How to Tell if Your Partner is Lying

by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D.

lyingWe have developed strong opinions about the value of honesty in relationships. In a word, honesty is crucial. Crucial is derived from the same word that means crux. And honesty really is the crux of the matter in close relationships. The bottom line: Lying creates distance and conflict; honesty creates closeness and harmony. As we discussed in chapter 3, if there is any significant truth you haven't communicated to your primary partner, you forfeit the right to expect a good relationship with him or her until that truth is told. Most people don't realize this, so when things aren't going well in the relationship, they think the other person is the source of what's wrong, instead of looking for withheld truths on their own part.

At our lectures and seminars, people often ask: "How can I tell if my partner is lying?" Usually our response is, "Don't worry about your partner -- put your attention on whether you're concealing any lies!"

There is, however, a reliable way to find out if your partner is lying, and we will describe it for you as best we can. Understand, though, that the following techniques, while quite reliable, can never be regarded as an exact science. Like everything involving complex human behavior, there is considerable individual variation.

Step One

First, make sure you really want to know the truth. These techniques work very quickly, so before using them you need to be sure you choose honesty over illusion. Some people prefer the state of "blissful ignorance," while others prefer to know the truth even if it makes them uncomfortable. We definitely recommend the latter as a path to healthy, conscious living.

Step Two

Think carefully about the exact question you want answered. Sex and money are the two subjects partners lie about most. In order to get at the truth, your question, regardless of the subject, needs to be specific. For example, don't ask, "Do you find Pat attractive?" if what you really want to know is, "Have you had sex with Pat?"

Step Three

Learn the Three Red Flags that signal concealment. Here's what to look for:

RED FLAG #1: Body Language Indicating Concealment. In the first few seconds after you ask your question, notice if your partner shows any of the following body language:

Face-Touching: When you ask the question, does he or she suddenly touch the face or cover part of it? (Think back to Bill Clinton saying he didn't have sex with Monica Lewinsky-he reached up and touched his nose immediately after saying it.)

Arm/Leg Shift: Does the person suddenly change the position of his or her arms or legs? Two common reactions: crossing arms over chest quickly and crossing one leg over another.

Eye Shift: When you ask the question, does he or she shift eyes away from contact or lock into a hard stare of excessively intense eye contact?

Body Turn: Does the person turn his or her body away from you slightly?

RED FLAG #2: Voice Mannerisms Indicating Concealment. When you ask a question that exposes a lie, your partner's voice will often give clues to the real truth. Listen for these reactions in the first few seconds after you ask the question:

Pitch Shift: Does the person's voice suddenly go up or down in pitch?

Speed-Shift: Does he or she suddenly begin speaking faster?

Hems and Haws: Does the person cough, clear the throat, or fumble around vocally with a sudden increase in filler words such as "er," "um," and "uh"?

RED FLAG #3: Attitude Reactions Indicating Concealment. Instead of answering a question with the simple truth, your partner may defensively avoid the question with a sudden display of attitude. Watch for these reactions in the first few seconds after asking a question:

Hostility: Does he or she react with hostility? (For example, you ask, "Have you had sex with Pat?" and your partner responds with, "Why the hell would you ask a thing like that?" instead of a simple yes or no.)

Indignation: Does he or she react with indignation? (You ask, "Have you had sex with Pat?" Your partner responds with, "I'm offended that you could even think such a thought!")

Turnaround: Does he or she respond to your question with a question instead of an answer? (You ask, "Have you got any bank accounts I don't know about?" Your mate responds with, "Why are you asking something like that right now?")

Step Four

Before asking the big question, first get a baseline by noticing if your partner shows any Red Flags when you ask innocuous questions. Ask a simple yes-or-no question your partner is not likely to lie about: "Do you want eggs this morning?" or "Do you know when the soccer game is this week?" Watch the reaction carefully. You probably won't see any Red Flags in response to an innocuous question, but you need to get a baseline to find out if your mate does any of the Red Flags under normal, non-lying circumstances.

Step Five

Pop the crucial question and watch the reactions. Be mindful of timing, though. Don't do any of this while either of you are driving or operating equipment of any kind. If you have children, make sure you ask the question when they're not likely to be influenced by any heated words that might ensue.

Going Forward

In our experience, the lie itself is just the tip of the iceberg. The real issues that need to be confronted are those that gave rise to the lie. Lies can be a force for destruction or a springboard to positive breakthroughs, depending on how you handle the aftermath.

Chapter 5, on creativity, is worth careful study if you uncover a pattern of lies in a relationship. In working with many couples in the aftermath of a suddenly discovered lie, we have found that there was almost always a point much earlier in the relationship when one or both people chose to ignore a creative urge.

For example, we worked with a couple who caught each other having affairs. Actually, she caught him first, then revealed hers to him in a counseling session afterwards. Over several sessions, however, it became clear that both of them were using the affairs to enliven the stagnation they both felt from a creative urge they'd ignored a year earlier. They had both wanted to move to a different part of the country but had decided not to do so for financial reasons. Understanding the affairs in this context, they revisited the issue of whether to move (and eventually did).

The aftermath of a discovered lie is a good time to seek the counsel of a third party such as a relationship coach. There is a strong tendency to engage in blame and recrimination at such a time; friends and family members, while giving support, often fan the flames of blame. A clear-headed counselor can often bring the essential learning opportunities to light much faster than friends and family members.

The piece above is an excerpt from the book Lasting Love

Relationship experts and best-selling authors Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks are a happily married couple of more than 20 years, from whom other relationship experts seek advice. Pioneers in the field of body-centered psychotherapy, together, Gay and Kathlyn have written four books, which have sold nearly half a million copies. They are the founders of The Hendricks Institute, a learning center that teaches core skills for conscious living by assisting people in opening up to more creativity, love, and vitality through the power of conscious relationship and whole-person learning. The Hendricks have two children and two granddaughters and live in Ojai, California.

Coyright © Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.