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How far is too far: Setting boundaries in a deceitful relationship

Whilst infidelity seems to be continually spilling onto the fabric of relationships, many fail to see that it was long coming. There is little point in debating about the right, the wrong, the circumstances, the loopholes, the lies, the betrayal or even the ‘end’ in sight. What we should really examine is the truly ‘measurable,’ and the numbers are quite revealing. In a study published in the 2002 Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 45-55% of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital affairs at some point in their relationship. A different study reveals that almost 90% Americans believe that adultery is wrong. So, how does one explain the discrepancy between the ethics that govern relationships in general and the prevalent reality??

Suggested read: How to go about setting boundaries in a relationship

By a forthright evaluation of the degree of honesty and openness in one’s relationship.

cheating man

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Whilst all of us want to be involved in honest relationships, deception, lies, and betrayal often seem to percolate the relationship foundation that we thought was solid and hence, deception-proof. So what exactly constitutes a deceitful relationship?

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Any relationship that damages one’s sense of reality is deceptive. This may include self-deception, the lies we tell ourselves to cling on, the lies we are subjected to, the ways in which we are kept from truth or plain betrayal and infidelity. There is no well-defined space within which ‘deception’ in a relationship can be accurately categorized.


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Any activity, circumstance and/or event that cause an individual’s sense of reality to become skewed is deceptive. It could be anything from a lie that you tell yourself about being okay with 5% lies and scheming and manipulation when your partner is terrific 95% of the times, to your partner lying to you about whether he’s tugged away those photo albums of yesteryears or worse, about being at the gym when he is seeing your best friend. Whilst the first is self-deception that can make us stay in unhealthy, self-destructive relationships far beyond their expiration, the latter epitomizes the low-stake lie and the damaging lie respectively. Either way, reality is morphed into an easily digestible form, kept hidden or made into something else. No matter the sense of ‘skewed truth’ this act engenders, it is shattered when reality strikes in its true form. The ‘fantasy’ that was being preserved through the several means of deception is ripped apart and the ugly, grotesque truth sticks out its head from underneath. This causes hurt to the involved parties and can completely destroy a person’s ability to trust.

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Psychologist and author Shirley Glass writes,

Relationships are contingent on honesty and openness. They are built and maintained through our faith that we can believe what we are being told. However painful it is for a betrayed spouse to discover a trail of sexual encounters or emotional attachments, the lying and deception are the most appalling violations.

So, how does one go about setting the boundaries of honesty and openness in a relationship? How does one ensure that deception never infiltrates the fabric of relationships? How do you ensure that a small white lie does not become an elephant lie? How do you ensure that you do not become complicit in the process of lying and deception?

Suggested read: How important is it to set boundaries in a controlling relationship?

1. Recognition and acceptance of the reality

woman contemplating

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Lies destroy trust, confidence, and respect. If you have a habit of overlooking the white lies in your relationship, there is a good chance you may be in for deluding yourself about the elephant lies too. Chances are, then, that you may wake up someday in a foggy muck created by the stampede this elephant brought in. The irony is you allowed it. The first step to avoid such a scenario is to tell yourself the truth about the liar in your life – and one of them is YOU. Stop covering the lie with a veneer of ‘make-believe.’ It does no good to anybody. Recognize quiet, disguised manipulations, look for embedded lies, keep your eyes and ears open, remember to communicate every day, be in the know. It is only when you are completely honest about the situation to yourself that you can work to make amends.

2. Gauge the severity of the deception

sad man

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Analyze the ways in which your boundaries have been crossed. Assess how your ideas of honesty and openness in a relationship have been violated. Recognize if the transgression can be forgiven and an open discussion about the same can be had to avert such occurrences in the future. Also, recognize if that option is unavailable and if the deception is too severe to be forgiven. Be honest to yourself and respect your boundaries for what they are. Do not expand them to accommodate the situation. That would only pave the way for further deception in the future. After all, who is a better victim than someone who shall willingly modify their boundaries to accommodate lies and deception?

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3. Understand the vicious cycle

girl thinking

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Deception breeds mistrust. Mistrust widens the ‘distance’ between two people. This distance creates an emotional disconnect. This emotional vacuum can kill the emotion of love, a little at a time. When love is being doused, there is an increased possibility of transcending the ‘ethical’ boundaries in relationships. This in turn, engenders another web of lies, deceit, and unending psychodramas that create the rift between the ‘ethical’ and the ‘real,’ as mentioned at the outset. This is the reason the first two steps are crucial. An honest assessment shall help you avert the risk of being a willing victim of the vicious cycle.

4. Take charge

woman introspecting

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If there is hope for your relationship to emerge healthier from fighting the ailment, by all means, go ahead and nurse the wounds. Take the diagnosis seriously and work your way to a speedy recovery. However, if you realize that the chances of your relationship escaping from the emotional swamp it is stuck in is zilch, please be strong enough to pull the plug. The lie-bites and drowning-by-deceit aren’t conducive to your self-growth, personal levels of happiness, and of course, a healthy relationship.

Suggested read: Telltale signs of a healthy relationship

Always remember – your word is your bond; when your word is no good, your bond is headed to ‘no good’ too. A healthy relationship is built on trust, openness, honesty, mutual respect, and personal freedom. But freedom does not merely entail the choice of who we are with but also factors in how we treat the person we choose to be with. The bare minimum they deserve is honesty. Choosing to be honest with your partner each day is what keeps your bond healthy. And truly choosing your partner everyday by your own free will is what sustains that bond. Do not kill it by welcoming an uninvited guest – deception – into the loving familial domain of what can truly be an ‘HONEST’ and ‘Healthy’ union.

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Article Name
Setting boundaries in a deceitful relationship
Lying to yourself of being lied to, are both harmful for a relationship. Here's how you can go about setting boundaries in a deceitful relationship.
Sejal Parikh

Sejal Parikh

"I'm a hurricane of words but YOU can choose the damage I do to you..."