I find myself in a difficult situation and I don’t know what to do. I got married over a year ago to a young man, I’ll call Ben, who everyone, including my parents, thinks is the most wonderful man in the world. Frankly, I also thought he was too good to be true, and it turns out he is too good to be true.
Ben is charming and considerate and has a terrific personality. He’s funny and has a way of commanding a table with his wit and conversational skills. He’s also very polite to everyone.
However, I started discovering after only a few months of marriage that Ben is also a liar! He lies about silly, unimportant things but also about some major things. Particularly for someone like me, coming from a family where everyone is super-honest about everything, this discovery is shocking and scary.
I’ll give you a couple of examples about big lies, which I’m not even sure why Ben felt the need to lie about. When we were dating, we had a conversation about camps. Starting at age 9, I started going to and loving sleepaway camp every summer. When I asked Ben which camps he went to, he mentioned a well-known boys’ camp that he said he attended for much of his youth. We even compared stories about color wars and other exciting camp experiences. After that initial conversation, it never really came up again.
After we were married for a couple of months, I was talking to a good friend of mine and her new chasan, “Yossi,” and somehow the subject of camps came up. Yossi mentioned that he went to the camp that Ben said he went to. So of course I asked him if he was friendly with Ben at camp, since they are about the same age. He told me that he was quite sure that Ben was never at that camp. I told him he had to have been mistaken, thinking that no one would ever tell such a bald-faced lie. And for what purpose?
When I confronted Ben about this, his first response was to say that Yossi must have forgotten him, since he looked very different then. I put it aside for a while, but it kept bothering me. Finally, I decided I had to get to the bottom of it and did some research. In fact, Ben never went to camp at all. After I confronted Ben with my facts, and after he still tried to lie his way out of it, he finally confessed that because he saw how important camp was to me, he thought I would be happier thinking he also went to camp!
Another crazy lie was that shortly after we were married, I mentioned to Ben that I graduated college magna cum laude. It’s not something that I talk about much to anyone, but good grades never came easily to me and I worked hard to achieve that honor. So I wanted to share it with him. Ben immediately told me that he also received that honor upon graduation. He’s smart and I just took his statement at face value. Recently, I was organizing our important papers into folders when I came across his diploma. As you would guess, nowhere on it did it say anything about being magna cum laude. When Ben came home from work that day and I confronted him about it, his first reaction was to say that the school must have made a mistake and left it off his diploma. But by now I knew better than to believe him and kept pressing and telling him that I planned on calling the school, at which point he finally confessed and of course added some ridiculous excuse.
I’m not even going to get into all the little, silly lies that Ben doesn’t hesitate to tell me for no reason at all, but I guess just because these answers pop into his head and come easily to him. Or the lies or exaggerations I hear him telling family and friends when we are socializing. I cringe every time he says an untruth, and of course question him when we get home about why he would say such a thing. He generally just blows me off, like I’m overreacting and it’s my problem.
I haven’t wanted to talk to my parents about Ben, because I’m not ready to break their hearts. They are so in love with him and think he is the greatest. I also don’t want to discuss this situation with any of my friends, because frankly I’m just too embarrassed to let anyone know that I’m married to a liar.
I went to speak to a local rabbi recently. After I told him what was going on, he asked me whether Ben has ever abused me. I said no. He asked whether Ben drinks too much or uses drugs. Was he a gambler? Again, the answers were no. Was he loyal to me? Was Ben living up to his Yiddishkeit commitments? I answered yes to these questions. The rabbi then asked me whether Ben treated me well, and I answered that aside from his lying, he was kind and thoughtful. Ultimately, in his own words, the rabbi’s advice was basically something like, “What’s the big deal? Everyone lies sometimes. He sounds like a good man.”
But this is not my idea of a good man. Far from it. Yes, he can charm the daylights out of anyone, but if I have to now question every word that comes out of his mouth, what good is it?
So here I am, living with a bald-faced liar, and wondering how I am supposed to live out the rest of my life with someone who seems to have no conscience when it comes to being honest. I have spoken to Ben about this many times, and even occasionally gotten quite hysterical when some of the really big lies were revealed to me. He apologizes to me, and tells me it will never happen again, but it does. And I think the reason it does is that he just doesn’t get it. I don’t think he understands the whole honesty thing. I feel like at his core, he thinks telling lies is no big deal.
