Will My Compulsive Lying Ruin My Relationship?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 27-year-old woman truly, madly, and deeply in love with a 24-year-old man. When we met, I never thought our relationship would go anywhere because of cultural and age differences. But day by day we are more compatible than we thought, and we have now been together 4 months. We almost have a live-in relationship, and every day is just another beautiful day — but I am scared that the relationship that has turned out to be everything I have ever hoped for will fall apart.

You see, I have lied about a lot of things to my boyfriend. I told him that I’m an orphan when in reality I am not; I am an alien in the US and my parents live abroad. I also never told him about my divorce; it was a 3 month-long abusive relationship that happened almost 3 years ago. I have discussed the relationship with my boyfriend, but I never mentioned my marriage or divorce. I’ve also lied to him about my ethnic background and told him that I am of mixed ethnicity when I am not. I just do not know why I do all this lying. I do it fairly automatically and so often that it’s hard to keep up with, and it makes me have to keep on lying more and more.

Now, I’m in the position of having met an amazing man who I feel really knows nothing about me. I am sleepless and living in constant pain from all the lies I have told. Am I a pathological liar? Have I all but doomed this great relationship I’ve found? What can I do?

Psychologist’s Reply

“Pathological lying” is not an officially recognized mental disorder, although many mental health professionals regard it as a real condition. Some professionals distinguish “compulsive” lying (lying for no other apparent reason than habit) from “pathological” lying (lying for manipulative reasons to get something you want without concern for how it might harm others).

From what you describe, it seems that your lying has been more of a compulsive nature. Such lying usually starts in childhood as the result of an environment in which the obtaining of desirable things and the avoidance of painful things is most expediently accomplished through lying. It gets to be a very bad habit and reinforces the notion that you can’t get the things you really want or need in life by playing it straight.

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There is only one solution. Come clean. And the sooner, the better. Give yourself a chance to realize that the honest way is the better way to develop and maintain a relationship. That’s the only way over time to help break such a bad habit. You might require the assistance of a counselor or therapist. But the main task is up to you. People don’t usually give up bad habits unless they find more attractive alternatives. If this relationship really has the potential to be all you have ever wanted, it will have to have a solid foundation. You got off on a bit of the wrong foot. Best to set the course straight now, while your journey is still taking its first steps.

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