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Deception in Intimate Relationships

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2130 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Deception is relatively common in intimate relationships. Partners are willing to lie for their self-interest, to protect their relationship, or to save face. Once their partner lies to them the trust is eliminated or diminished depending on the severity of the lie. It is evident that deception in a relationship can be harmful and ruin a relationship. I plan to better understand why lying in intimate relationships occurs and the different types of deception used with their partner.


I will explore the type of deception used within intimate relationships and both how they responded when they suspected their partner may be lying and how they reacted to a partner’s suspicions that they had been dishonest. I will find different articles and stories about deception in relationships and explore different types of deception that occurs in a relationship.

This research will help understand why people lie in intimate relationships and how it affects them and their relationships.

Literature Review

This research explores the use of deception in intimate relational types, which delivers further insight on deception and romantic relationships. Specifically, this research indicates that deception is relatively common in romantic relationships. Researchers focus on beliefs about the importance of honesty in romantic relationships and their perceptions regarding their own and their partner’s success at deceiving one another. Their use of certain styles of deception (i.e., Distortion), as well as their responses to suspected deception (both how they responded when they suspected their partner may be lying and how they reacted to a partner’s suspicions that they had been dishonest).


Research findings have shown that significant others lie in relationships for their own self-interest and for the sake of their relationship “Deception undoubtedly plays a complex role in romantic relationships. While honesty and openness are desirable traits among romantic partners, partners may nonetheless use deception in order to meet personal or relational goals (Guthrie, 2013, page 141). Research suggests that deception is most likely to be motivated by fear of a partner’s disapproval. In particular, the willingness to lie appears to be issue and target specific. People are more likely to lie about a topic when the behavior in question violates a specific target’s expectations (Millar & Tesser, 1988). Research shows that whether it is for the self-interest of themselves, or their relationship the partner will lie, “One participant explained that he did not want his girlfriend to go to the bar with him and his friends, so he ‘‘was trying to sweet talk her and just want it to be a guy’s night out but I was trying to smooth talk her.’’ Another participant expressed fondness for her partner verbally by telling him she ‘‘missed him’’ when, in reality, she ‘‘had already seen him that day’’ and, thus, did not actually ‘‘miss’’ him. She wanted to avoid interaction with him because she was busy with schoolwork” (Booth, 2013, page 208). Research indicates that partners lied about their own feelings, how they felt about their partners, or how they felt about the situation. They communicated deceptive behavior using verbal messages of validation or avoidance, and combined nonverbal cues of haptics, proxemics, and kinesics.


Research indicated that people generally believe that they are fairly successful in their efforts to deceive their partners and, moreover, that they believe they are more successful in deceiving their partners than their partners are at deceiving them. Deception in relationship is shown to affect relationship closeness “Although most of us would like to believe that our romantic relationships are built on absolute truth and openness, ‘‘it is not uncommon for people to recognize that even in close relationships, there are likely to be situations in which honesty will not be practiced’’ (Knapp, 2006, p. 519). Without trust this can create problems in a relationship. Research indicates respondents who believed that their partner had frequent use of blatant lying, distortion, omission, half-truths, and failed deceit were less satisfied with their relationships that those who believed their partners rarely or never attempted to deceive them. Intimate relationships are not built on the truth and nothing but the truth. Most individuals (92%) admit having lied to a romantic partner (e.g., ‘You’re the best,’ ‘You’re the biggest,’ ‘I love you; ‘Knox, Schacht, Holt, & Turner, 1993) or can recall an occasion where they were not completely honest (Metts, 1989).

Saving Face

Research shows there is a clear link between deception and satisfaction within the intimate relationship “Lie tellers in intimate relationships often claim their lies were told to protect their partner” (Kaplar, 2004, page 489). If the partner lies to their significant other about something small it will most likely not affect the relationship, “Distortion—manipulation of true information through exaggeration. Mini- mization and equivocation such that a listener would not know all relevant aspects of the truth or would logically misinterpret the information provided” (Blair,2001, pg 58). Research describes perceived rules pertaining to honesty in romantic relationships, identifies sources of accuracy and bias affecting consensus on rules, and clarifies implications for couple conflict. Couples typically idealize honesty; yet, situational rules are vulnerable to different interpretations due to indistinct properties of deception and pressures to balance openness with discretion.

Proposed Methods:

I plan to analyze qualitative research where it explores the use of deception in intimate relationships and relates this behavior to the outcome of their relationship. I plan to collect these different research articles and combine them to come up with the different reasons why people lie in intimate relationships and how it affects them. By using survey monkey, I will collect responses from 100 males and females to also determine how people feel about lying in an intimate relationship.

