5 Signs Your Partner Is a Pathological Liar, According to Therapists
Pay attention to how they speak and carry a conversation.
Even if you're known for your candor and honesty, you've probably told at least a few white lies in your life. Maybe you fibbed to get out of an obligation, or perhaps you've claimed you're five minutes away when you haven't even left the house. Bending the truth once in a blue moon isn't going to weigh heavy on your conscience, but some people have a truly casual relationship with the facts. Pathological liars lie deliberately and compulsively, and show signs that they do so "without any clear cut motive," Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, certified psychiatrist of ThePleasantMind, tells Best Life.
This can sound intimidating, especially since Gonzalez-Berrios notes that pathological liars often don't even lie to benefit themselves—they do it just for the sake of doing it. Boone Christianson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Utah, adds that pathological lies instead "serve an 'internal purpose'" and can help the liar feel heroic or like they're truly in control. "The pathological lie does nothing but help the person feel a little better," he says. "It's like a drug."
Relationships are built on trust, so the idea of having a partner who lies pathologically, or without "practical purpose" as Boone puts it, is certainly scary. Thankfully, there are a few things you can look for when determining whether your significant other or spouse falls into this category. Read on to discover the signs that therapists say mean your partner is a pathological liar.
Their stories change.
Getting the details mixed up when telling a story isn't uncommon, and all of our memories can be a bit selective at times. But if your significant other continually tells a different version of the same story—while in conversation with you or with others—it should send up red flags.
"They are not able to keep track of the lies they have told, and so they have to keep changing their story to fit with the new information they have given," Ketan Parmar, MD, MBBS, DPM, psychiatrist and mental health expert at ClinicSpots, tells Best Life.
Gonzalez-Berrios also points to this, noting that a pathological liar's stories will typically be "inconsistent" and they won't "remember what they have said before in a particular situation."
They go into great detail.
In the same vein as changing stories, if you're dating or married to a pathological liar, their tall tales will be particularly colorful and dramatic—and they won't hold back on the specifics. "Most lie in detail so that others cannot question the truthfulness of the story," Gonzalez-Berrios says. "They will give you extensive details of the story, as if making it up in the mind at that moment only."
These distraction techniques can be applied to the smallest thing, "even if there's no reason to do so," Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, DO, of Psyclarity Health, adds.
"They may invent details about their lives or make up stories about trivial events," she says, all in an effort to make things "seem more interesting."
They get defensive when you call them out.
Sometimes, it's important to call your partner out, especially when they're clearly in the wrong. Those who lie pathologically, however, won't respond well to this.
If they feel like they've been caught, pathological liars "will show anger and annoyance, and get defensive as well," Gonzalez-Berrios says, adding that they will often give excuses or make up even more stories if they're found to be guilty.
"If you try to confront them with the truth, even with evidence and proof of the facts, they will be outraged, insulted, and attack you verbally even more," Nancy Irwin, PsyD, CHt, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles, adds.
They don't even know they're lying.
If you do happen to point out a lie and you realize that your partner doesn't even realize they're being untruthful, you could definitely be dealing with a pathological liar. "Pathological liars often lie out of habit," Sadri-Azarbayejani says. "Their lies may become so ingrained in their everyday lives that they no longer see them as lies, but as reality."
In turn, they might not believe they're causing harm by lying to their loved ones or significant other.
"The most obvious sign of a pathological liar is the ability to lie without any sense of remorse, guilt, or personal responsibility," Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist, tells Best Life. "In fact, the pathological liar may be so accustomed to lying for self-serving purposes that dishonest words and actions simply don't register as being wrong. Those who chronically lie often lack the moral compass that generates feelings of guilt or remorse that lead to self-correcting behaviors."
For more relationship advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
They lie for attention.
Though pathological liars generally fib without real reason or tangible gain, there are instances where they will do so for attention or to impress, according to Sadri-Azarbayejani. Unfortunately, your partner might do so just to make themselves appear and feel more important in the relationship.
"They may exaggerate their accomplishments or downplay their failures to appear more successful than they actually are," Sadri-Azarbayejani says. This can include fabricating or embellishing stories, as mentioned above, or telling stories just for shock value.
"They may pretend to be sick or injured to gain empathy from others, or they may make up elaborate tales about their personal lives in order to garner attention," Sadri-Azarbayejani says. "Additionally, they may fabricate stories about their personal lives in order to seem more exciting or glamorous."
So, if you notice your significant other or spouse "regularly boasting" without any real reason, keep your guard up.