Can you Trust Someone Who's been Dishonest?

"A single lie discovered is enough to create doubt in every truth expressed." -- Unknown

When trust is broken

There's not much worse than catching someone you thought you trusted in a lie. Or several of them. You find you instantly go from believing in them to wondering if anything about your relationship is true. The damage seems irreversible and ending the friendship seems like the logical 'next-step'--because how can you have a good relationship without trust?

The thing is, you can't. As Stephen R. Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”Cracked

How do you know when someone can't be trusted? Often, you'll notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • They are unable to establish open, candid, trusting relationships.
  • They have developed a reputation for lacking integrity.
  • They get that 'deer in the headlights' look when you ask them what values they stand for.
  • They behave erratically, in ways that 'don't make sense'.
  • They treat people differently based upon the situation (they may be nice to you, but make fun of others, for example.)
  • They're willing to undermine others for their own personal gain.
  • They withhold information if they think it may get them in trouble.

Once trust is broken, the safe nature of the relationship unfortunately shifts, and you'll find yourself second-guessing everything that comes out of their mouth. It's extremely hard to believe in someone who has looked you in the eyes and told you an untruth. As one anonymous quote about trust says, "I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you." Lady Gaga says it with a little more poignancy: “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it's broken, but you can still see the crack in that m...f...'s reflection” (pardon her French).

That being said, and this may come as a surprise--broken trust doesn't mean the relationship has to end. Yes, there are times when someone has defiled your trust to the point you know you need to call it quits. This article is not designed for those of you who have been hurt over and over and over again by the same person, who obviously is not working to live in integrity and is bent on a life of cheating and deceit. And this is not about staying in a relationship with someone who is abusive or putting you or others in danger. This is written for the one-time offenders, or even the two and three timers (you get to determine the number), with whom you still see the value of continuing the relationship. In this case, healing the friendship will take some hard work--but it can be done. Taking the time to feel your feelings, lay aside judgments, understanding the whys, releasing the 'all or nothing' mentality, then meeting each other's needs can help with the repairs.

Feel your feelings

Being lied to by someone you care about is a slap in the face. It stings. Your world that seemed safe just moments before now feels unstable and shaky. Depending on the depth of the lie, the sudden lack of trust can take the wind out of your sails and crush your dreams. Questions like, "How could she...?" and "How could he be so selfish?!" haunt us as we replay the situation over and over in our heads. Then we start to wonder if this was the first lie, and how long has this been going on? "Has anything she's told me been real?" We begin to doubt the legitimacy of the entire relationship.

These feelings in response to dishonesty are normal. Anger-sadness-betrayal-pain-disbelief-chagrin-embarrassment-disappointment-discouragement-- are normal responses. Find a safe place to sit with the emotions which are welling up inside you. Stuffing them inside, or, in a more passive-aggressive way, pretending you're fine while making snarky comments will just prolong the agony. If you need to vent, grab a pen and write in your journal (not on your social media page!). Talk to a counselor. Seek out a close friend and ask them if you can unload for a bit. Cry. Scream. Yell. (Obviously, screaming and yelling in the office isn't the 'safest' place to vent. Or, in the moment, screaming and yelling at the person who's caused the hurt. Conversations done in anger never seem to work out very well). Be emotionally aware of your surroundings by finding an appropriate setting but do let yourself feel. I find writing down the emotions I'm feeling, being very specific as to how I name them, and noting why I'm feeling them, helps validate that what I am feeling is legit.

Good guys vs. bad guys

It's tempting, in the moment, to write the person off as one of the 'bad guys'. I wish it was that cut and dry. If people were only that black and white, being able to point your finger and labeling them 'bad' would seem to make the heartache a little lighter. But the truth is, all of us are dishonest at some point in our lives. If you're really honest--no pun intended--you've most likely been dishonest in some shape or form in the last week--or even today! Stretching the truth, withholding vital information, or feigning agreement are all forms of dishonesty. Have you ever checked your social media pages on company time? Have you used the company printer for personal use? Have you allowed someone to give you credit for something that others may have had a greater hand in? A study done in 2010 found that the average person lies 1.65 time per day. That's 11 and a half lies a week, or 46.2 lies per month! (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201111/how-often-do-people-lie-in-their-daily-lives).

So, my point is we all exhibit some form of dishonesty from time to time, but just because you have been deceitful here and there doesn't make you a bad person. Avoid the temptation to label the other person as one of the bad guys, unless you're willing to include yourself in that category. People -- all types -- are at times honest and at other times dishonest. Does this justify lying as good and beneficial to relationships? Of course not. But it does humanize it and takes away the victim/villain mentality.

Rather than immediately adding the person to your list of evil people, instead, try to be open to discovering what value or unmet need was behind their dishonesty.