The research questions I am currently asking are:

RQ1: What is the main reason couples lie in an intimate relationship?

HP: 1 Couples mostly lie to avoid conflict or to benefit themselves in the relationship.

RQ: 2 Does lying in an intimate relationship diminish trust?

HP: 2 Depending on the severity of the lie a partner who is being lied to will begin to trust their partner who is lying less.

RQ3: What type of lying occurs in intimate relationships?

HP: White lies, blatant lying, lies of omission etc.


The results from the survey taken provided beneficial answers. More women than men responded there were seventy-eight females and twenty-two males. 60% of respondents were currently in a relationship and 40% were not currently but had been in one previously.  Ninety-six respondents were between the age of 18-30, 2 between 31-45, and 45 and over.  Respondents implied that they did lie to their partners 3% regularly lied to their partner, 60% have lied to their partner but not as often, and 37% stated that they had never lied to their partner. This indicates that the majority of people who have been in a relationship have lied. When respondents were asked if they believed it was okay to lie, 44% responded it was never okay and the other 2% responded it was always okay, the other 54% weighted more towards lying never being okay but they weren’t completely against it. This shows that people in intimate relationships do believe it is okay to lie to their partner depending on the circumstance. When respondents were asked if they trusted their partner less when they found out they were laying the response was clear that trust is diminished when lying occurs. 64 responded that yes, when lied to, they trusted their partner less, 30 responded that it did not affect their trust and 8 respondents had never found out that their partner was lying. So it is clear when lied to in an intimate relationship trust is eliminated between partners. When asked if they lied to their partner the results were clear again, 75% of respondents said yes they lied to their partner to avoid conflict, 17% said no and 9% had never been lied to in this situation. It is clear that people in intimate relationships do lie to avoid conflict. When respondents were asked if white lies were easier to accept than blatant lies 51% responded that they were more acceptable and 49% percent responded that they were not more acceptable. Majority of the respondents believed that small white lies are more acceptable even though the numbers are close; it shows that people in intimate relationships are okay with white lies but not lying at all is still favorable. Respondents were asked if they had every lied to their partner for their own self-interest, results showed that 60% of the respondents said no and 40% said yes. This shows that the majority of people that interviewed were against lying to their partner for self-interest but there were still people who have. The last question respondents were asked indicated that people in intimate relationships have lied to their partner to protect their feelings with 78% of them responding yes and only 22 saying no it is clear that partners will lie to their prater for the sake of their feelings.


After analyzing the results it was found that hypothesis 1 was correct, couples mostly lie to avoid conflict or to benefit themselves in relationship.  Hypothesis 2 was also correct because it was found that lying to your partner in an intimate relationship does in fact diminish trust. With hypothesis 3 it was found that couples would lie to protect their partner’s feelings, their self-interest, and white lies are more acceptable than blatant lies. It was learned that people do often lie in intimate relationships to protect themselves, their partner or the relationship whether it is a small white lie or a blatant lie it can diminish trust and disrupt each other’s lives.


  • Blair, T. M., Nelson, E. S., & Coleman, P. K. (2001). Deception, Power, and Self-Differentiation in College Students’ Romantic Relationships: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy27(1), 57-71. 
  • Boon, S. D., & McLeod, B. A. (2001). Deception in romantic relationships: Subjective estimates of success at deceiving and attitudes toward deception. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships18(4), 463.
  • Cole, Tim. (Feb 2001). Lying to the One you love: The Use of Deception in Romantic Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 18 Issue 1, P107-129. 22p.


  • Guthrie, Jennifer, Kunkel, A., (Apr-Jun2013). Tell Me Sweet (And Not-So-Sweet) Little Lies: Deception in Romantic Relationships. Communication Studies, Vol. 64 Issue 2, P141-157. 17p. 1 Chart.
  • Horan, S. M., & Booth-Butterfield, M. (2013). Understanding the Routine Expression of Deceptive Affection in Romantic Relationships. Communication Quarterly, 61(2), 195-216. 
  • Kaplar, M. E., Gordon, A. K. (2004). The enigma of altruistic lying: Perspective Differences in what motivates and justifies lie telling within romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, Vol. 11 Issue 4, P489-507.
  •     Roggensack, K. E., & Sillars, A. (2014). Agreement and understanding about honesty and deception rules in romantic relationships. Journal Of Social & Personal Relationships, 31(2), 178-199. 
  •     Peterson, C. (1996). Deception in Intimate Relationships. International Journal of Psychology, 31(6), 279-288


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