Relationships: The Six Signs He's Lying (cont.)

As to why these guys do this --- I don't know. I suspect there is a strong strain of power/control motive operating here. Indeed, I'm inclined to see this as a form of intellectual abuse, so I think you can link it to a power/control desire.

WebMD: Do you have any idea how many people are affected by these men? Are we talking dozens ... or millions?

Caldwell: I have no quantitatively based method to estimate the number, but I suspect the cases run into the millions. I say that because it is rare for me to discuss this topic with any woman who doesn't claim to have been through an experience of romantic deception or who doesn't mention someone she knows who went through it. In short, I'm afraid this is one more "dirty little secret" about the way life gets lived in our society.

Member question: What is it that makes women so susceptible to these people?

Caldwell: I think women are vulnerable to lying the same way men are vulnerable. We're all vulnerable because most of us operate with a "truth bias" -- the assumption that people are telling us the truth unless we have evidence to the contrary. We're also vulnerable because we are socialized to tell the truth and socialized to be polite.

In fact, many people are socialized to hold truthfulness and honesty in such high regard that they can't imagine that they could ever end up in the company of a liar -- at least not in an intimate relationship. Besides that, the subtle rules of etiquette work against us. Someone tells you that he's divorced, do you say "prove it!"

Member question: Should I do a background check on the men I date before I trust them?

Caldwell: In my opinion, yes ... it is something you should do. How formal and detailed you want to be is up to you. But I think it is something that a prudent woman would do. I can tell you this, most of the women I interviewed are certainly of that opinion -- at least now they are.

Member question: Is this specific to men, or can women be romantic liars, too?

Caldwell: There's no doubt about it. Women can be romantic liars. In fact, I received several calls from men who wanted to tell me their stories ... stories about how they were deceived by women.

WebMD: Planning a sequel?

Caldwell: I'm thinking about it. I'm still collecting stories. I can't turn loose of it. So with more and more stories, the idea of a sequel is a natural.

WebMD: So, when you find out he's lying, what should you do?

Caldwell: Another really good question. It is natural for someone to want to confront a romantic liar -- the desire can be overwhelming. But you couldn't make a bigger mistake.

I would tell anyone to simply exit the relationship as soon as possible, saying as little as possible. It is safe to assume that some of these characters have some strong narcissistic tendencies. Let someone in that category know that you've caught them in a lie and you should take cover. Many romantic liars become very abusive when they are confronted.

WebMD: Let's talk for a moment about recovery. What can one do to pick up the pieces after this happens?

Caldwell: I have some pretty specific suggestions about that in my book -- suggestions that, in part, deal with the fact that the recovery from a relationship such as romantic deception can be very different from recovery from other relationships gone bad.

Probably the first thing a woman should do is find someone she can tell her story to -- a trusted friend, family member, therapist -- someone who will be very high on the trust level. It has to be someone in that category because that's what this is all about.

It is also very important that the woman realize that recovery won't be immediate. For all practical purposes, recovery from an experience of romantic deception can be similar to recovery from having spent time in a cult. There are many similarities between the tactics used by a romantic liar and classic brain-washing. Those are just some of the things I would emphasize. Remember -- romantic deception involves the alteration of perception. That is serious business.

WebMD: Any closing thoughts, Dr. Caldwell?

Caldwell: I guess I would just mention what I noted earlier -- namely that I'm afraid that this business of romantic deception is just another dirty little secret about the way life gets lived. We probably don't want to think about it too much, but I'm afraid that's just the way it is -- there's probably a lot more of this going on than we're willing to admit. I wish I could be more positive about the future on this, but the evidence won't let me.

Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, January 2002.

© 2005-2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.