Discovering the why

Everything we do stems from a value or need. People say and act in harmony with things they deem as important. If we want to repair a broken relationship after dishonesty, it's our role to attempt to quit focusing on the lie and take a deep dive into learning more about the other person's values and needs. Again, this isn't about justifying dishonesty. We are simply exploring the why behind it for greater understanding. This is a difficult step because we tend to be quick to assign motives (to match the story we've created in our heads) instead of seeking understanding. It takes good listening skills and requires us to suspend our own judgments--easier said than done.

For example, if someone has always been told they're wrong, from a young age, a core value they may have developed as a result is a need to be right. Since they obviously can't always be right, they may find themselves telling lies to make it look that way. Or, if someone's core value is being loved, and they fear the other person may no longer love them if they fess up to a discretion, a lie may seem the best way to supply that need of being loved. Does this make the lie OK? No. But it can help you understand the why, and develop a little empathy. You don't have to agree with their value--it may be different from yours--but you do want to offer respect. The goal here is to suspend our negative character judgment of them and see them with more empathetic eyes.

When you're ready to find out the whys, wait until you are in a calm place, and you've processed your emotions. You're going to need to be brave and ask open-ended questions to discover what the other person valued or needed so much in the moment that they chose to be dishonest. Sometimes the answers you hear may be a reflection of your own past behavior. For example, if you freaked out on your friend the last time she shared that spent a weekend with other friends (not including you), she may be a little more hesitant to tell you openly about the next time she does. As you ask, then listen, see if you can uncover the value which was most important to them in the moment. For example, maybe she valued your peace of mind more than being honest, knowing you'd be deeply hurt if you found out. Or, her need was to spend time nurturing other friendships, even if that meant excluding you -- so she chose to lie. You may be surprised that all lies don't stem from a place of selfishness. Again, you don't have to agree with the other person's values/needs -- but understanding and acknowledging them can go a long way with the repair.

It's not all or nothing

We have a tendency to think because one act of dishonesty has taken place that the entire relationship has gone down the drain. While it may feel like that, the truth is that this person most likely still possesses all the wonderful qualities you saw in him/her before the lie. Take a moment to write down all the positive qualities you value about this person, to help put the untruth in perspective. One lie doesn't negate all the truths they've told you in the past. Instead of allowing the dishonesty to taint your entire view of the relationship, relegate it to its proper place: it's a lie that happened in that moment around a specific event. Magnifying it to include all interaction you've ever had together won't help things.

And don't let yourself become a fortune teller. Just because they lied today doesn't mean they'll lie to you tomorrow. You've heard the phrase, "Once a liar, always a liar". But is that true for you? Have you ever told a lie about something once that you vowed to never lie about again -- and haven't? People can grow and change. If the relationship is important to you, give them a chance to redeem themselves and move forward in honesty.

Meeting each other's needs

Now comes the hard part. It's one thing to understand the other person's values and unmet needs, but making adjustments to meet those needs is another story. Their needs may trigger your insecurities. But if you value the relationship, and want to restore it, you'll want to try not to take it personally, and attempt to create a safe space for open communication.

Once both parties' needs are on the table, you then get to decide if 1-you want to meet their needs, and 2-if you are willing to meet their needs and 3-if you can meet their needs. If you don't want to, then own it. Your friend say she needs time with other friends which doesn't include you. Your need is to be included in everything she does. You may come to realize you don't want to, aren't willing, and can't meet her needs, and she may decide the same for yours. Fair enough. Express this as kindly as you can, and decide if the friendship can continue despite these unmet needs. If not, this may be where you decide to part.

However, maybe there are partial needs that can be met, and visa-versa. How could you adjust your needs and she adjust hers to find a compromise for the sake of the relationship? What can you give and what can she give, and which needs can be modified, and how, without sacrificing who you are and what you value? If your friendship is worth it, there'll be a lot of give and take as you come to a place of agreement. You'll likely to have to give in and bend a little, and she'll need to do the same. If the two of you are having troubles negotiating, enlisting the help of a coach or counselor may be productive in coming to workable terms.

"You must trust and believe in people, or life becomes impossible." -- Anton Chekhov

It's your choice

Choosing to trust again is just that -- your choice. English author Sophie Kinsella said, “In the end, you have to choose whether or not to trust someone.” I know, it's not easy. It's hard to know when to protect your heart from future hurt or forgive and allow them back in. Betrayal by someone close to you is one of the most painful things to endure, and for good reason, you may decide it's best to be done. If that's the case, put it to rest as kindly as possible, then begin to take steps to move forward as you craft a new life without them. But if you write off every single person who's dishonest with you, you'll end up very alone.

Healthy relationships are important to our wellbeing. If it's a relationship worth salvaging, choosing to trust again may be the very thing needed to renew and restore the friendship. Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” It will take time and repetition of good behavior on their part to rebuild your trust. Giving others the opportunity to do that, by choosing to trust, is the only way to create the space for them to be trustworthy again.

"The chief lesson I have learned in a long life that is the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him." --Henry L. Stimson

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