The Nightmare of a False Accusation
You’re at a restaurant and your partner accuses you of being attracted to a man or woman sitting nearby. There has been distance in your relationship and your partner accuses you of having an affair. You’re late for a date and you’re accused of being irresponsible. Hearing such things, you’re left reeling and feel powerless to respond.
Some accusations are more consequential than others. Being falsely accused of a crime is an Orwellian nightmare of unimaginable proportions. The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States has been estimated to be between two and ten percent, which means between 46,000 and 230,000 of an estimated 2.3 million prisoners have been falsely incarcerated.
In this article, I want to explore how to respond when you’re being falsely accused in a love relationship.
Due to our longing to be seen and understood, we experience the pain of being exiled when we’re falsely accused. A partner’s anxious, insecure attachment might trigger a tirade of accusations that we’re having an affair or that we’re meeting secretly with a former lover. It can be maddening and exasperating to be accused of something we’re not doing.
An anxious or insecure attachment style means we don’t feel secure in a relationship. This might be due to a past betrayal of trust in the relationship — one that still needs time and attention to heal. Or, it may be due to past attachment injuries if we didn’t feel safely connected with our caregivers growing up.
We might be living with the narrative that people cannot be trusted, or that they will inevitably stray just like a parent might have done, having had affairs that created chaos in our lives. Never having felt well-loved and securely bonded with a parent, we might view the world through the lens of not feeling worthy or deserving. Sadly, we might have a habitual tendency to look for evidence that confirms our narrative that a secure relationship isn’t possible for us.
It’s easy to find evidence that confirms one’s worst fears. If your partner is accusing you of things you’re clearly not doing, here are some possible ways to respond.
First, it is important to be honest with yourself. This article assumes that you are indeed being falsely accused. If you’re being rightly accused, then there’s a need to acknowledge the truth to yourself and deal with reality rather than offering crazy-making reassurances.
Acknowledge Any Kernel of Truth in the Accusation
Perhaps you’re not having an affair. But don’t be so quick to profess your innocence. There may be something your partner is picking up on that is being imperfectly expressed. Maybe you’re not looking at a person in a restaurant in a sexual way, but nevertheless found someone attractive or interesting, which may be harmless enough, but which may need to be discussed in a mature way.
Or perhaps you’re becoming emotionally connected to another person in a way that is impeding your connection with you partner. If so, it is more understandable how your partner might leap to an untrue conclusion, yet one that makes some sense. If this is happening, you might benefit from therapy to get clearer about your priorities.
If you’re being falsely accused of having an affair, perhaps your partner is voicing in an imprecise way the distance that he or she is feeling in the relationship. Maybe the kernel of truth is that the relationship is at risk due to the lack of connection and communication. If true, then perhaps you can acknowledge that you’ve been inattentive to the partnership, allowing it to languish from neglect.
Heartfelt communication may be needed to repair the distance. This might include finding the courage to voice what you’re missing in the relationship or ways you’ve been feeling hurt, afraid, or neglected.
Listen to the Underlying Fears and Insecurities
You’re not having an affair, but maybe your partner is feeling insecure in the relationship. One possible response might be something like: “I think I’m hearing that you’re feeling afraid that I’m having affair. I want to reassure you that I’m not… and I wonder if there’s something you’re needing from me to feel more secure in the relationship.” Or maybe: “I think you’re picking up on my feeling distant lately. I think you’re right.” Then share what has been stressing you or preoccupying you, while reassuring your partner that you love him or her and want to make more effort to show it. Then follow through!
Remember Who You Are
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when being falsely accused is who you are. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by how you’re being viewed. It is challenging to affirm your dignity and value even if you’re not being seen accurately by your partner right now.
Remember that your partner is in pain. It may or may not have much do with you. Do your best to listen without getting so defensive.
If it’s difficult to resolve this, it may be time to invest in couples therapy to help you hear each other and sort out underlying issues. If your partner is not willing to do that, and your reassurances keep falling flat, it may be time to see a therapist yourself to sort out how it might be best for you to proceed.
Grisham, J. (2018, March 14). Commentary: Why the innocent end up in prison. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-innocent-prisoners-innocence-project-death-row-dna-testing-prosecutors-0315-story.html
Catlett, J. (n.d.) Anxious attachment: Understanding insecure anxious attachment [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychalive.org/understanding-ambivalent-anxious-attachment/
Amodeo, J. (1994). Love & Betrayal: Broken Trust in Intimate Relationships. New York, New York: Ballantine Books.
Amodeo, J. (2018). The Nightmare of a False Accusation. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-nightmare-of-a-false-accusation/