Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
I saw a newspaper article this week about a couple who tried out a lie detector kit. Is that something you’d want to do with your partner?
I suppose the first question is whether such equipment is reliable – and I find it difficult to see how it can be, not 100% reliable. The equipment only needs to be wrong once – only needs to be theoretically fallible – for it to be worthless. The lie detector’s benefit – its selling point – is that it offers certainty. Rather than being unsure – is my partner telling me the truth or not? – we might turn to a lie detector to give us a definite answer. But in reality all we can do is add one uncertainty onto another. The question “Are my partner’s answers reliable?” remains, alongside the new question “Is the lie detector reliable?”
But leaving aside the question of whether the machinery is reliable, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is. It’s completely reliable. If it says your partner is lying, they are lying. Now, would you choose to use it? And what questions would you ask your partner?
If you are in a relationship where you trust your partner and feel secure with them, it seems to me that in using a lie detector you would be choosing not to trust your partner. Without the lie detector, you are happy, you believe your partner is honest with you, you feel secure. If you choose to use the lie detector, you have moved into a state of mind where you are unsure – you are opening up the possibility that your partner might be lying – you are already doubting them, even before you have hooked them up to the equipment. Why would you choose to do that?
I describe this as a choice – the choice not to trust your partner – but what if the doubt is already there? Suppose there are things that you don’t entirely trust your partner about? Then the lie detector might be a good thing – it might give you certainty rather than doubt, trust rather than distrust. It seems to me that this is part of an answer, but it needs to be approached with caution.
Pandora, according to Greek legend, had a box that contained all the ills of human life – a box which she disobediently opened. If there is a Pandora’s Box in your relationship, it may be best to open it and deal with what’s inside – the certainty may be better than the uncertainty – and you may even find that the box is empty, that there are no secrets within, that your suspicions are unfounded.
The trouble is, I think, that each Pandora’s Box tends to contain another box, and that in turn contains another, like an infinite series of Russian dolls. The questions never end on their own, they only end when you decide you’ve opened enough of these damn boxes. You may feel the need to open some of the boxes, and that may helpful and constructive, but at some stage you have to decide to stop.
But back to the lie detector – which questions would you ask your partner? What do you really want to know the truth about? I think the clever answer is that you should only ask the questions that you really want to know the answers to, whatever those answers might be. Trusting someone else is, I think, a choice, even if it doesn’t feel like one.