5 Times It's OK to Lie to Your Partner, According to Therapists
Sometimes white lies or lies of omission are actually better for your relationship.
If there's one rule we've known since we were kids, it's that lying is bad. And now that we're involved in our own adult relationships, we know that to be doubly true. However, according to therapists, there are a few instances when it's OK to lie to your partner.
"Lies exist on a spectrum that ranges from fairly innocuous lies of omission to intentional deception with an intent to harm the other person," explains relationship expert Barbie Adler, founder and president of luxury matchmaking service Selective Search. "In relationships, you want to stay as close to the innocuous side as possible, because trust and empathy are the foundations of healthy relationships and lies can eat away at these foundations."
To find out more, keep reading to hear from additional experts about the few cases where telling the truth isn't the best option.
When you need privacy.
There's no rule that says your partner must be privy to everything that happens in your life, and sometimes it's OK to keep things private.
"Mental health challenges, past experiences, financial information, or details about previous relationships might be all matters you wish to keep private," says David Tzall, PsyD, a licensed psychologist based in Brooklyn. "These issues can be sensitive and may require time and trust to discuss openly and honestly with your partner."
However, Tzall notes that these "lies" shouldn't involve telling your partner mistruths. Instead, they're a boundary you set in what you are willing or comfortable sharing. If you feel guilty about whatever it is that you're holding back, you may want to examine the cause of that guilt. A therapist can provide guidance.
When you might hurt their feelings.
In most cases, white lies are harmless. "There may be times when your partner asks for your opinion on something, such as a new outfit or a haircut, and you do not particularly like it," says Amira Martin, LCSW-R, founder of Amira For Her therapy group. "In such situations, it may be acceptable to tell a white lie to avoid hurting your partner's feelings."
However, you'll also want to balance being honest and tactful to avoid breaking your partner's trust or hurting their feelings.
When you're protecting them.
In addition to avoiding hurting their feelings, you may also find that a lie of omission is necessary to protect their feelings.
"If they would not gain anything from knowing the truth about the situation—such as, for example, if you overheard somebody that they don't know very well saying something mean about them—and their feelings would be spared by a white lie, it might be best to omit telling the truth," shares Adler.
However, this too is a fine line. "A fairly reliable test is to ask yourself whether you are lying to protect them or to protect yourself," Adler advises. "If you are only lying to protect yourself, there is a chance that the lie might be more serious and harmful than you think."
When you're maintaining confidentiality.
Maybe a friend confided in you that her husband had an affair and swore you to secrecy. Or perhaps a family member shared a grim medical diagnosis that they don't yet want the rest of the family to know. In these cases, you might have no choice but to lie to your partner to maintain the other person's confidentiality.
"In such situations, try to weigh the potential harm that revealing the information could cause against the value of honesty in your relationship," suggests Laura Wasser, a relationship expert and chief of divorce evolution at Divorce.com.
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When you're planning a surprise.
An exciting gift or a surprise party is also A-OK to keep a secret.
"If your partner has mentioned wanting something, and you decide to purchase it as a surprise, there may be times when it's best not to tell them what you're up to," says Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, licensed clinical social worker and CEO of The Heights Treatment. "Keeping the secret will only increase the joy your partner feels when they receive their surprise."
Of course, if the gift falls outside of preset financial boundaries in your relationship, you'll want to discuss it first. This rule also applies to surprise parties—they're fine to keep a secret as long as your partner has expressed interest in them.
At the end of the day, if you're unsure of whether or not you should lie to your partner, Adler advises asking yourself how you'd feel if they lied to you about the same thing.
"Introducing double standards into a relationship is one of the quickest ways to erode trust and mutual understanding, so engaging in this kind of empathetic exercise is absolutely critical," Adler explains. "These kinds of questions can be difficult to ask yourself, but they help prevent much, much more difficult conversations from taking place down the road."