When most people think of “dishonesty,” as a problem in relationships, they’re mostly thinking about outright lies. But there are much more common types of dishonesty. For example, when someone says one thing, and does another, it’s harmful. This kind of dishonesty tends to be habitual, and it tends to go mostly unconfronted.
After all, the person can always say they meant to do what they said, but something outside their control prevented it. Which might be true once or twice, but the odds are certainly against it happening as often as they fail to do what they say. Or they swear they were just about to do what they said they would, no matter how much time has passed.
This kind of liar always expects to be judged based on their good intentions, never their absent actions. They seem genuinely baffled and hurt when people expect them to do the things they say they will. And if you confront them, don’t expect it to change their behavior, or even to get a genuine apology. You’ll be the bad guy, no matter what, for having such unreasonable expectations of such a nice person.
Another slippery sort of dishonesty is the perpetual renegotiator. They ask for something and you give it, only to discover that “the terms have been altered.” My friends in freelancing will find this one very familiar. Everybody has had that client. But it happens in personal relationships, too.
The renegotiator is off the hook to hold up their part of the agreement – because after all, you didn’t give them what they wanted, you just gave them what they asked for. And no amount of arguing will convince them they owe you a damn thing for doing exactly what you were asked to do.
In this way, they keep getting benefits from the relationship without having to give anything – whether that was appreciation, money, or whatever.
Why Am I So Damn Angry All the Time?
Some people say anger exists to tell you a boundary violation has happened. It’s meant to tell you someone done you wrong. You’re not built to STAY angry – any more than your car alarm or fire alarm is meant to go off continuously.
It’s meant to spur action, but many of us ignore our anger. We push it down, and then end up with an annoying alarm playing in the back of our brain ALL. THE. TIME. Which makes us even more angry and irritable. We’d be better off figuring out what set off the anger alarm, and dealing with it.
When I find myself being perpetually angry, digging around a little often unearths someone (or more often, multiple someones) who aren’t dealing with me honestly. I could just complain about it, (and I do, believe me.) But that doesn’t fix the problem. I have to decide how to deal with the dishonest person.
Hint: demanding they change pretty much never works.
So what do you do? It depends on the person and the nature of your relationship. I’ve chosen to withdraw from people for a while. When they ask what’s going on, I tell them “You’re a fun, likable person, but I can’t count on you. And right now I need to rely on people who are, well, actually reliable.”
Sometimes they get pissed, because it doesn’t jive with the image they have of themselves or what they need to believe about themselves. Sometimes they’re relieved that someone doesn’t expect them to do more than say nice things and be fun to hang out with.
I put that person in the “fun time acquaintance” category in my head, and I stop expecting them to be more than that. I’m pleasantly surprised if and when they do come through for me. (Sometimes, rarely, that “You’re sweet, but totally untrustworthy” conversation results in some genuine introspection and change).
But the key is, I stop expecting it. I definitely don’t keep setting up situations where I have to deal with crappy consequences when they fail to follow through. That’s like jumping onto a hammock you know has dry rotted and being pissed off when you fall through it.
As far as the renegotiator goes, again, it depends on the relationship. If it’s a client, I end the relationship. Period. If it’s a boss or supervisor, it’s a little more complicated. I start asking for more details and specifics on my assignments.
I start asking for tasks – with details – in writing. In short, I go into CYA mode, and make sure there’s a paper trail showing I did what was asked, and any late or incomplete projects were because the person in charge couldn’t make up their mind what the deliverable was supposed to be. I also tend to start looking for a new job, because nobody wants to work for someone who’s impossible to please. It’s just too damn stressful.
If it’s a personal relationship, I’ll quietly back off and fade out of their life. This person is a game-player. They need to be in a position of power, calling the shots and declaring the terms of engagement, and they like keeping people off-balance.
You’re never going to have an equitable relationship, because their fear won’t let them have one. No matter how much you might like them, they’re going to keep making you crazy and making you feel like you’re small and incapable of doing anything right.
They generally won’t come after you if you stop playing the game, because they’re not interested in people, they’re interested in pawns. If you’re no longer willing to entertain them by jumping through the shifting maze of hoops they create, they won’t miss you.