I don’t know what to do. Do people get divorced for this reason, if everything else in their lives is fine? By the way, before answering this question, I think you should know that we don’t have any children yet. If we did, I think I would probably somehow deal with it and go on with an imperfect life for the sake of my children. But does it make sense for me to stay put, when his lies eat away at the core of my love and respect for my husband? The rabbi I spoke to probably wouldn’t agree, and maybe many other people wouldn’t agree either, but to me, it feels like a betrayal.
It’s not my job to tell anyone if and when they should get divorced. It’s also not my job to determine what kinds of behavior are divorce-worthy and what kinds of behavior are not. Rather, my job is to help individuals take a good, deep, and honest look within themselves and at their lives and determine whether they are living a life that feels authentic and meaningful for them or whether they are living a life that they are ashamed of or feel insecure about.
We all have a different set of values that help us process the goings-on within our relationships and within ourselves. These are usually based on a conglomerate of experiences, our family of origin, and that inner voice that we all carry within ourselves throughout our lives that often guides us to make the right decisions. That same voice that we often ignore and ultimately regret having ignored.
In most ways, Ben sounds like a wonderful person with very good intentions. He is a charmer and has probably charmed his way through all sorts of challenges throughout his life. Many of us are drawn to charmers. They engage us, they make us feel special and heard, and they are entertaining to be around. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s quite special to have that unique gift of wit and a captivating personality. Plus, it sounds as though Ben cares deeply about you and wants to make you happy. The problem is that you’ve discovered a bit late in the game that he seems to have been born without the “honesty gene.”
Simply said, from what you’ve described, Ben doesn’t value the truth. And his ability to interchange truth with what he believes the other person wants to hear, with such utter lack of effort or guilt, is likely a game-changer for someone like yourself, who honors truth in such a big way.
If you had said that Ben has a problem telling the truth, but because he is such a great guy in so many ways, it’s no big deal for you—then I would agree that it’s no big deal for you. However, because honesty is something you hold in such high regard, and dishonesty is something that you just can’t understand or process, a life with Ben will probably be filled with many sleepless nights, as you wonder whether you can believe something that he told you. And many busy days, trying to track down the real story. It’s not an easy way to live.
So now what?
The first obvious question is whether Ben wants to and is able to stop the lies. I don’t want to say absolutely not, but liars tend to stay liars. However, it would be interesting for him to understand where the lies are coming from. Was it a survival technique he felt he had to use growing up, in order to be seen or heard or even accepted? Or was it just a game that he enjoyed playing, seeing how much he could get away with? Or does he truly not understand what it means to live an honest life reflecting integrity.
Most of us have superegos that tend to keep us on the straight and narrow path. When our superego is overly developed, we depend on our ego to mediate between it and our id, which reflects our basic instincts and drives. A healthy balance between our id, ego, and superego determines the nature of how we behave. In Ben’s case, assuming I am not overreacting to your story, something is amiss. Therefore, he needs help, if he is to ever resolve his inability to stay truthful. And even with help, there are no guarantees. But that would certainly be my first recommendation, that you find out whether Ben is willing to see a qualified psychotherapist to work on and hopefully fix the damaged part of his psyche.
Hopefully he will agree, and then you have to keep your fingers crossed that he has a successful treatment. If he says no, or even if he says yes but it doesn’t accomplish anything, only you can decide whether you can focus on Ben’s good qualities and just assume that much of what comes out of his mouth has a good shot of being a lie. Is that good enough for you? Furthermore, is he the man that you want raising your children? These are questions that only you can answer. But when you try to answer these questions, be sure to answer them from a place of honesty within yourself. The answer shouldn’t be based on what your parents or your friends might want you to say. They won’t be spending the rest of their lives with Ben. You will.
But remember, no one is perfect. People often trade in one problem for a different problem. There’s always something. The real question is what are you willing and able to overlook and what for you, and no one else, is the real deal-breaker?
You have your work cut out for you, both in terms of getting Ben on board to work on improving this situation and ultimately deciding what it is you need to live a satisfying life. Again, no one arrives unblemished. If Ben won’t or can’t change, will you be able to look at him and not always focus on the blemish? Therein lies your answer.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.