What’s Wrong With a Person Who Lies All the Time?

Reader’s Question

My husband lies all the time. He lies about everything and nothing. When we first met, he lied about being single. When I learned the truth and confronted him, he said he was “set up” because people were simply against us. I didn’t really believe him at the time, but I stayed with him anyway.

I know now that his ex-wife left him as a result of all the lies. She kept their three children from him because she believes he is a sociopath. As an attorney, I helped him regain contact with his children. But during the trial, things came out, and it’s clear he is not at all who I though he was. His entire childhood, education, work history and even things about our relationships were lies. There was nothing devastatingly horrible, but his life was fabricated so he’d look more accomplished. He lied on his resume and told all of our friends that he was an accomplished novelist when he wasn’t. He didn’t even graduate High School! He was voluntarily interviewed by the local newspaper, and he gave them all false information and accomplishments that were published on the front page.

I am humiliated and ashamed that I believed his stories. I put my career on the line by representing him without getting any of the facts first. I’m also unsure what I should do because we now have a child together. I told him he needs help and he even agreed, but a year later, he still hasn’t gotten any. What could be wrong with him?

Psychologist’s Reply

It seem’s you know that this man’s character is deeply flawed. Whether he’s a “compulsive” or “pathological” liar, or a sociopath, a formal “label” for “what’s wrong with him” is virtually irrelevant. You know that he lies and cheats without compunction, that his behavior destroyed his last marriage, and his lies have taken a toll on your marriage as well.

You give the opinion that he needs “help.” Help is for people who admit a weakness or shortcoming and are motivated to seek assistance. This is something for you to consider, inasmuch as you admit staying with this guy despite knowing he made misrepresentations to you early on in the relationship. You also went above and beyond any reasonable duty by helping him legally. So, while you might need some “help” for issues of your own, he on the other hand needs “correction.” He won’t feel any pressure to change his ways, however, as long as it appears to him that others — despite their misgivings — ultimately endorse and “enable” him. Instead of worrying so much about what’s wrong with your husband or what he might need, focus on what you and your child need to do to avoid any possible further victimization by him. If you choose to maintain a relationship with him, set down some firm expectations about what he must do to change and be prepared to stand by and enforce those expectations.

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The only legitimate reason for a question about the so-called “cause” of a behavior problem is to formulate the right course of action to address it (hence the old medical adage that intervention without proper diagnosis is malpractice). So, for example, if your husband truly is a sociopath, certain caveats would need to be strictly observed in his treatment. But that’s for the professional to decide. You need only concern yourself with not allowing yourself to be taken advantage of and insisting that he invest himself in a suitable program of “correction” of his maladaptive behaviors.

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