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Is it ok to tell a white lie?

This Wall Street Journal Article talks about the small lies we tell to our partners.

So what do you think?  Are white lies ok?  If they are, what do you lie about?

From the article, here are a few of the white lies the writer found people make:

 


We fib to avoid conflict. To gain approval. To save face. Or just to be kind. (Show me a man who tells his wife she looks fat, and I'll show you a man headed for a night on the couch.)

Speaking of men, they didn't exactly line up to be interviewed for this column. I asked hundreds of them about the little fibs they tell their wives or significant others. And here's what I got: radio silence.

The women I queried yammered on and on. They giggled as they told of lying to?or withholding the truth from?their partners about their dress sizes, the cost of their hair highlights, whether they got Botox injections or how much reality TV they watch.

"You mean the old 'new clothes out of the Nordstrom shopping bag into the cleaner's plastic garment wrap before you come into the house' trick?" asked a human-resources executive in San Francisco, who has been married for 37 years. "Well, obviously I plead guilty."

One woman told of ordering take-out food as a newlywed, then dumping it all in pots on the stove before her husband came home from work. Another said she waited three years before telling her husband she had dropped one of the diamond earrings he'd given her down the sink. (Each time he asked why she wasn't wearing them, she claimed they hurt her to wear.) Yet another told of a friend who pockets the money her husband gives her for a housekeeper and does the cleaning herself.

Many women I spoke with seemed almost proud of the cleverness of their shams. So why wouldn't any men cop to stretching the truth from time to time? Intrigued, I asked them.

The answers poured in. (Promising anonymity helped.)

"What don't men lie about?" quipped one man I asked.

"For men, all lies are big," explained another.

"I don't lie. I tell the truth ... slowly," said a third.

And there were others: "Guys constantly feel like they are being called into the principal's office. That's why we lie."

"Most of my buddies tell very large white lies, and in order to really keep the peace, those cannot be disclosed!"

"It's not a lie if you believe it ('Seinfeld''s George Costanza)."

Pressed for specifics, my male sources finally owned up to fudging the truth about working late (to meet friends at a bar, sneak in a ballgame or just take a walk alone). They also said they fibbed about how much they drank at a party, how fast they drive, whether they find their female friends attractive, how much they like their significant other's cooking or outfits?"After she's changed 10 times, you'll say yes to anything to get out the door"?and yard work.

Re: Is it ok to tell a white lie?

  • I don't know if it's "ok" to tell a white lie or not.  And I will admit that I have stretched the truth or failed to disclose information that I felt was harmless and/or insignificant.  However, that being said, I also believe the following:

    Lies -- to any relationship -- are destructive.  Even if the other person never finds out about the lie, the liar still knows.  The deceit still exists.  Big lies are like shooting a cannon at a statue.  Maybe the statue gets a hole in it; maybe its arm gets blown off.  Either way, harm has been done that's obvious.

    White lies are more like erosion.  Nothing's ever really dramatically damaged, but over a long time, the wind and weather gradually deform the statue and make it less defined, less recognizable.  I think once a spouse subscribes to the "eh -- it's only a white lie; it doesn't matter" mentality, it gets easier and easier to tell more substantial, more damaging lies. 

    What's the state of your relationship if you're bragging about telling lies to your spouse?  Implied in that is "eh -- the other person deserves to be disrespected, deserves this treatment."

    Also, it's hard to hear my husband say, "Uh -- you've lost a few pounds, but I don't think you want to wear that shirt until you've lost a few more."  However, when he's willing to say that, I know I can trust him when he says, "Wow -- you look awesome."  Ideally, I'd like both of us to have that level of credibility with each other, and that can only be achieved through being as honest as possible.

  • Well, the kinds of lies about hiding expenditures etc these women are referencing say a lot about the power structure in the marriage. They hide purchases because "Daddy" will get mad; or they skim money off the household expenses he 'allows' them so they'll have access to money they otherwise can't get from him by adult means (like talking it out, deciding what the budget should be and then working from there); and that kind of deception seems to continue the imbalance of power in the marriage and as such is particularly harmful. It's not about the $20; it's about that she believes, rightly or wrongly, that she has to lie to get access to it.

    There ARE some white lies (and the ones above aren't); and they're actually a truthful answer to an unasked question. "Do you want to see pictures of my grandchildren? Aren't they lovely?" means "Let me show you people I really care about; and let me tell you about my feelings for them for a moment".   No one would, for the sake of 'honesty'  say No, lady; I don't want to see those pictures and man are those kids ugly. Even if it's true; and especially if it's true. Answering the underlying question kindly is not a lie.

