Lying … or Emotionally Unavailable

Dean showed up alone for his first marriage counseling appointment with me.

“What happened to Lorena?” I asked.

“She decided not to come. She’s fed up with my lying.”

“Okay,” I said. “Tell me how you lie to her.”

 “Well, there are several ways. Rather than telling her the truth, I tell her what I think she wants to hear. For example, the other day she asked me if I could come home from work for a special dinner with some friends. I said I would, because that’s what she wanted, even though I had an important meeting with my boss that would make me late. Rather than call her back and tell her the truth right away, I waited till after the meeting, and I was already late. That really hurt her.

The other way is just my withholding important things from Lorena. I made an important financial decision that affected both of us, and didn’t tell her about it. When she found out about it, she said I had deceived her.”

I quickly discovered that Dean was afraid of Lorena’s emotional reactions to him. As a child, he was afraid of his mother’s punishment, and learned to survive by lying. What helped him escape his mother’s wrath during his childhood was now hurting his marriage.

Even more important, Dean was afraid of his own emotions. He survived not only by lying but also by hiding all his feelings. It was his feelings that most got him in trouble with his mother. When he cried he heard his mother say, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” When he tried to voice feelings of unfairness, he was quickly punished without explanation. As an adult, he continued a life-long habit of lying and hiding all his feelings from a very feeling-oriented woman, his wife.

I told Dean that, just as much as the lying, his emotional unavailability was hurting Lorena … and himself. The rest of the session was well-spent exploring all his feelings, his pain, fear, anger, sadness and grief.

I can relate to Dean. It has seemed easier to sometimes say what I think Joyce wants to hear. There have been times when she has asked if I’m available to listen to her, and I’ve automatically said yes without checking in to see if I really am available. It has hurt Joyce to hear my yes, and then discover that I was not fully present with her, that I was not emotionally available. Saying no to Joyce, if it’s the truth, is much kinder in the long run, especially if I add that I really want to listen to her, but feel too distracted in this moment. Even better, I make a date with her, sooner rather than later, like the same day, or the next morning if it’s late at night and I’m too tired.

We don’t lie if we’re fully emotionally available to ourselves and to our loved ones. If we hide our feelings, we’re hiding an important part of ourselves, and lying is the next step. I lied to myself and to Joyce many years ago by ignoring my inner child’s need for love. I was so estranged from my inner child that I didn’t even know I was lying. Firmly in my head, I shared my belief system rather than my vulnerable feelings. My belief was that I loved her, but didn’t need her love. This hurt her because I wasn’t emotionally available. Fortunately, she now knows how very deeply I need her love.

If your loved one says or does something that doesn’t feel good, and you ignore it, or rationalize that it wasn’t meant to offend you, and you don’t say anything, then you are lying. You are not being honest with your feelings. If you do this often, you will pay too big a price. You will shut down your emotional availability even more. And you will shut your heart to your loved one. This is what happened to Dean and Lorena.

There’s a kind, yet courageous, way to be honest in these situations. It goes something like this: “I trust that you didn’t mean to hurt me when you said or did ___________, and it did hurt me.” When I say this to Joyce, she appreciates my emotional honesty and will quickly apologize. I remember some years ago when Joyce had fallen and broken her leg. We were traveling and I was doing all I could to make things easier for her. But one time I left the toilet seat up and, when she entered the bathroom with her crutches, she criticized me for my lack of consideration. I was able to communicate my hurt, and how hard I was trying. She immediately apologized and also appreciated all my efforts. She also realized the deeper frustration about her physical situation was being misdirected toward me.

We also lie to our loved one because we’re afraid of conflict. What if he or she gets angry at us for accidentally breaking that expensive possession? It may seem easier to not say anything and hope no one notices. However, this is still lying, and lying destroys trust. And without trust, there can be no real love.

We lie to our loved one because we want to get our own way. We spend a large amount on a purchase, and then make up a story about a huge discount. We want to take a certain trip with our partner and, to convince them, we exaggerate the merits of the trip and omit the negative qualities. This is lying to get our own way. It is self-centeredness, true, but it is also avoiding the possibility of conflict and the possibility of having to feel our feelings.

I urge everyone reading this article to make the connection between lying and emotional availability. Most importantly, hiding your feelings from yourself is lying to yourself. Hiding your feelings from someone else is lying to them. Every feeling is important and holds a key to your spiritual development. If you hide your fear, you can have no true faith. If you hide your sadness, your happiness will be hollow. If you hide your anger, you end up depressed. You can learn to welcome every feeling, even unpleasant ones, as a divine gift. If you do this, you will never need to lie.

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