When I talk about lying problems in relationships, I'm not just talking about partners with ADHD. Either partner can lie...and lies also exist in relationships in which there is no ADHD. But there are some ways that the presence of ADHD increases the chances that one or the other partner will lie. To be able to chart the best course to move away from lying in your own relationship, you must first understand why the lying is happening. Choosing to lie is a decision that is made – not typically a beneficial one for a relationship, but often a logical one at some level. Understanding the logic really helps. There are at least 7 common reasons partners choose to lie, which include:
Male conflict avoidance: Women start 80% of emotionally difficult conversations for a reason. Research shows that men have difficulty physiologically recovering from conflict. While women can ‘self-soothe’ relatively quickly, men remain agitated for quite a bit longer (higher heart rate, more stress hormones in the system, etc.) This is physically uncomfortable. As a result, men (in particular) often try to avoid conflict with their partners. That means that sometimes it feels logical to cover something up rather than get into a fight with their partner over it, particularly if the thing that one is lying about feels like a ‘small’ thing. From a self-comfort perspective, lying is logical. But from a relationship perspective, it’s not. Over time, the fact that the small lies and cover-ups are there become the invisible gorilla in the room for the other partner.
Avoidance of a partner's chronic anger: Either partner might lie in order to avoid getting trounced - once again - by a partner whose typical response to bad news is anger and/or punishment.
Imbalanced relationship: Those who feel like the underdog in a relationship (or are embroiled in the ‘parent/child dynamics’ often associated with ADHD-impacted relationships) may lie in order to avoid ‘getting in trouble’. While this may not seem very ‘adult,’ that is one of the damaging parts of parent/child dynamics – the partner in the less responsible, child-like role (almost always the ADHD partner) feels powerless. In this situation lying is, again, a pretty logical avoidance of emotional pain.
Because the emotional benefits feel good now: Particularly with emotional and physical affairs, partners with (and without) ADHD lie because they are desperate to feel loved, or feel better about themselves when someone outside the relationship tells them how wonderful they are. In these cases, partners need to get at the underlying causes that led to the affair in the first place in order to understand how to next move forward. This can be a painful process of looking hard at the other (not currently lying) partner's contributions to why the lying partner (or, likely both partners) feel unloved. Other factors, such as family of origin issues can be a factor in feeling unloved, as well.
Doesn’t want to disappoint a partner: I often hear ADHD partners say that they feel that they disappoint their partner enough, and when they mess up (not finishing something when they said they would, or forgetting something important) it feels safer to ‘fudge’ than to admit to their partner (and even sometimes to themselves) that they’ve disappointed their partner again. Since people with ADHD tend to focus on what feels good now, they discount the long-term negative impact of this course of action. Having under-managed ADHD makes this worse. The less effective the ADHD treatment, the more likely the ADHD partner is to be inconsistent – creating more times when covering up feels necessary.
Low self-esteem: Low self-esteem is an issue for many people who have ADHD. Over the years some develop the coping strategy of hiding behind lies. They might hide social awkwardness (a common issue for kids with ADHD,) shame, or feelings that they are not as good as others perceive them to be. Quite a number of ADHD adults have told me they feel like a fraud who is about to get discovered. Lying to keep up appearances is ‘logical’ in this situation, though I would note that every single adult with ADHD who has said they feel like a fraud was quite talented in objective terms…they just lacked confidence in their successes, feeling (after years of inconsistent performance or struggle) that their ‘luck’ might run out soon.
Habit: Some chronic liars got into the habit in childhood of lying to keep from disappointing authority figures (their parents, teachers and sometimes peers) and make themselves feel better. Lying became an extension of, or perhaps a form of, excuses for inconsistent performance.
So that’s at least 7 reasons why lying might be going on in your relationship. Next time I’ll write about how to figure out what is happening in your own relationship, and why you both need to start thinking about lying in a new way.