Knowing when someone is lying to you isn't always easy, but it's important to spot — because even tiny untruths can slowly erode a relationship. "Small lies are not small. Small lies are big lies,” celebrity relationship expert, Audrey Hope, tells Bustle. “If someone can venture into this territory or can stick their toes into a place of untruth, then lying is their ‘thing.’ Their relationship was not built on integrity, and therefore will not survive.”
The tricky part is that people who lie a lot are usually better at it than people who hardly ever lie — so if you're dating someone who's a cool and collected liar, you might not realize that they're doing it. Even when you think you've caught them, they may do a damn good job of talking you out of it.
Luckily, there are some signs that may help give away the habits of even the greatest of liars. If you know what it looks like when someone gets caught in a lie, you'll be more likely to trust yourself next time you stumble onto something. Here are some ways you can tell if you've caught your partner in a lie — even if they'll never admit it.
1. They're Defensive
This is probably the most obvious way to tell if your partner is lying and it's really simple — they overreact and get defensive. If you ask a question — even an innocent one — and they fly off the handle, that's not a great sign. "When your partner gets off the phone and you ask, 'Who were you talking to?' and they respond with hostility like, 'Why are you always so nosy?' or 'I can’t believe you don’t trust me,'" something is up, and it's not your imagination," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle.
It may be that they just act as though you're prying or being insecure — but, sometimes, being defensive can go even further. You may find that your partner starts to turn the tables on you. They may say that the only reason you could possibly think that there's something bad in their phone is if there's something suspicious in yours — that you only think they're lying because you're a liar yourself. It sounds out there, but it happens all the time. If they seem totally over-the-top and try to turn things on you, they've probably got something to be defensive about, so keep an eye out for this obvious sign.
2. They've Lied About Other Things
Looking for patterns of behavior is a difficult balance — on the one hand, everyone makes mistakes and you don't want to hold it against them for the rest of their life. On the other hand, it's really common for people who lie about one thing to lie about a lot of other things, too — because they just don't have that much respect for the truth. If your partner has a history of lying, and you feel like something could be up, that's a good indicator that they're lying again. "If you catch your partner in one hurtful lie, chances are that's not the only one," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle.
Really, it's all about context. If your partner lied about doing the laundry, that's probably not a sign that they're a stone-cold liar. But if they have lied about things that really matter or have hurt you in the past, that's a stronger indicator — especially if they didn't seem to understand why it was a big deal or feel guilty about it. So trust your gut — if they regularly lie and now they're acting shifty, you might be onto something. You may be better at recognizing when they're lying than you even realize.
3. They Make A Lot Of Eye Contact
There's an unfortunate truth when it comes to spotting a lie — people who lie a lot are often really good at, so they can seem incredibly convincing. Most people think that liars will avoid eye contact because they'll be embarrassed but — because so many people have heard this — people who lie a lot might actually do exactly the opposite. They know what kind of eye contact looks like they're telling the truth, so they can use that to their advantage. In fact, liars will often go out of their way to keep eye contact with you, according to Psychology Today, so it seems like they're being more sincere.
Obviously, this can make things tricky. But there may be some tells — if your partner is staring at you a little too intensely, that could be because they're protesting too much. You know the normal amount of eye contact your partner makes, so pay attention to that. If they seem to be evasive and refuse to look you in the eye or they're staring a little too aggressively, that could be a sign that something's up. Whenever someone veers far away from their normal communication style, that is usually a sign that something's thrown them off course.
4. They Touch Their Face
There has been a lot of research done into liars — how people lie, why they lie, and, perhaps most usefully, what they look like when they lie. If you feel like your partner may be being untruthful (or unfaithful) you can use this research to your advantage. Warning Signs, by Anthony DeLorenzo and Dawn Ricci is a book about how you can tell if your partner is cheating — but it also gives some helpful hints on how to tell if someone is lying.
According to DeLorenzo and Ricci, people who are lying will often touch or cover their face and mouth. It's may seem like a weird side effect of lying, but some researchers think that touching their face is a distancing mechanism between the liar and what they're saying. It's a way to deal with any lingering guilt that may be surfacing. In a way, it makes sense — many of us fidget with our hair, clothes, or our bodies when we feel slightly uncomfortable. And even if you're someone who lies all the time, it can be a pretty damn uncomfortable thing to do. So if there's a lot of face petting and you can't quite put your finger on why, it may be that you've caught them in an untruth.
5. They Put On A Fake Smile
A smile that doesn't seem quite right? That can be a sign of lying. There's a good chance that you've pushed out an awkward, fake smile once or twice in your life — maybe when you were at a party you weren't enjoying or when a man was explaining to you what feminism is. Well, those fake smiles tend to look a little different than genuine ones — and it's all about the eyes.
A 2012 study from British Columbia found that lying was often accompanied by a fake smile and, because people find it easier to control the bottom half of their face, a fake smile usually doesn't show around the eyes. It's easy to slap on a grin, even when we're having a terrible time, but it's much harder to make our eyes fake it. You might notice the same thing if your partner is lying. They may be trying to give you a reassuring smile or get you to laugh and move along, but their eyes will be telling a very different story. If their eyes look sad or if you don't see them wrinkle and sparkle, they may be fibbing. If you've been together for a long time, you'll probably know the real thing when you see it.
6. Their Pupils Dilate
Who knew that your eyes would let someone know when you're brain is doing a workout? Your pupils get larger when your brain is working hard, like when you're trying to convince someone of a lie. This is a pretty good indicator because no matter how great of a liar you are, it's hard to imagine anyone who can actually control their pupils. You may be able to play games with your words, you may be able to make (or not make) eye contact, but your actual pupils might tell the real story.
Of course, there could be other reasons your partner's pupils are dilated. Maybe they're really struggling with sudoku or reading Trump's tweets — but the bottom line is that your conversations shouldn't feel like work to them. If you're asking them simple questions about what they've been up to, who they've been seeing, or what they're planning to do, you would expect it to be a relaxed conversation. Sure, everyone is different — but sweaty palms and dilated pupils are not what you'd normally see. So if it seems like your partner is struggling or being pushed to their limits when answering basic questions, you may want to look at why.
7. They Include "Honesty" Words
If phrases like "Trust me", "Honestly", and "Just to be honest..." sound like your partner is trying too hard, you might be right. There's a good reason that using rhetoric centering around "honesty" sounds less than honest. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, says that these sorts of phrases can actually be a sign of lying. "When people use these bolstering statements to emphasize their honesty, there’s a good chance they are hiding something," Meyer writes. "There’s no need to add them if you really are telling the truth."
This type of language also makes it seem like your partner is really coming clean with you. They may say something like, "Honestly, I have been struggling lately, but it's nothing to do with us." This can be really manipulative, because it feels like they're opening up to you — sharing something that's been bothering them or just having a very candid conversation. But actually, they're doing just the opposite. If your partner is using a lot of the language of honesty, that shouldn't convince you that they're actually telling the truth — especially if they seem defensive in other ways. Liars can use a lot of different tricks and will know how to play into your empathy and emotions, so try to keep a logical head if you're suspicious.
It's really difficult to admit that your partner is lying to you — especially if they won't do it themselves. But it's important to recognize the signs and know when it's happening to you. You don't want to be with someone who lies to you — and you definitely don't want to be with someone who lies about lying. Luckily, there are some signs that can help you spot when your partner isn't being honest.
This post was originally published on February 28, 2018. It was updated on June 3, 2019.