Tracey Cox reveals whether you should tell the truth to a partner

What’s the WORST lie you’ve told your partner? Tracey Cox reveals the most common untruths we tell in relationships – and whether to own up or keep quiet

  • Tracey Cox reveals the most common lies people tell in relationships  
  • Vary from battling addiction to affairs and even having secret children  
  • Reveals when you should fess up and when you should sit on your secret 

When we think of lies in relationships, infidelity springs instantly to mind.

But there are other things just as harmful to your relationship as cheating.

Financial lies, lies about your past, omitting to mention you have an addiction to something, that you’re not actually who you said you were…

Trust is fragile and any lie jeopardises it.

Having said that, there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t told a ‘white’ lie. White lies are what I call ‘kind lies’. 

Saying the ghastly present your partner bought is just what you wanted; the ‘No you’re not going bald’, ‘Have you put on weight? I didn’t notice’ lies we tell others to spare them pain.

These lies are ‘prosocial lies’ and far from making you a bad person, they usually mean you’re a compassionate person who has a high degree of empathy.

We tell most prosocial lies at the start of relationships, when we’re desperate for our partner to see us as perfect. ‘You’re a vegan. I love vegan food!’ says the ‘serve it like it’s still mooing’ steak girl. ‘We’re going camping? Great!’ when you’re five-star or nothing.

You jump the bridge between ‘kind’ and ‘selfish’ when you start to tell lies to keep yourself out of trouble – often through omitting to mention something.

This is a lie by omission.

‘Sorry I’m late. I stopped off at Pete’s to pick up some tools to do those DIY jobs you’ve been nagging me about,’ might well be truthful. The omission – that Pete took another detour to see his mistress to have sex for half an hour – isn’t.

Sex and relationship expert Tracey Cox has shared the lies we most often tell in relationships from battling addiction to affairs – and reveals when to tell the truth and when to keep schtum

Following on the heels of lies by omission, there are the big lies that are so ugly, even psychopaths know telling them is wrong. These reflect serious ethical issues and can end a relationship instantly when found out.

If you want to know which category a lie you’ve told falls into, ask yourself this: Why I am lying? Is it to protect me? Or is it to protect my partner?

Not so sure your intentions were completely altruistic?

Following are some (anonymous) case histories of lies people have told – and some (honest) advice on whether it’s helpful to come clean or keep quiet, in each situation.


‘My husband was a successful financial consultant who managed other people’s portfolios. Unbeknown to me, he also had a gambling problem. Quite early in to our marriage, I figured he was hiding something: there was too much time unaccounted for. 

‘I thought what everyone thinks – it was an affair – so I hired a private investigator to follow him. His mistress turned out to be a casino.

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‘When I confronted him, he told me he’d go to the casino with clients: it was the equivalent of taking them for a boozy lunch. It was only when I showed him photographic proof of him laying bets, on his own, on numerous occasions did he admit that he had a problem and own up to going through about £20,000 of our joint money.’

Should you confess?

Spending lies are ‘time bomb’ lies: it’s not a matter of if you’ll get found out, it’s when. At some stage, the debtors are going to come calling.

As with any lie about anything, admission is better than being caught out. It may still come as a shock but owning up to an addiction that’s about to blow up in your face is infinitely preferable to merely waiting for the explosion.

As for other addictive behaviours – you’re an alcoholic, drug addict, sex addict or have been in the past – it’s impossible to be truly intimate with someone if they don’t know such a significant thing about you.

If you think this person is the one for life, you have a choice: live a half-life, living in fear of discovery, or take your chances and be honest.

Be prepared when you do confess. Have answers to all the questions they’re likely to ask. What treatment you’ve had, what’s the likelihood of a repeat, how will they know. Be open about the reasons behind how you got that way in the first place.

There’s no guarantee they will want to stick with you – life with an addict or ex-addict, is no walk in the park – but honesty is what you need to beat addiction. The stress of covering up is likely to trigger a repeat anyway.

Obviously, there’s addiction and addiction.

