Dear Dr. Romance: 

I was married at the age of 21, was married for 7 years, separated from my spouse a little over a year ago, and I'm in the process of divorce.  I dated various people shortly after separation, but I was lost, broke some hearts, and simply didn't know what I wanted. I found a really nice guy and we dated for several months, but it ended badly because of dishonesty on my part from the start of the relationship (prior to being official). I still have strong feelings for this person, and I want to  find myself and to better understand any underlying issues that have caused me to make mistakes in the past.

Dear Reader:

It sounds like you're taking responsibility for your dishonesty, which is a good start. There is probably a way to make it up to your guy, and have a good chance of working it out with him. 

There are good reasons to lie to a partner (no, dear you don't look as if you're getting older) and bad reasons (I have no idea how that happened to the car.)    The trick is to know which you're doing.  Telling the truth is not always easy, and, in rare cases, not wise.  But, we should all learn how to do it, and know when to 'fess up, and when to keep your lip zipped. 

Usually, the betrayal involved in finding out a secret is more damaging than what happens when you tell the truth. 

Any secret, even a simple little one, can damage trust when it comes out.  If your partner didn't know you were lying (or keeping a secret) then he or she won't trust you about anything after your secret is out.  Even very personal secrets, such as a past rape or abuse, or some way you got in trouble early on, are better shared than kept secret. Low self-esteem can be what causes you to keep secrets to make yourself "look better" to your partner.  

Lying to your partner about whether you have broken an agreement does more damage than breaking the agreement.  If you slip up, tell the truth and know how to make an effective apology.

Apology and subsequent forgiveness is stress-releasing, and healthy for the relationship, as well as healthy for the partners. Relationships which include healthy apology and forgiveness are less stressful, more supportive, and therefore healthier and happier for the individuals within them.

Here are 4 Steps to an effective apology:

1. Surrender to your responsibility. When you become aware that you have made a mistake, admit it and apologize. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. You don’t have to be afraid of punishment or rejection – apologizing makes it easier to be forgiven.

2. Don’t be afraid to admit you're wrong. This fear comes from a culture of blaming and accusing -- where your early family or schoolmates may have picked a "culprit" when something went wrong, and focused on blame, rather than on fixing the problem and healing the hurt. Don’t approach every situation as if you're on trial, and don’t compulsively try to convince everyone you're not guilty. Apology and subsequent forgiveness is stress-releasing, and healthy for the relationship, which turns out to be healthy for the participants in the relationship. Relationships which include healthy apology and forgiveness are less stressful, more supportive, and therefore healthier for the individuals within them.

3. Follow the following pattern for apology:
* Admit your mistake: Speak directly to the person to whom you need to apologize.
* State what you did (so the person knows you’re aware)
* Say you’re sorry
* Do a re-take: Describe what change you’ll make to fix it, and so it won’t happen again
* Say “I hope you can forgive me.”

4. If that doesn’t work, ask the other person what he or she wants you to apologize for (in case you misunderstood your mistake)

"Apology and Forgiveness"  and "The Nail in the Fence" will give you more information on healing the relationship.  It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction will help you understand what underlies your temptation to be dishonest.

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Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.