Why Good Men Lie

Jack is 55. He is an established and experienced tradesman who prides himself on his work. Work is clearly the best thing in his life and he thrives in it. He refers to going to work as “putting on my (tradesman) belt,” and looks forward to going to work, often getting up at 3 AM to do so. The bosses he has had over the years know the quality of Jack’s work, his high work ethic, and his general integrity. While he occasionally uses “substance,” he has never “used” at work, nor is he ever been impaired at work from something he did the night before. He gets paid well for his work making well above the union wage, although there have been many times where he has worked for free just so he could finish a job and feel proud of it. It would be impossible for Jack to think of charging his boss for hours that he hasn’t worked. It just wouldn’t be right because Jack is an honest guy. Life away from work is also based on quality and honesty. He will often work for free with family and friends plying his trade with all the vigor and quality that he does when he is at work. In fact, family and friends sometime take a bit of advantage of Jack’s craftsmanship and generosity, but Jack feels no offense. He is just a down-to-earth hard worker and an honest guy. Except with his girlfriend. He lies to her quite frequently.

Jim is 64. Like Jack, he works hard and honestly. He has a great cadre of friends and enjoys a good game of golf with them. He has a professional job that requires some things that he is good at, like engaging people, and some things that he is not good at, like doing cold calling on potential clients for the business. He is good with his adult children and grandchildren. He shares the housework with his wife, something he has done for the entirety of their 30 years marriage. He is well liked at work and in the community because of his outgoing and gracious nature. People know Jim as an honest guy who would do anything for anyone. People trust Jim because they know he is honest. Except with his wife.

John is also 64. Like Jack and Jim, he is a hard worker and loves his work. His work schedule requires that he be at work at 4 AM, requiring him to get to bed at 7:30 at night, but he is committed to doing his job well and doing his job right. Much like Jack, he is rewarded for his expert work by the people he works for. Although he hated school, he quickly learned that his abilities have little to do with reading and writing, but with understanding how machines work. He is one of those guys who can listen to a machine and tell you what is wrong with it, or watch it for a few minutes and understand why it isn’t working. Beyond his mechanical ability John takes expert care of all of his property. He keeps an immaculate lawn at his house, his car is always clean and cared for, and all his tools are where they should be. Like Jim and Jack people trust John knowing that he will always keep his word and do his best in any circumstance. Unless it has to do with being honest with his wife. He has been having an affair for three years.

Jason also had been having an affair for three years. Like Jim, John, and Jack he is great at his work where he has been a CEO of an engineering firm for nearly eight years. He combines his theoretical understanding of engineering with the kinds of tradesman hands-on grasp of how things work. He is not so much the mechanic who can listen to a car motor and tell what is wrong with it as he is the person who can look at the six million dollar project and understand the complexities of how to do a good job, please his customers, and make some money. Everybody at work trusts Jason because they know that he has that special blend of understanding the equality of worker, customer, and owner in a thriving business. He is the first to admit that he doesn’t understand why he can be so honest with everyone but his wife.

So why do these guys, these honest guys, these upright guys, these hard-working guys fall into lying to the women in their lives? How is it that these fellows can be so honest in their work and with their friends and yet be so blatantly dishonest with the women in their lives? This is not an easy question to answer but it is at the heart of what goes wrong with many men in their intimate spousal relationships. Men just don’t know how to be honest with women who are close to them.

Let me suggest some reasons that good honest men are dishonest with the people with whom they most love. In these cases men don’t love the people at work or their friends as much as they loves their spouses, so it isn’t a matter of love, at least for the most part. It is a matter of intimacy. Intimacy with a woman is much different from the relationships they might have with coworkers, bosses, or friends. Some of the honesty problem that many men display with the women has to do with personality factors and culture factors that do not favor honest communication. But the larger problem of men being dishonest with women has to do with words.

Personality factors

Personality differences have been a significant interest of mine for decades. Understanding differences in how a person thinks, feels, and generally goes about life has been of immense benefit to me personally and remains a hallmark of how I help people understand themselves and communicate themselves. There are also cultural differences that can be dominant factors in a person’s functioning. The personality factors that I deem central include those that involve energy, boundaries, gathering information, processing information, and temperament.

1. Energy: internal or external
Jim is an extravert, while the other three are introverts. In some circumstances it is a bit harder for introverts to speak than extraverts, but interestingly, when introverts have a kept audience, like one other person, they can talk your arm off. So while it might be a bit harder for introverts to speak, this difficulty is usually only when there are three or more in the room.

