Excerpted from the book THE NORMAL BAR. Copyright © 2013 by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte. Published by Harmony, an Imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. The Normal Bar is the world's most extensive survey on romantic relationships, polling over 100,000 people and collecting over 1 million data points. The survey was conducted in 2011 using a powerful interactive survey tool called OnQ with the help of media partners The Huffington Post, Reader's Digest, AARP, iVillage, & AOL.
The Normal Bar data show us that even in good relationships, trust is shaky. Having complete and total confidence in a partner seems to be a struggle for most of us.
Do you trust your partner? Only 39% of women in this study completely trust their partners, compared to 53% of men. What’s wrong with this picture? Why the gender difference, and why the low levels of trust in general? It may be that a lot of couples intuitively know or have learned by experience that their spouse or live-in partner has the potential to rove.
Women in heterosexual relationships know the same thing that many studies have shown: that men are more interested in and titillated about sex outside the relationship, and that may account for a higher percentage of women who doubt their partner’s honesty and fidelity. On the other hand, nearly half of men suspect their partners, too. Both men and women believe that their partners will hide unpleasant truths, and that they may have to dig to find out what is really going on.
Have you ever lied to your partner? Nearly three-quarters of our respondents (75% of men and 71% of women) said they lie to their partners to one degree or another. Only 27% of our respondents said they never ever lie. Does lying negatively affect the quality of your relationship? Probably not. Even among extremely happy couples, 69% of men and women said they’ve lied at some point to their partners.
But the fact that very happy partners lie demands some further scrutiny. For most couples, some lying is necessary to keep the peace, to protect each other’s feelings, and to preserve a sense of safety in the relationship. The 27% who never lie may be righteous, but they can also be cruelly frank. Men and women who shade the truth may be more loving and protective. Even well-intentioned lies, however, can hurt the relationship if the truth that’s withheld is something the partner has every right and need to know. Knowing when a lie is reasonable and when it is reprehensible isn’t always an easy call.
Do you lie about your feelings? Relationships are supposed to be open, sharing, and honest. But 59% of men and 56% of women lie about their feelings. Half of all partners not only stifle their emotions but also give misleading feedback about what’s going on in their head and heart. As you might guess, people who are less happy lie the most. In fact, 72% of unhappy partners choose not to share their true feelings with their partners. Whether this emotional deception is a cause or an effect of the overall unhappiness, it makes it very difficult to fix the relationship. The surprising finding, however, is that 48% of extremely happy partners also lie about their feelings.
Do you lie about your partner’s sexual performance? Just as men are more likely to tell white lies about their partner’s appearance, women are more likely to flatter their partner’s sexual performance. We found that 43% of women lie about how they feel about their partner’s sexual performance, compared to just 28% of men. That’s probably not because women are better lovers but, rather, because they feel a greater need to protect their partner’s feelings. When a man feels insecure, he may have difficulty getting an erection, so it’s in his partner’s—as well as his—interest to boost his sexual self-esteem. The bad news here is that some honest communication has to take place; otherwise, nothing is likely to improve.
As you might imagine, sexually dissatisfied men and women lie almost twice as much (50%) as sexually satisfied partners (27%). If you talk openly and honestly with your partner about what isn’t working, you’re much more likely to achieve sexual satisfaction than if you salve your partner’s sexual feelings at the expense of your own pleasure. Lying may cause fewer storms, but also fewer orgasms!
Have you read your partner’s e‐mail? Privacy seems to be in jeopardy. More than half (54%) of women and 49% of men read their partner’s e-mail! It doesn’t matter if they’re happy or unhappy with their relationships, either. Anyone, it seems, can be tempted to sneak a peek at private messages.
It may be that a lot of couples keep their computers open and their e-mail accessible. However, that doesn’t constitute an open invitation. One man said, “I caught my girlfriend going through my e-mail and I went wild. How dare she do that! It just eroded any trust I had in her. We broke up over it. When I started dating Georgia [his wife] I told her about that incident because I wanted to make sure she knew how strongly I felt about my privacy.”
Have you ever lied about where you’ve been? A full half of all men and 36% of women said they sometimes lie about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing. One of these respondents explained, “I have to admit, I lie by omission a lot of the time. For example, I don’t tell Henry when I see my ex. He really doesn’t like him and I think he thinks I’ve still got a thing for him. I don’t, but I do want to keep a friendship going. So I either don’t tell Henry or I tell him I am with my girlfriends when I am really meeting my ex for dinner.”