Lying happens every day. Even in close relationships, lying occurs in about one out of every ten interactions (DePaulo & Kashy, 1998). Since close relationships, especially marriage, have much more interaction than other relationships, such as stranger relationships or close friendships, this leads to a large amount of lies being told on a daily basis. Although most lies are perceived as bad, immoral, and wrong (Kaplar & Gordon, 2004), there is another type of lie. This lie, the altruistic, or other-oriented lie, is often told to protect the partner. Research has shown that all lies tend to have a negative effect on relationships (Kaplar and Gordon, 2004), but no studies to date have been done strictly on married couples. It is the belief of this researcher that if further research were done, it would show that married couples actually benefit from altruistic lies within the context of the relationship. The purpose of this paper is to show that the altruistic lie will not have as negative an effect on married couples because they will have more motivation to cognitively resolve incidents of betrayal.
Previous research (Gordon & Miller, 2000; Kaplar & Gordon, 2004) has found that lies occur for many different reasons and are motivated by many different things. In Kaplar and Gordon (2004), it was found that while lie tellers tended to view their lies as altruistically motivated, the lie receivers found the lies to be egotistically motivated. Therefore, the message was not received as it was intended. The research used personal narratives, where each subject in the study was asked to write about one instance in which they were the lie teller, and one in which they were the lie receiver. This was done to remove the bias that a certain kind of person tells a lie. In this study, each subject became both: the lie teller and the lie receiver.
Kaplar and Gordon (2004) showed that the receiver views all lies, even altruistic ones, negatively. Subjects in the study often listed the lie as the cause for relationship dissolution. However, the study was done on people who were no longer in a romantic relationship with their former partner. Therefore, the research is looking at lying in relationships from the standpoint of people who have already resolved the relationship, sometimes in a cognitively negative way. Research points to a difference in the perception of lies when partners are married, and therefore have more reasons to stay in a relationship. It also may be much harder to leave a marital relationship, due to investments (e.g. children, property, possessions) and a lack of suitable alternatives.
Much research has been done on the act of lying itself, and the way lying makes people feel, both as the teller and receiver. This study will focus mainly on the altruistic, or other-oriented lie. DePaulo and Kashy (1998) reports that, when people told other-oriented lies, they often pretended to feel more positively than they really did feel, and they often claimed to agree with other people when in fact they disagreed. The altruistic lie is often told as a way to communicate love and concern for the partner. The research also found that relationship partners, especially spouses, are not always seekers of the truth. People will collaborate to maintain, rather than discover, each other’s lies. If one partner knows of the other’s taboo topics, they may avoid these topics altogether, thus avoiding the need for the partner to lie, or they may even expect a “false truth” when discussing a taboo topic.
Discovering that a relational partner has lied is significantly emotional because it is a relatively plan-interruptive and taxing cognitive event (McCornack & Levine, 1990). People do many things with new information. Cognitive processing draws upon previously stored information to make sense of newly processed information, but also may modify previously stored information in accordance with the newly processed information (McCornack & Levine, 1990). Married couples should process new information such as a lie differently than lower commitment levels of romantic partners, because they have a greater need to cognitively process such information in a manner that will be positive to the relationship. Often times, in romantic relationships such as the ones studied in Kaplar and Gordon (2004), the partners may use the lie as a reason to begin the dissolution process. This does not take into account that there may have been other issues underlying the lie in the relationship.
Lying is viewed as an aversive behavior, a form of betrayal (Kowalski, Walker, Wilkinson, Queen & Sharpe, 2003). Aversive behaviors vary in the degree to which victims perceive them to be a sign of relational devaluation. In marital relationships, partners should not be looking for signs of relational devaluation. They will want to “smooth over” and cognitively process any negative information, even a lie, as being positive for the relationship. They also should want to view their partner in the most positive light, assuming or believing that the partner was being altruistic when they told the lie.