2. Boundaries: high or low
This is an extremely important personality characteristic that is often misunderstood. Simply put, high boundary people value rules and boundaries, while low boundary people challenge them. So high boundary people plan and organize their days and years, while low boundary people are more spontaneous in their lives. Low boundary people feel constrained by boundaries, whereas high boundary people feel the safety that boundaries bring them.

3. Perception: objective or subjective
This is a bit hard to explain, but think of it this way: “objective” means outside of myself in the physical world; “subjective” means inside of myself in the personal world. People who are objective in perception tend to be concrete and down-to-earth. They also tend to be doers and producers, and they value property for its own sake. Subjective people perceive the world in an “internal” way, i.e. they muse about how some external factor affects them. They tend to be more creative and imaginative. They value ideas and possibilities much more than facts and property.

4. Judgment: objective and subjective
It is possible to be objective in perception and subjective in judgment along with the other possibilities. People who are objective in judgment tend to evaluate on the basis of facts, justice, and fairness. They tend to value the group over the person. Truth is very important to them, and they could sacrifice harmony for objective truth. Subjective people on this dimension evaluate “subjectively,” i.e. by their own intuition and feeling. They “just know” something but usually can’t describe how they arrived at this judgment. They value harmony, sometimes at the expense of exact truth.

5. Player temperament
People with this temperament seek excitement. They are curious and adventuresome. They seek to explore, enrich, and engage the world, whether it is privately or in concert with another human being.

6. Analyst temperament
This person seeks meaning in life. As a result of this passion he or she seeks information, but not information for itself, but rather information that can be examined in order to find meaning. They look to prevent problems and solve problems.

7. Caretaker temperament
Caretakers are all about property, most of it human-made. They view property as if it had spiritual quality. While they save and protect property, they are not hoarders or materialistic. They often give their time, money, and property to others.

8. Lover temperament
Lovers are about connections. For them life is about how we relate to others. They seek commonality and communion. They know that no one is an island to him/herself and that we are all in relationships of all kinds. They are at their best with they can be close to someone where they can be very sacrificial.

Notably, there are various combinations of these personality characteristics and temperaments. The person with a player temperament, for instance, with an internal high boundary nature is quite different from a player who is external and low boundary.

Obviously, these differences can cause grave misunderstandings and hurt feelings between people of different personality stripes. How does a high boundary wife deal with her low boundary husband, and visa versa? We will get back to these combinations, especially as they affect men in their relationships with women briefly. But communicating these differences requires something that most men are quite deficient at using effectively: words

The problem with words

Men are not primarily verbal animals. Jim, Jack, John, and Jason are all intelligent people. A couple of them have completed rigorous college degrees, while the other two are truly brilliant in understanding how things work, specifically in their choices of trades. None of these guys is without a usable vocabulary, and a couple of them are truth “wordsmiths,” namely people who can truly “turn a phrase.” But speaking well, or less than well, is not the whole story with words when it comes to women.

Women have it all over us when it comes to emotional words. Most of us men simply did not grow up in a family, a culture, or a group of friends where emotional words were part of daily conversation. Men don’t learn to express hurt when they feel it. Unfortunately, hurt, “the H word” as I call it, is a rare commodity with men. More unfortunately, “hurt” is a much more common word for women. I believe the key factor in men’s being dishonest with women is their inability to express hurt…and consequently their inability to respond to women’s use of “hurt.” A man just doesn’t know what to do when his girlfriend, wife, partner, or daughter says that she is hurt. Men just haven’t had any experience in understanding what hurt is, much less responding to a woman’s expression of hurt, much less expressing his own hurt. The key to maturity in a relationship with a woman is getting a handle on hurt: hearing a woman’s hurt, responding to her hurt, understanding one’s own hurt, and expressing this hurt. If I could get men to do this by writing it in this blog, I would soon be out of business.

But I am not out of business. I am still in business, and because I see only men in my practice, I continue to deal with men’s dishonesty with women. It is a very slow and time-consuming business to help men know about hurt, particularly how to hear it from the women in their lives. But it is a much harder task to help men understand the hurt in their own lives. In order to help men with the whole hurt phenomenon I have to slow them down. I have to help them understand how central hurt is in any relationship. This is not easy. Men would much rather get angry, justify what they did, or avoid the conflict altogether. Helping men use the H word is helping them understand the whole of their feelings. Once they do that, they can use the H word effectively. But they have to understand the whole process leading up to hurt and then govern how they express their feelings of hurt. The process leading up to hurt is simple but it happens in a split second, as do the reactions of anger, justification, and avoidance.

