I'm a habitual liar, and it's threatening to ruin my marriage.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 11 2010 6:54 AM

Pants on Fire, Marriage in Flames

I'm a habitual liar, and it's threatening to ruin my relationship with my husband.

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Dear Prudie,
All my life, I have struggled with being dishonest. I often find it easier to tell a "white lie" (or a not-so-white lie) in order to get what I want or avoid confrontation. A few months ago, I wanted a day at the spa. I knew my husband would put up a fuss about my spending so much money, so I told him I was going somewhere else and went to the spa anyway. Recently my husband was checking our bank records, found the payment for the spa visit, and flipped out. He's now questioning my integrity about everything. I understand why, but the most painful thing is that I am pregnant with our first child, which he now says he cannot be sure is his. We were both surprised when I conceived because our travel schedules have meant we haven't been intimate much. But I haven't had sex with any other man since I've been with my husband, and I don't know how he can think this baby is not his. I know that gaining his trust again will be difficult. But is there any way I can at least convince him that this baby is his?

—Lying Liar

Dear Lying,
The issue of paternity of your baby can be confirmed with an easy DNA test. But when that becomes necessary, you've got a marriage in serious trouble. Instead of allowing you to avoid confrontation, your dishonesty has resulted in this conflagration. You know your behavior only corrodes the trust between you and whoever hears your lies. But breaking out of longtime, self-destructive patterns is no easy thing—ask anyone who struggles with overeating, procrastination, or the other ways we undermine ourselves in the long-run to avoid the unpleasantness of the moment. You need to start examining what prompts you to lie, so start keeping a journal. Becoming aware of your triggers and thought processes can help you gain control of this behavior. Maybe you lie most when you feel thwarted or entitled. Maybe it gives you a sense of rebelling against someone you feel is domineering. These are issues that might have been playing out in the spa episode. When the lie starts rising in your throat, start training yourself to take a deep breath, swallow, and then tell the truth. The book The Liar in Your Life might provide further insights, as would seeing a cognitive therapist to help you establish new, better habits—taking this step would be a good signal to your husband about your seriousness. If you two can't restore trust on your own, add another professional to the mix in order to keep your family from falling apart before it's created. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Double-D Dilemma

Dear Prudence,
I have a teenage daughter who was recently diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. The diagnosis explains a lot and has been a positive thing. Usually my husband and I host Thanksgiving dinner, which is always a trying experience, as my daughter does not do well with groups and loud celebrations. By the end of the night we are all at our wits' end, especially since my sister's younger children don't know how to observe a person's private space. So since my daughter's diagnosis, we promised to have a nice family Thanksgiving with just the four of us (we also have another child). The problem is that my extended family lives in the same small town, and we see each other every day. So now my mother has said she will host the dinner for the rest of the family, but I think it would be too much of a strain for her. If my sister can be talked into hosting for the first time ever, that would help my parents. But how are we going to get out of putting in an appearance? We have hinted that we might be out of town, but I don't really want to lie about our plans.

—Avoiding the Family

Dear Avoiding,
It sounds as if you haven't shared the news of your daughter's diagnosis with the rest of your family. Since it has come as a relief to you to get an explanation for your daughter's style of interacting, surely this would be information that would be helpful to her close—in every sense—relatives. This is a great opportunity to explain what Asperger's is and the strengths and weaknesses that go along with it. It's true that little kids don't respect people's personal space, so everyone in the family will need some education in how to get along. Your daughter especially has to be empowered to remove herself from social situations when she feels overwhelmed. It would be perfectly understandable if after decades of hosting this event, you're good and tired of it and want your sister to step up. But that should have been a separate conversation long before November rolled around. It's another thing if, in light of the diagnosis, your plan is to withdraw from family celebrations. That seems to be sending the wrong message to your daughter and the rest of the family. With this diagnosis, you can explain that "Courtney" needs time alone to recoup after socializing, so when the meal's over, she's going to take a walk or go do something in her room. If you feel you can't undo your promise to your daughter, then let your relatives fend for themselves—but at least do everyone the favor of telling them why.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I am a 24-year-old married mother of one. My mother and I are particularly close, and she watches my daughter while my husband and I work. My husband and I were lucky enough to buy our first home a few months ago, and while it's smaller than my parents' house, it is still large enough for a family gathering. I offered to host Thanksgiving dinner this year. My mother informed me that people "like to eat good food" on Thanksgiving, and I am not "ready" to host a dinner like that. I am so upset and don't know how to respond. I feel like not even showing up at their house on Thanksgiving, but I'm in a sticky situation since she is so involved in our daughter's life. Any suggestions?

—Disgruntled Daughter

Dear Disgruntled,
Your mother's response was both insulting and condescending, but try to understand that perhaps your suggestion stung and made her feel as if you're thinking it's time for her to start shuffling off the stage, since there's a new matriarch in town. Your mother obviously finds being a grandmother joyful, but with that transition come fears of aging and decline. She knows that someday she will pass on the Thanksgiving duties, but she's still feeling that that Thursday is a long way away. Note from the letter above that once you become established as the Thanksgiving hostess, the show could run for as long as some soap operas. If you step up prematurely, you could spend decades every November watching as The Young and the Restless become the old and the cranky. Don't be silly and boycott Thanksgiving. You say that you're close to your mother—so talk to her! Tell her you were hurt by what she said, but maybe you hurt her by suggesting she should give up this tradition. Then tell her you want to get her sweet potato casserole recipe because you know you still do have a lot to learn from her.

—Prudie

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