     

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  • image Sue_sue:

    Well, the kinds of lies about hiding expenditures etc these women are referencing say a lot about the power structure in the marriage. They hide purchases because "Daddy" will get mad; or they skim money off the household expenses he 'allows' them so they'll have access to money they otherwise can't get from him by adult means (like talking it out, deciding what the budget should be and then working from there); and that kind of deception seems to continue the imbalance of power in the marriage and as such is particularly harmful. It's not about the $20; it's about that she believes, rightly or wrongly, that she has to lie to get access to it.

    There ARE some white lies (and the ones above aren't); and they're actually a truthful answer to an unasked question. "Do you want to see pictures of my grandchildren? Aren't they lovely?" means "Let me show you people I really care about; and let me tell you about my feelings for them for a moment".   No one would, for the sake of 'honesty'  say No, lady; I don't want to see those pictures and man are those kids ugly. Even if it's true; and especially if it's true. Answering the underlying question kindly is not a lie.

    I don't know if I agree with the reasoning you offered, but I agree that no one should have to hide how much money they spend. That being said, I have told white lies about how much I spent on something because I don't want to get the "oh my god I can't believe you spent that much money"-look. 

    Edit: Just to be clear, my grandmother is pretty much the only one I play this game with. She always asks me not to spend any money on her, so sometimes she'll be like "I hope you didn't spend more than x on this!" She also gives me looks when I say I spent x amount on a gadget, so I've learned to just shave off a few dollars from the amount I tell her.

    I completely agree on the second half though. Sometimes you do have to tell white lies not to hurt people's feelings.However, if someone is honestly asking for my opinion, I try to be as honest as possible.

  • To me white lies are more of the "I don't think you've gained any weight" category and less of the "No of course I didn't spend any money during those six hours at the mall" category.  I might bend the truth a little to avoid hurting someone's feelings, but an actual falsehood or ommission -- not so much. Not okay.
  • I heard in a psychology class that on average people lie at least 7 times a day.

    If you're upset about something and someone comes up to you and says, "Is everything okay?" and you say, "Yeah I'm fine" but you really AREN'T, that's a white lie.

    I don't think stuff like hiding your spending or whereabout is a 'white lie'. It would depend on the context. Throwing a surprise party for your spouse so you hide your bank statement (because you don't want him to catch on) and when he asks where it is you say it must not have come yet? Yeah, that's a 'white lie'. Simply hiding your bank statement because you don't want him to see how much you spent on those killer pumps last week? Not a white lie at all.

    In that sense, I'm okay with white lies but only in instances like that where the lie can't hurt someone else. A bride asks you after her wedding day, "Didn't you just love my dress?" and you answer "Oh yes you looked very pretty" even if you thought the dress looked like a sausage sleeve.. SueSue's picture analogy is also good. I think in general white lies are okay when used where they're socially acceptable to use-- situations where unleashing or just being really harsh and blunt is likely to ostracize you from others.

    image
    Are you serious???
  • image neverblushed:

    What's the state of your relationship if you're bragging about telling lies to your spouse?  Implied in that is "eh -- the other person deserves to be disrespected, deserves this treatment."

    Ditto.  The people who chuckle and find it funny that they tell their spouses "white lies" really make me cringe. If I were out and out hiding $$ from my DH, or not being upfront about what I'm spending - I would feel horrible.

    Also, ditto sue_sue.  I don't think most of the examples in that article are really what I would call harmless white lies.  As neverblushed said, I think stuff like that absolutely leads to erosion and it starts to get easier and easier to lie.

    The example Sue_sue layed out about the pictures- that is what I would truly consider a harmless white lie.  You're going along w/ it whether you want to or not in order to be nice, in order to make that person feel better. 

    One of DH's cousins has a DD who has some issues due to her skull being fused.  She looks very odd because of it.  Would I ever say that to the cousin?  "Oh- wow, she's weird looking?".  No- of course not.  I also can't, w/ true good intentions, say "Oh, isn't she so cute!", but I would say "Oh, look at how sweet she is!". 

    That's kind of a white lie by omission! 

    "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
    ~Benjamin Franklin

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  • It totally depends on the context.  I think the main place it is okay to tell a white lie is where it is none of the business of the person asking the question.  I like the "How are you doing?" example above.  Maybe DH and I had a big blow out fight before work and my boss asks me how I am as I arrive at the office, I think it's totally okay to say that I'm doing just fine, even though I'm not, because it's really none of his business.  I think I'd put the grandchild pictures situation under this same category.  It's not really any of your business whether or not in my heart I want to see your pictures of your grandchildren, what is your business is that I want to be polite to you.

