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Lies I Tell My Wife to Keep Our Marriage Strong

A strong relationship isn’t always about telling the truth

Woman laughing while laying in man's lap as he covers her eyes
Plain Picture

After 25 years of marriage, I’ve found the key to making my wife happy. I lie to her.

A little deception can be healthy. And not in the “I just tell her that to keep out of the doghouse, you know what I’m saying? High five!” kind of way. I mean the lies that actually strengthen your connection.

Poppycock, you say? That’s what I thought, too. And then I got married. Here are three key deceits that keep our marital bonds stronger than ever.

“These are the best spinach-and-mushroom stuffed chicken breasts I’ve ever eaten.”

I can’t stomach olives, tofu freaks me out, and I’m not a huge mushroom fan. But my wife usually cooks dinner, and I’ve found that voicing gratitude for her efforts makes us both feel better than me pretending I’m a finicky Top Chef judge. 

Social scientists call it “positive illusion.” In studies, higher levels of positive reinforcement between partners have been linked to higher relationship satisfaction, less conflict and doubt, and decreased risk of breakups. 

That doesn’t mean I’m complacent. Occasionally, I’ll use the technique known as sandwiching, wherein I’ll bury my pointed critique between two affirmations. For example, “Wow, they could totally serve this at a fancy French restaurant! You know I don’t love mushrooms, but other than that … [chef’s kiss].” 

I spoke my truth, but I did it without feeling (or sounding) like a total tool. 

“Take your time. I’m in no hurry.” 

You’re at a social gathering surrounded by people you barely know. It’s late and you have things to do tomorrow. It’s time … to … freaking … go. But your spouse doesn’t want to leave. 

My standard routine — the “Irish goodbye,” it’s sometimes called — is to disappear without warning. I'm Keyser Söze whispering, "And like that ... [blows kiss] he’s gone." But my wife is a lingerer. She wants to hang out, have “one more” conversation, gab into the night when we could’ve been in pajamas hours ago.

It has always driven me nuts. But I’ve stayed, anyway. In the beginning, it was because I didn’t want to be the party poop (and I wanted to get lucky later). After we got married, I kept pretending I was OK with it.

Why? For one thing it makes her happy, and not everything in the world has to be about my happiness. But it also pushes me to work on myself and stop being such a curmudgeon.

I’m not home and on my couch as early as I’d like. But by lying to my wife and saying I’m totally cool with staying out “just a few minutes more,” I’ve made new friends. I’ve learned how to be more patient, to stop glancing at my watch like I’m late for a nonexistent flight, and to actually engage with other humans.

The lie started as a way to placate my wife, but sometimes lies trick you into becoming a better person.

“I agree with you completely.”

I don’t always like the things my wife says. Sometimes I find them egregiously incorrect. Sometimes I just couldn’t care f***ing less. I don’t always want to hear about the 1,012 details of her second cousin’s third engagement. I don’t always have to agree or be interested in what she has to say. But often, I have to pretend to be.

It’s not enough just to hold your tongue. Sometimes you have to listen. Really listen. You have to say things like, “I totally see why that would’ve pissed you off” or “that’s a really good point,” even if you don’t believe either of those things.

When I agree with her, even when I don’t agree with her, I’m forcing myself into what relationship experts call “active-emphatic listening.” I’m not just being quiet because I don’t want to be accused of mansplaining. By listening and pretending to take her side, something switches in my brain and I actually start to listen and take her side.

Even if you never get to that place, try to practice being quiet and just holding her hand. In one study, the calming effects of married couples holding hands were about the same as taking a pain-relieving drug. 

Guys like to think we can fix anything. We want to interrupt and say, “Listen, can I please explain why you’re wrong and how I would do everything differently?” That does not help. You know what actually does help? A husband who says nothing, just sits quietly and holds her hand and swallows his innate urge to be the hero.

Not all heroes wear capes. And some don’t say much beyond, “You’ve got this, babe.”