How Lies Change The Story of Your Life

It wasn't really that big a deal.  So he lost $30,000.  But it wasn't the money my husband lost playing futures. It was that he'd told me, when we moved in together, that he didn't have money for a lot of things -- like going on vacations, because his dental practice wasn't doing that well financially.

I bought it.  I was doing well, and what the heck, it was only money.  So I paid the lion's share of our vacations -- to Barbados, California, and weekend jaunts around New England.

But over time I found out that the money he wasn't making he had already made -- and lost it all playing the commodities market.  I didn't care that that was how he lost it.  I cared that he lied.

Twenty years later, we're over it (I think), but today's New York Times explains why I felt so violated.  He changed my life story.

The essay in The Times by Anna Fels, a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical School, points out that when people learn their partner, or parent, or best friend has misled-- no.lied to -- them, this new information "disrupts their sense of their own past, undermining the veracity of their personal history. . . Their life narrative has been invaded."

Why is this so disruptive?  Well, for one thing, the liar comes out of it better than the one lied to. They knew what they were doing, they had control, and, they benefit from our country's greatest belief -- they can change!  

But those who have been lied to, "something more pervasive and disturbing occurs," writes Fels.  We wind up blaming ourselves for not suspecting what was going on, and we feel like a fool, we feel ashamed, we feel humiliated, and bitter, naive and blind, and sometimes, we even end the relationship.

I knew that my boyfriend (now my husband) was honest about the most important things -- he didn't cheat, he always did what he said he would (except for housework!), and he kept his word on all the things that mattered to me.  But I have to say, reading this, this morning, while he made calls to patients two rooms away and paid bills, our son at Sunday school, the anger from that time rose up in me again, shocking me by how bitter and betrayed I must still feel.

To make it worse, our culture embraces the one who has lied more than the one lied to, blaming us for being that fool.

Much of life has covered over this earlier wrong.  He stood by me through breast cancer, through difficulty conceiving our son, through my mother's death two years ago, and, most recently, the loss of a well-paying freelance job for speaking up to the boss about not being paid, and being angry at the "runaround."

But what happens when memory no longer corresponds to objective fact?  When the person you thought you knew so well, the decent, honest person you thought you were in love with, turns out not quite to be that, after all?  What else has he lied about? And, worst of all, how do you feel when the story you've told yourself about your life with him all along turns out to be wrong.

Many people who have been lied to must build back a personal history piece by piece once again.  In my case, it took a while to trust Larry again on any money matters (and believe me, I made him pay in other ways!).  But his admission that he felt embarrassed that he'd failed so completely at the market, and was so humiliated by his inability, and that's why he didn't come clean, took some of the edge off. (Though there were all those vacations that I mostly paid for!)

I'd like to say that it never came up again.  But for a long time, I didn't trust him, not just on money but on other things, like when he was late coming home, or went somewhere he didn't tell me.  He still hides things, and I've learned it's part of his nature.  Eventually he tells me, and thank God, it's never been anything as serious as the money again.  (Don't really care he's late because he had a patient who never showed!)

I've learned I can trust him on what matters.  So he has a secretive nature, that came out of a childhood where his parents were in his business, and face, all the time.  I can live with it.  And I'm secretive, too! After all, I don't always tell him how much money I'm spending, for now, while he pays all the bills!


  1. "I'm going out for a pack of cigarettes tomorrow." Truth is, I don't smoke, and I'm going away for awhile. You're the only who knows. I will return, unless something happens. You never know. Hey, I'm just following the wife's lead. She left me guessing 4 times this summer. I trust my clothes and stuff won't be on the front lawn, and locks changed, when I return.


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