The process of hurt

The process of hurt is simple:
 I love something.
 I am assaulted. The something I love is attacked.
 I am hurt
 I am sad

But this is where things get out of line for a man:
 He is hurt
 But he doesn’t recognize that he is hurt
 He gets angry
 Or he justifies
 Or he avoids the situation altogether

This leads to a cascade of problems
 His female partner feels hurt
 She expresses his hurt
 The man doesn’t know how to respond to her hurt
 The man goes on with anger, justification, or avoidance

This leads to an emotionally complicated situation:
 The man was hurt, but he didn’t know he was hurt
 Then he said something out of anger or avoided the whole situation
 The woman expresses her hurt
 The man is overwhelmed but unable to say anything of value
 The man lies

The resolution

It’s all about hurt:
 The man has to know that he is hurt
 He has to value this hurt because it has come because something he loves has been assaulted
 He needs to learn to express this hurt…and hence prevent anger, justification, and avoidance
 But this is no easy task

What is the woman’s part?
 I speak with some hesitance in this matter because such a discussion is somewhat out of the arena of my expertise.
 I do think that women use the H word quite effectively, but also so frequently that it loses its power and value.
 Women do not realize that the H word is not in the male vocabulary and men are unaware of its meaning and values.
 There is a tendency among many women to “help” the men in their lives by telling them what is “wrong” with what they are doing. Men don’t respond well to such “help.”
 It would help if women were aware of their ability to use the H word and men’s inability to use it.

What is the man’s part?
 Being aware of hurt
 Being aware of the love that is always under hurt
 Learning to express hurt rather than anger and avoidance
 But this is extremely hard for men to do.
 It is the only way.

What about the lying part?
 It is all about feelings, mostly hurt
 If a man can learn to hear hurt, he will be better for it
 Much more importantly, he needs to learn to express hurt
 When a man learns to express hurt, he will not fall into lying

An example

I could give a myriad of examples of how men are hurt, fail to express hurt, and then fall into anger, avoidance, and eventually lying. But let me give you just one, Jack the mechanic noted above. Jack loves his work. Work has been the only thing stable in his life, and he is expert at it. There is nothing more important than his work. He has been unsuccessfully married three times, and his current love relationship is falling apart, all because of his inability to know his hurt, hurt that always generates from his love of work. His lying started, quite simply, because he couldn’t admit that work was more important than his new relationship. He was very much in love with his girlfriend, perhaps for the first time in his life. But he had never been able to know the complexity of a female relationship. So when Barbara questioned his work, saying that “your work is more important than our relationship,” Jack didn’t know how to simply and honestly say, “Yes it is more important.” So he defended his work and avoided the question. First he started making promises of working less, which he certainly couldn’t keep. Then he made excuses for his working a lot, blaming his boss or making more promises to work less. Barbara never understood the centrality of Jack’s work ethic and his trade. For her it was “just work” and certainly not as important as their relationship. She had worked, although now she was not working, but work had never been very important. It was just a pay check. Not so for Jack. He just didn’t know how to express the love he had for work. And he certainly didn’t know how to express the hurt that he felt when Barbara “attacked” his work ethic. So he lied a little…and lied a little more…and got to the point that it was just easier to lie than to tell the truth. It bothered him that he was lying, but he thought he could get away with it. Then these defensive lies began to migrate into other areas of his life. Barbara wanted him to give up smoking, so he promised he wouldn’t smoke even though he had smoked for 40 years. Then he denied he was smoking (a lie). Then Barbara had even more ammunition that justified her saying, “I can’t believe anything you say,” a statement that hurt Jack even more. There were many other causes of Jack’s lying, like the fact that he was a low boundary person compared to Barbara being high boundary, and he being internal (introverted) compared to her being extraverted, she being a lover compared to him as a caretaker.

Jack’s story is not unlike Jason’s and all the others. Their stories are all about feelings, hurt in particular. The task is to get a handle on hurt and ultimately trust the feeling as one generated by love, love that does not have to lead to lying