifetime of happiness together. You will fight about everything, and you will have to change a lot about your expectations and communication if you're going to get through it. This is straight from my wife's mouth. :)

There are fantastic suggestions for how to do this above, but I want to add my take. You have a huge job in front of you, because, ok, you'll have to change your own expectations, but how do you know he's changing his, that he's not just taking advantage of you? How do you know he values your concerns as well? At EVERY step you take, if you want to do this without having it blow up in your face, you need to make sure you're letting him know you care about his concerns as well.

My wife and I, luckily, were both psychologically prepared for "changes". One that's been particularly obnoxious is creating a budget. We both agree we need to do it, that we need to write down what we're spending, the question is how. I'm glued to my Palm and throw away receipts (I DESPISE paper clutter), she's computer-illiterate, keeps things in piles, never throws anything away, and is addicted to pen & paper. Plus, I'm no accountant; her mother is, and she has her own business that she does bookkeeping for anyway. She has the natural skillset, so she volunteered. This leads to situations where she asks me for my receipts every night, then makes me sit there while she goes through them while she grills me about what each one is! She hates it and so do I.

The answer? English/computer/Excel/filing lessons for her, accounting lessons for me. We're spending upward of an hour a day on this process now, and it's bringing us together. It took a lot of time, money, and planning to work out a routine though. She writes down her expenses in her account book, me in a Palm memo, then we sit down each day and manually enter each into Excel in English and Chinese on her laptop. Receipts get meticulously filed in a filing cabinet (for some reason they're not used much here in China, people prefer paper binders on a big shelf, which is what she thought I had in mind when I first suggested it; she was imagining having to pull down & open 10 different folders every night, not a drawer).

That solution took thinking "big", outside either of our comfort zones. It takes care of both our needs though. I don't know if, as a couple, you're used to stepping outside of both your comfort zones together like this, but if he's telling white lies, I doubt it. The solution to your husband's white lies/your controlling behavior will likely be something so drastic that it changes the entire dynamic of the way you handle household conflict, if you're going to avoid snarling arguments.

For things like laundry, we had to buy two machines. We have our big, huge primary, a silent unit that allows me to wash & dry huge loads at all hours, and then we have a miniature "apartment-style" secondary for socks & towels, which she used to insist on washing by hand for fear of leaving a stink in the main machine (and then of course she'd never wash them). It also allows emergency washes of one or two garments if one of us has nothing to wear, which we used to never do because we don't like wasting water.

For time together, the rules are: if the TV is off, my laptop is off.

For money, it goes with the budgeting ritual. She has a Mickey Mouse purse that just doesn't need to exist - once she came home with that, all complaints about my unnecessary expenses ceased. At the same time, when she doesn't understand when I buy things, I do explain how and why I'll use it, why it will benefit us. My Treo? Well, lady, let me SHOW you it. She doesn't want one, but admits it's cool. :)

Phoning? Well, the rule is, if you keep your phone ON, I'll be home when I say I'll be home, and I'll always call if plans change.

Sit down and have an honest conversation about the white lies, but also, offer something. I know something you do annoys the crap out of him. Offer to shift the paradigm. It will take uncomfortable lifestyle changes sometimes, but if you can show that you're adjusting to his needs, he'll be much more inclined to listen to yours. Above all, don't let it get poisonous. Make it a priority to keep poisonous behavior out of the relationship, and frame your conversation that way. That's how my wife and I have made progress on these fronts. It took a lot of fighting to get to that point though, and I think, if you offer something up front and keep thoughtful changes in mind that would benefit both of you, you'll come out of this without the fighting.
posted by saysthis at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


He'll say he's going to take his lunch to work to save money, but the credit card statement shows charges to restaurants.

Do you think he goes to restaurants to eat alone, or do you think he's socializing with colleagues? I'd bet it's the latter, in which case he might not have lied to you at all. He may have taken lunch to work, been invited to lunch by co-workers at the last minute, and changed his mind when the circumstances changed. For that matter, even if he planned to brown-bag it but just failed to find time every morning to pack a lunch, that's just a change of plans, not a lie. Even "I'll do the laundry" wasn't a lie if he believed it to be true at the time, regardless of whether he should have predicted or avoided being irresponsible later.

"I thought you said you had to work late tonight?" is the same situation but more poignant. You're treating him like a liar for incorrectly predicting the future that morning? He worked harder to finish early and get to spend more time with you and that was his reward? Also notice that, just like with your statement, the fact that I add a question mark or a rising tone of voice at the end of my criticisms does not turn them into questions, it just makes me sound even more flabbergasted.

You can probably ignore the scolding, co-dependent tone in these responses. ("He only hits you because you won't listen! Why you gotta make him so mad?") You certainly don't need to decide that lying isn't wrong or that discovering a lie is. But thinking about it practically instead of morally: you can only directly change your own behavior, not his. If your husband believes that white lies are better than telling the truth about petty mistakes (or worse, as in the cases I've picked out above, petty non-mistakes!), what changes in your behavior will convince him that lies are worse than he thinks or that the truth is better than he fears?

If even the pseudonymous third parties here don't think that "white lies" are inherently wrong, what hope do you have of persuading your husband who has a personal stake in them? So your best option is the last one. Start by telling him that he can safely tell you the truth, but that's not going to work unless you can also show him.

It sounds like he's *still* telling white lies to avoid getting into trouble. Would you really go easy on him when he flakes on chores to play games or when he doesn't pick up the phone because he doesn't feel like talking to you right then? Unless he has a moral epiphany, the trouble will have to stop before the lies do, but that may require some willpower from both of you.
posted by roystgnr at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2009


...it's about two people seeing things differently and one side insisting that their point of view is the correct and only way and if the other person doesn't agree, they are bad.

This isn't about respect or lying, instead their separate issues are crashing against each other.


I don't think "I was too busy to do the laundry" instead of saying "I decided to relax and play video games" is a grey area. It seems pretty blatant to me.

Anyway, nthing the passive aggressive personality suggestion - "I thought you said you had to work late tonight?"
posted by getawaysticks at 10:52 AM on April 27, 2009


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