A mild shopping habit – consistently spending a little more than you can afford – is something we’re all guilty of at some stages in our life. Gambling away the kid’s university fund not so much. 


‘I met him on a dating website and couldn’t believe my luck. This guy wasn’t just nice, he was attractive, well-dressed and wealthy. He told me he ran a business that had been passed down through his family for generations. 

‘He didn’t glamorise it – it was something to do with IT and storage of data (deliberately chosen so I wouldn’t ask questions or couldn’t tell if he was faking answers) – but he did insinuate he was loaded. 

Tracey says that you shouldn’t confess to infidelity just to make yourself feel better 

‘He showed me pictures of his family’s estate – a huge country mansion – and kept promising to take me there. His apartment was small and modest but he said it was because it was his ‘city flat’. 

‘After three months, I still hadn’t met any of his friends or family. Was he ashamed of me? Was there a wife and kids at home? It was only when I told him I’d walk if he didn’t include me in all of his life that he told me he’d made up all the stuff about having a rich family or running their business. 

‘He worked in admin in a courier company. I didn’t care that he wasn’t wealthy but I did care that he’d lied continuously and dumped him on the spot.’

Should you confess?

Every time we put a filter on an Instagram pic, we’re essentially lying by making something appear more appealing than it was. The ‘us’ we present socially – particularly on social media – is inevitably an idealised version of our true self and life.

Take it further than that and you’re in dangerous territory. Anyone currently binging on Dirty John (a Netflix series about a con-man) knows just how much havoc these lies can wreak.

What level is your deception? If it’s a holiday fling and you’re having a bit of fun reinventing yourself, it’s relatively harmless (assuming you both know it’s a fling and not going to continue).

Lots of people, similarly, big themselves up at the start, to make themselves more attractive. If you’ve told a few flattering fibs, the best way to deal with it is to confess as soon as you realise the relationship has legs and hopefully have a laugh about it.

The sooner you confess social status lies, the better the result. The longer any truth is hidden, the harder it is to recover from it.

You might think it’s not a big deal exaggerating your job or how much money you’re worth but if your partner knows you’ve lied once, everything else you’ve said gets called into question. Better to get it out into the open early and be thought foolish than wait to be caught out and be seen as untrustworthy.


‘I had a one night stand with a guy from work. It was ages ago but I haven’t been able to look my husband in the eye since. It meant nothing but it’s destroying eight years of marriage. I’m eaten up with guilt.’

‘I’m now a lesbian but I was straight for many years. I love my girlfriend but now and then, I want sex with a man. I do it discreetly so no-one gets hurt and I can’t see the point of telling her. She would worry I’m having doubts about my sexuality and it would freak her out for no real reason.’

Should you confess?

There’s a golden rule with confessing to infidelity: don’t do it just to make yourself feel better. Telling your partner about a one-night-stand you had a decade ago will accomplish nothing other than terrible harm to your relationship.

And for what? Unless you worry you’re about to repeat the bad behaviour, there is no benefit to the relationship to confess.

If cheating is repeated, morally, of course you have an obligation to tell your partner. (For health reasons, as well as emotional transparency, if you’re not having safe sex.)

The problem is lying about ongoing affairs is that most of us don’t have a good enough memory to maintain the lie.

Most get away with lying initially because they carefully rehearse what they’ll say beforehand. But affairs don’t just require one lie, they rely on many and most people simply aren’t able to be on constant guard to keep their explanations coherent and water-tight.

Telling someone you love them when you don’t is one of the ‘cruelest lies of all’ according to Tracey, and confessing is the only decent thing to do

If you have ended an affair because you want your marriage to work, some therapists advise you to get on with working on your marriage without hurting your innocent partner by telling them of your betrayal.

Other therapists would advise complete disclosure because knowing why you had an affair, is part of fixing the problem.

If you do decide to confess, do it as kindly and tactfully as is possible. Saying ‘I had an affair and you might as well know up front that he/she was younger/more attractive/more successful/richer than you’ is heartless.

‘I had an affair because I felt distant from you’ is useful.


