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My ex-spouse constantly lies. What should I do?

Dear Dan,

My Ex and the father of my 5 year old son lies about everything. That is a huge part of why we split. He wants to see his son and I do not want to stand in the way but I can not trust him at all. He will tell me he needs to drop our son off at a certain time so he can go to work and then I will find out he wasn’t at work. I find it very difficult to let my son go with someone I can not trust. We have agreements about things like NOT SMOKING in the house while he is there and he does it anyway. When asked about it he tells me he doesn’t.

I am not sure if I am being too controlling or what but I hate this. He has a habit of dating girls that are 15 to 20 years younger than him and so I have asked him not to use our son to further these relationships that last about 3 months. He sends them video mail of our son telling them hi and so forth. I have also now asked that he not introduce him to these girls unless it is serious because there have been quite a few that my son has met and started to like and then they disappear from his life and I do not think that is healthily for him. Please help me figure out how to deal with all this because I am at a loss.

Thanks, Tired of Lies

The Real Dave
The Real Dave

I doubt confronting or having a "meeting" with this guy is going to accomplish anything useful. He'll likely just deny everything and make it look like she's the problem, not him. Compulsive liars don't know why they lie and often don't care, it's just a way of life for them. That being said, there is little she can do unless his behavior becomes detrimental to their child's physical or emotional well-being. The smoking inside the house may or may not be something she could use if it became a custody issue. Otherwise, the best she can do is uphold her own principles in front of their child, get ALL agreements in writing with her ex, and generally let the child decide on his own who has more integrity, as he gets older.


The advice given in the comment section is SO true! I just finalized a divorce with my ex-husband earlier this month and he was actually diagnosed as a compulsive liar. It totally destroys the trust in the relationship and in a lot of other arenas. I have a three year old little boy and it is SO difficult to get things through to him! It sabotages so much. And I've been having conversations and trying to get the heart of why he lies since almost the very beginning of our marriage. Every time I thought I got through I really didn't. He would be back to lying within the week. From trivial things like when a stores closes to spending nearly 800 dollars on a phone and telling me he 'won' it because he didn't want to talk to me about and have me talk him out of it! When I found the bank statement and confronted him about it he came up with ANOTHER lie to try and get out of taking responsibility for his actions : / Gah! It is so extremely frustrating! I have tried really hard to co-parent with him (which is harder because he is in a different state). But even that oftentimes is fruitless. He doesn't call when he says he's going to, doesn't come up to visit when he's going to and doesn't see why I object. Finn (my son) gets really upset when he thinks he's going to be able to see him and then doesn't and it kills me to see his face and know there's not really much I can do to make it better but hug him and tell him things will be okay : /

I really don't think that Tired of Lies is trying to control everything. I think she's just trying to stay sane and trying to protect her son as best she can. (((((Hugs)))))) to you Tired of Lies - I completely understand where you're coming from!


My ex is a compulsive liar also. We did talk about it at length, and from what I can gather the reason he lies about things is to avoid getting in trouble. He grew up in a very abusive home and the consequences for doing anything "wrong" were pretty harsh. I tried to explain that he's in his 40s now and the consequences for his actions are not going to be the same as when he was 5 or 10 or 15. He agreed and seemed to realize that lying wasn't going to solve anything. A week later, he was acting as though we had never had that conversation. It could take many years to figure out the "why," but all we as adults in these folks' lives can really know is how the lies affect us directly, and how they impact our children. I've heard our 8-year-old daughter say to her dad, "You'd better not be lying." And yet he still does, to me and probably to everyone in his life. This is his choice. It's not my responsibility to get him to stop, and there is no way I could get him to stop even if it were. He will have to live with his own decisions, and see (if he can) how they affect those around him. My ex also blames everyone else in the world for his own behaviors and never thinks he does anything wrong, so his ability to accurately judge himself is minimal at best. To me this is a sad way to live, and it was beyond frustrating being his spouse. I can only hope that someday he will snap out of it and have some accountability for himself, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen. My advice to anyone having to deal with someone like this is to get everything in writing - especially custody arrangements, so the liar can't go on saying "I never said that" or "we didn't agree to that," etc.


Dan, I think you are expecting a level of self-awareness that the compulsive liar may not have. He may not know why he has to lie. Or he may not be able to put it into words. Why may not be as important as you think because this behavior probably is not going to change. So the important thing is to figure out how you can deal with it without going crazy. (Also, why are there so many bold words? It is distracting. A little thing, I know.) I love your work, Dan. Keep it up.


I have to disagree with this advice. My ex is a compulsive liar, among other things, and I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old who have to spend time with him. As much as Dan compares it to white lies, compulsive liars are a far different kettle of fish. It is my experience that trying to do anything to deal with it only makes it worse.

It's not going to feel good at first, but my advice is to let it go. You will be happier. You are hurting yourself by worrying about things that are out of your control, and that will get worse as you try to interfere. Even though it seems like your son is being harmed, learning to deal with the lies will be good for them in the long run. Teach him what to do about liars in general (NOT specific to his father), let him work his own way through figuring out that his dad lies.

Above all, I wouldn't try to co-parent with him at all. Co-parenting requires a level of trust that does not exist in your relationship. Just cut the parenting off at the exchange. The way your ex does things is his business, the way you do things is yours. If you try to tell him how to live his life, he'll just feel free to interfere in yours. And your child will be the victim of bad dynamics.