We’ve all been there before, lies to parents, siblings, and spouses. And now, you need to come clean about a big lie.
Perhaps, you lied about scratching the car when you went to the supermarket. You told your spouse the store was out of beer. Or you were intimate with another person and now need to get out of it. No big deal, right?
Unfortunately, certain lies create a rift between you and your spouse. It could be lies about a massive bet, playing cards, or having a run-in with an ex. Some lies can also be damaging, including addictions, cheating, and emotional or verbal abuse.
The good news: notwithstanding the severity of the lie, you need to come clean for self-preservation. This is an attempt to maintain your reputation as an honest and good person—you want to protect yourself from the negative reaction of other people.
You may think that you lied to avoid hurting someone you love. However, in this context, the reason is still about controlling what you know to protect your interests—reputation and relationship, to mention a few.
Reason to come clean about a lie
Lying may seem fundamental. However, trust is a basic need in a relationship, and lying destroys this trust. “Trust is fragile”—Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT. Keeping secrets and telling lies jeopardize trust and can damage your relationships—sometimes irreparably.
Thus, honest and open communication is important for any happy relationship. However, some topics are not easy to talk about. For example, it is trickier to talk about an ex on your social media feed but easier to admit to scratching the car.
For some experts, white lies cause no harm, but they can be the acid that destroys a relationship from within. Usually, when you tell little lies, you’d find yourself lying about more essential things in a relationship—telling big lies. Even without getting caught, one big lie is enough to destroy a relationship.
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The point is that telling the truth is the right thing to do, whether you consider tweaking the truth a big deal or you believe in ignorance as bliss.
How to come clean about a big lie
So, if you told a big lie, how do you come clean?
1. Your partner should not find out from others
You’d be remaining dirty if you wait for your partner to find out about the lie from another person. Be the person to say it—the thing you lied about or did not mention.
You do not want to blurt out the truth randomly, this can be hurtful, especially if you or your partner is confrontational or vulnerable at a time when emotions are high.
2. Begin with a positive statement of love and intention
Make sure to wait for the right time, this does not mean waiting forever. The right time is ideally when the topic comes up naturally. You can invent this discussion if it doesn’t happen soon enough. If you’re bringing up or inventing the discussion, it should happen when you’re both calm and ready to listen.
Do not be dramatic about it. Just say:
I love you. I want our relationship to be built on trust, so I’m telling you this now.
This may soften the blow—no guarantees, depending on the lie.
3. Tell the story and apologize
Tell the person about:
- The lie
- Why it happened
- How sorry you are
Think about what to say beforehand. It’s easier to confess a big lie, but because you lied is already an offense. The point is to give your confession the seriousness the lie requires.
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Try not to cover all the details immediately. Let the person process your statement and wait for their reactions and questions.
After you tell the truth, let your partner decide if it is a big deal. Don’t get defensive or try to protect yourself to avoid sending the “I’m not really sorry for what I’ve done” message.
4. End with a positive remark or action
You did wrong by telling a big lie, so don’t try to justify your actions. Do not blame your partner, parents, or siblings or deflect the cause somewhere else.
Just own up to it. Make sure to express remorse and regret and say something like:
I was wrong, and it’s my fault. I ask for your forgiveness and want to help focus on getting you to trust me again.
Examine the severity of the lie through the person’s reaction to be able to determine the appropriate apology. The apology could be a simple “I’m sorry” or gesture like extra attention or a gift. The point is to show the person that you’re sorry and willing to come clean about the big lie.
In some cases, you need several apologies if the lie was severe and deeply hurt the person. Consider giving them time to get over it.
It’s not so easy to come clean about a big lie, of course. But you need to do it. Be ready to accept the reaction of your partner, whether it’s not deciding to forgive, silence, raising their voice, or sleeping on the couch.
Depending on the lie, it may be necessary to postpone discussions several times. You want to be calm and clear to think straight and avoid hasty, rash decisions. Most importantly, give your partner time to recover.
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