    With a spouse, I think there are fewer places where a white lie is okay, because so much of what we do is our spouse's business.  Certainly if I am spending joint money on tampons, it is his business how much I spent (not that I'd expect him to care).  If I lie about it because I'm afraid he will fly off the handle about it... well, I don't really blame someone for doing that under the circomstances, and I'm not sure what to call that other than a total communication break down, where the person getting lied to probably deserves as much of the blame as the person lying.  I think honestly is a two-way street, and can only exist in the presence of respect and understanding.  If I'm having a bad day, hopefully my spouse is someone I can and will confide in.  I guess what I'm getting at is that I don't really think white lies in relationships are a problem, but I think they can be the result of a problem... some sort of a power struggle or unclear boundaries where the couple does not have a good understanding/agreement with one another about what is to be shared and where they should give one another privacy.

  • I would really hope my H would tell me I look fat before I step outside in clothing that looks like crap on me.
  • DH and I try to be honest with each other.  I feel comfortable enough with him to be honest about anything, and I think he feels the same way.  Your partner should be someone you can be totally honest with.

    That said, will I tell a white lie to throw off suspicion of a potential gift? Yes.  But that's the only thing.

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  • My husband has helped me see that lying is destructive and wrong. There are NO lies between us, at all, and I couldn't imagine having it any other way.

    That said, I've had to learn to fight my lying instinct.  The truth is always best, and people who expect you to lie to them are probably liars themselves, and I don't care to have them in my life.  As I've gotten older, I noticed something about the people I have become friends with; I never feel like they're lying to me.  Even if it's something stupid like do I look fat, they don't lie, and I need that.   Relativism is dangerous and irresponsible.

    ETA: Not lying, like all other habits, is something that I have to keep in check on a daily basis.  Realizing that I was doing it all the time was like people who start checking their spending or eating: until I focused on it I had no idea how bad it was.

     


  • This phrase "white lie" has the word lie for a reason. A lie is a lie even if it is proceeded by an adjective. I try to always put myself in my husband's shoes when tempted to lie. I would not want to be white, blue, or orange lied to. To me, for better or worse is meant to create a solid form of intimacy. Telling the truth no matter what creates an environment for growth of relationship. Marriage is a commitment to work things out regardless of the situation. I might spend too much money on the credit cards. My husband may be dissappointed but he is entitled to know something like that. Telling the truth about this creates a pathway to share our differences wrong or right. We do fight sometimes too when the truth is told but we are better for it in the end. It also keeps us accountable when we are tempted to do something we shouldn't be doing. In the end however it comes down to commitment to my faith and my marriage:

    Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech (1 Pet. 3:10).
    Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies (Ps. 23:12-13).             The Lord detests lying lips but delights in men who are truthful (Pr. 12:22).

    With love: Victoria

  • Grrrr . . . this article is such a headache, because it makes it sound like everyone's in the business of lying to their spouse -- so it must be okay, right?

    NO. As Kant would say, lying to another person denies them the chance to make an informed, accurate decision. By lying, you are treating them as a means to an end, instead of as an end in themselves -- you are removing their ability to act on a level playing field, because you have altered their knowledge of reality in your favor.

    And then there's Othello and Desdemona. If she had just been honest, and explained that she really had LOST the handkerchief back when she first realized it was missing, maybe the play could have ended as a comedy instead!

    The point of these references is that everyone KNOWS its not okay to lie, even if nearly everyone does lie from time to time -- hence the "little white lie." That phrase serves as a justification of telling such a lie, and that excuse is seriously getting old. Isn't the number one piece of advice for a successful relationship to COMMUNICATE with your partner? How is withholding or disguising information from your partner communicating?

    Obviously,. NO, it's not okay to lie, even little white lies -- it just gets you in trouble in the end.

    ~ bonnykate "I can totally see you one day, giving birth, and you're screaming, 'This is the pain my body was meant to feel!'" Yep, that's totally going to be me.
  • image OMG Guinea Pigs!!:
    I would really hope my H would tell me I look fat before I step outside in clothing that looks like crap on me.

     

    AMEN to that!

    ~ bonnykate "I can totally see you one day, giving birth, and you're screaming, 'This is the pain my body was meant to feel!'" Yep, that's totally going to be me.
  • image bonnykate:

    image OMG Guinea Pigs!!:
    I would really hope my H would tell me I look fat before I step outside in clothing that looks like crap on me.

     

    AMEN to that!

    I'm 100% on this train, too.  I told my husband, "Hey, I used to get this kind of honest feedback from roommates/best friends.  YOU are my roommate/best friend now.  I'm asking about how I look for a reason -- not fishing for compliments and reassurance."

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