What To Do If You Discover They Lied To You

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

You’ve caught the person you’re into in a lie – and yet you still think you want to be with them; you think you want to do something about it. Though I know I risk making you angrier than you likely already are, let me show you why you actually do not.

We tend to romanticize – people, places, things, the past. Especially once we’ve lost something, we find ourselves wanting to cling onto it. To me, dishonesty is the ultimate indicator of having lost something. It’s at the juncture where one party in a relationship lies to another that there is no longer a relationship, because it’s at this juncture that one story splits into two.

I think of relationships in terms of stories.

I don’t mean that relationships are built on stories, though this is true too. We share the splintered parts of ourselves with others, laying ourselves at their feet as they do the same with us, collecting each other’s up and winding ourselves around one another.

I don’t mean that relationships are like stories, though this is true too. They have a beginning, a middle and an end, be that by conflict or time or drifting or death.

What I mean is that relationships are stories – specifically, shared stories. A relationship is when two people share the same story. And when one person’s story becomes different than the other’s, the relationship breaks down and fractures, split into two parts that no longer interweave like they once did.

A lie is very much something that can split one story into two. And at the unequivocal place where the relationship breaks, the past of your relationship becomes a story you tell yourself. The past becomes something to romanticize, to cling onto. But the lies are the now, and the story you most need to tell yourself today is that some people just aren’t worth your time once you discover the truth.

A great screenwriter taught me that conflict reveals character – it’s why your favorite movies and TV shows use the tool so frequently. The protagonist has a goal, with high stakes around that goal and opposition that seems impossible to overcome, and how they react in the face of their conflict shows us who they really are at their core.

Conflict does the same thing in real life as well. It reveals true colors. This can be especially difficult when those true colors don’t match up with who we thought someone was all along. It makes us not want those “true colors” to be the truth. We prefer the truth we’d known beforehand – that the person who we care about is genuinely kind and loving and honest and mature. We prefer to believe that this version of them that can lie to us without remorse is not the real them.

This is so often what happens when the person we’ve invested ourselves in lies to us. We have a framework in our minds about who they are and when we discover something that so fiercely doesn’t align with that schema, we can do a few things (and often we want to do all of them). We can lash out, angry, baffled, expressing our rage for their dishonesty. We can hold them accountable, calmly telling them that we’re aware of their lie and feel hurt. We can try to do the mental gymnastics to tell ourselves that we must be wrong, that they wouldn’t have done this to us so therefore the lie we discovered must have more to it than we know, an attempt at keeping the idea that we have of them intact.

Or we can do absolutely nothing.

Positive psychology teaches that in training pets or raising children, we should reward good behavior and ignore – rather than punish – bad behavior. I think the same applies here. If someone does something kind and genuine, we should express that we appreciate that. And if someone does something cruel or dishonest, like when we catch them in a lie, we should ignore that bad behavior.

Now there’s a fine line between being a doormat – not holding someone accountable for something they’ve done wrong – and removing yourself from a bad situation. But attention is attention. And if you find yourself wanting to scream at them, to cry, to demand to be treated better, to block them on social media, I just don’t know that they’re going to hear your message. All I think they’re going to see is that they’re getting attention. After all, attention is just where we focus our awareness, and in spite of the poor treatment, we’re still focusing our awareness on them.

When I suggest ignoring bad behavior, I don’t mean that you run back to them and pretend it didn’t happen. What I mean is that you exit the split-in-half, two-storied relationship and spend your time – focus your attention – on nurturing the relationships in your life that are one story.

It may seem that I’m taking an immature route with this line of thinking. Isn’t the mature thing to try to work through conflict, to not let one speed bump derail the entire train? Yes, I think it very much is. But if you’re the only party in the relationship trying to repair things and move forward, your maturity hardly matters, because theirs is simply not there. In certain cases, at a certain point, the mature move is truly to do nothing.

The thing about doing nothing though, of course, is that you have to be willing and ready to lose that person. If a part of you is still hanging on, you’ll be tempted to do something – whether that’s the yelling or the crying or the accusing or the deleting or whatever. But if you take a step back, you’ll realize that there’s nothing to lose, because this person is already gone; the story is already split in two. The person you once thought they were is in the past – not to say that that person was never real, though maybe it was all just a wonderful lie – and the person who they really are now does not treat you kindly, so what is there truly to lose?

Can you really lose someone who ignores you? Can you really lose someone who tells you one thing and does another? I don’t think you can.

And once you realize that you have nothing to lose – and truly come to believe it – I think you’ll find yourself at that place where you know that you want to do nothing at having discovered their lie. That what feels right is to not do a damn thing.

Because the thing about lies is that in time they will undo the person who tells them. Don’t let them undo you too.TC mark

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