‘With my now partner, I’m extremely conservative in bed. Our sex is OK, if uninspiring, but he’s a traditional man and would be horrified if he knew my sexual past. I’ve slept with dozens and dozens of men: he thinks my number is four. I’ve slept with women, been to sex parties, had threesomes and explored BDSM and he knows nothing about it. 

‘My friends tease that they’ll fill him in on the quiet but that makes me furious. They wouldn’t dare. I want to start again and settle down with someone decent and I don’t want that sex anymore. It’s not a lie because it’s who I am now.’

Should you confess?

Sex lies are often lies of omission: we own up to as little as possible and don’t offer details.

Your partner says ‘Ewww! Threesomes! Why on earth would someone want to go there?’ and you smile…and neglect to mention that time you ended up in bed with your lover and his friend in your early 20s.

A lot of what we got up to sexually in our past is our business. I don’t believe in telling partners how many people you’ve had sex with: numbers mean nothing without knowing the circumstances.

Lying about what arouses you, however, doesn’t bode well for a long-term sex life. We all have a dark side to our sexuality. After more than 30 years of writing books and researching about sex, I can tell you that the only way long-term sex survives is if you do tell your partner about those dodgy fantasies. Pushing out of your comfort zones is the only way to keep lust alive.

Saying you enjoy sex when you actually dread it, lying about whether or not you orgasm – again, what is the point? If your partner doesn’t know there is a problem, how can they fix it?


‘I’d been single for years and was desperate to marry and have children, so when I met someone half decent I was determined to make it work. He was a really nice man but unattractive: short, balding, your typical middle-aged bloke. 

‘I knew right from the start that I would never fancy him or love him and that sex would be forced but, for completely selfish reasons, I told him I loved him. I was pregnant within a year and we’re now married. 

‘I tell him all the time that I love him but I don’t. At best, I’m fond of him but it’s getting to the stage where he physically revolts me. I thought having a child was more important than having the right relationship but it’s not true. You need both.’

Should you confess?

Most couples marry for love, others enter into a contract, rather than a relationship. It’s obvious, if not spelt out in words, that there’s a trade going on.

It might be you have looks and they have money. He might know you’re settling because you want children but be happy to go along with it because he loves you and hopes you’ll grow to love him as life goes on.

If there’s a ‘deal’ that’s acknowledged, that’s an agreement not a lie.

But if one of you has no idea of the subliminal text and is being duped, feigning love is one of the cruellest lies of all.

For lots of people, finding a partner to spend their lives with is a hugely important goal, if not the most important.

Pretending to love someone when you don’t is manipulating them at their most vulnerable.

If you’re absolutely certain you never have and never will love this person and they have no idea, confessing is the only decent thing to do.

The person might choose to stay in the relationship even knowing you don’t love them, but it should be their choice.


‘I am deeply in love with my boyfriend of two years and desperate to marry him. He loves me but he thinks I am as keen to have children as he is. We’re both in our late 30s and he’s asked me to stop taking the pill because time is running out. I agreed to stop but still secretly take it. 

‘I’ve never wanted to have children and I know I won’t change my mind. I lost my other true love because I was honest about this so I’m not doing it again. I’ll pretend I’m infertile and hopefully he will accept that I can’t have kids.’

Should you confess?

The maternal or paternal urge is fierce and not to be reckoned with: if someone urgently, desperately wants children, it will make or break a relationship.

We all recognise this. So, if you feel the opposite to your partner and you love them, it’s not surprising people lie, often in hopeful ways.

Lots of people who want children think the partner who doesn’t will change their mind along the way. Some do. Others are confident that once the baby arrives, their partner will see their child’s face gazing down at them and fall instantly in love.

If you’re banking on this happening, be prepared for the possibility of raising a child solo. Becoming a parent is a powerfully persuasive thing. But bringing up children also isn’t easy and throws up all sorts of baggage. If your partner wasn’t keen to procreate because of his childhood, it can backfire spectacularly.

Honestly discussing whether or not you want children is a basic question all couples should tackle before getting seriously involved. Lie at your peril. 

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