How to Deal With False Accusations in a Relationship

False accusations in a relationship are scary and heartbreaking; Knowing how best to handle it can be challenging.

If this has happened to you or someone close, here are helpful ways that might help ease the situation, as discussed by experts.

Isabelle Morley, PsyD

Isabelle Morley

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Make sure you understand what they’re claiming before you respond

Our instinct is to be defensive and angry when someone wrongly accuses us of something, but this response usually doesn’t help. In fact, it can actually make the person think that you did do something wrong and are trying to hide it or turn the tables on them.

So listen to what they are saying, no matter how upset they are and how unfair the accusation is. Ask clarifying questions if you need to, and make sure you understand what they’re claiming before you respond.

Empathize the accusation then speak your side

Even if the accusation is wrong and hurtful, your partner thinks that it’s true, and they are probably upset. It helps to lower their defenses and bring the conversation down to a calmer level if you start with some empathy.

For example, “I get that you think I lied about where I was last weekend, and I see how hurt and disappointed that makes you feel. I hate seeing you feel this way.”

Then, say your side: “When you checked my location, it showed that I was at my apartment because I ran out the door and forgot my phone at home. I did go to lunch with my friend, but didn’t have my phone with me, and that’s why my location looked like my apartment and also why I didn’t answer your text until later that day.”

Stand your ground

If your partner accuses you of lying to cover up what they think is the truth, it’s time to kindly but firmly stand your ground. Try to stay calm and grounded as you continue to reinforce the truth of the situation.

And don’t agree to anything you don’t feel comfortable with.

In a lot of my work, I hear partners demanding to see the other person’s phone, so they can look for evidence. If you don’t feel okay with them reading through your texts, don’t agree to have full access to your phone. If they can’t trust you without invading your privacy, you’ve got bigger problems.

If you’ve wronged them before, start explaining

If you’ve hurt your partner in the past, and especially if you then lied about it, you’ll need to do some more explaining. Your partner has a real reason not to trust you, and you may need to work to regain their trust.

For example, if you’ve cheated on them before and they accuse you of doing it again, you might need to have that friend confirm you were at lunch that afternoon.

Discuss any trust issues

If your partner continues to accuse you of something you didn’t do, it’s time to have a more serious discussion about trust in your relationship.

  • Do they have a reason to think that you lied? Or were they lied to in their previous relationships, and now they assume the worst in their partners?
  • Are there underlying instabilities or insecurities in your relationship that need to be addressed?

Healthy relationships don’t involve recurring false accusations, and if it becomes a frequent event, you’ll either need to restore some baseline trust or decide if this is a relationship that is going to work for you.

Mariell R. Lehman

Mariell Lehman

Attorney and Partner, Smith Lehman, PC

Yes means no?

“She (or he) said yes!” Normally those words are associated with the joyous announcement of an engagement, but in our line of work, those words have a very different and gut-wrenching meaning. They are words exclaimed in defense of an accusation of rape.

“She said yes!”
“He asked me to!”
“I’m very careful not to pressure anyone into anything!”
“I would never rape someone!”

These are all things that we have heard sitting across from professionals and young people in our office. We have noticed a substantial increase in allegations of date rape over the last several years – especially with the increased popularity of dating apps and social media.

“Date rape” takes a few different forms but is most often used to describe an alleged sexual assault on someone who the alleged perpetrator is sleeping with, dating casually, or in a relationship with.

More often than not, we find that these alleged incidents involve the consumption of alcohol or drugs by one or both people, a sexual act, and buyer’s remorse – feelings of regret for engaging in the sexual act. We have also seen allegations in cases where the accuser is in a relationship with someone else and doesn’t want to get caught cheating.

They’d rather falsely accuse someone of a serious crime than accept responsibility for their drunken, consensual actions.

There are, however, instances where an incident of date rape has actually occurred. In these situations, we find most often that both parties were under the influence and not aware that the other party could not consent. The laws of many states take intoxication into consideration and make clear that an intoxicated person is unable to consent.

In Michigan, for example, an intoxicated individual cannot legally consent. Therefore, if someone is accused of having intercourse with someone who was intoxicated at the time, even if the person said yes, the accused could be charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct Third Degree.

Most Michigan college and university campuses have policies related to intoxication as it relates to consent as well. The University of Michigan clearly defines the level of intoxication that would negate consent and result in a violation of Title IX.

The Police

Police: She [He] told us that she [he] told you to stop.
Accused: But, she (or he) consented!

Police: She [He] said that you raped her [him]. Why don’t you come in and talk to us about it so we can get your side of the story.
Accused: I didn’t rape her (or him).

Police: We will be investigating this and let you know when we’re done. For now, don’t contact her [him].
Accused: Why is this happening?!?!

Police: We have a warrant for your arrest.
Accused: My life is over!

Normally, the police will call you and say that there has been an accusation made against you. Then they ask if you will talk with them about it. They’ll tell you that you’re not under arrest but that they want to get your side of the story.

The pitch is very convincing, and most people think that there is no harm in talking to the police because they haven’t done anything wrong. The police count on this and will use their interrogation techniques to their benefit, not yours.

Often, our clients that have spoken to the police before retaining us have found that their words have been twisted and used against them. Sometimes our clients have even admitted to crimes without realizing it because they didn’t have the benefit of having an attorney to prepare them for the techniques that would be used.

Protect yourself – in as many ways as possible

The good news is that just because you are accused of something like this does not mean that your life is over. Here are some tips to protect yourself:

  • Don’t engage in drunk hookups – yes, we realize that this is unreasonable to many, but it is one of the best ways to ensure that neither party will claim they were too drunk or didn’t consent.

Know your state’s and campus’s laws and policies about consent as it relates to intoxication or incapacitation.

  • Keep your text messages – practically every person texts these days, and these can be incredibly helpful to paint a more accurate picture of events leading up to the alleged assault.

We cannot stress this enough. We have had numerous cases in which our client’s texts with the accuser painted a much more accurate picture of the events that led up to the accusation. In the majority of the cases in which this happens, our client is cleared of wrongdoing by the police, prosecutor, judge, or jury.

  • Don’t talk to the police without a lawyer – most lawyers would say don’t talk to the police. The truth is that sometimes it is necessary. However, an accused individual should never talk to the police without a lawyer.

You don’t know the techniques used by the police, but your lawyer does, or at least they should. Let your lawyer make the decision about whether or not you make a statement. If he or she decides that you will be making a statement, let him/her prepare you for what you are walking into.

  • Don’t hire a cardiologist to perform neurosurgery – this is something that we say to our clients a lot. None of us would have a cardiologist operate on our brains. That’s just ridiculous, right?

Regardless of the state you are in, sex crimes defense is an incredibly complex and unique area of law with immensely high stakes. For these reasons, you want a lawyer that focuses their practice on sex crime defense.

Carrie Leaf, MS, LMFT

Carrie Leaf

Psychotherapist | Life Coach | Hypnotherapist

Don’t add fuel to the fire

Your partner is likely already heated up, don’t add fuel to the fire. The minute that we raise our voices or go into defense mode is the same minute that we lose our ability to listen carefully, and your IQ drops.

When we are falsely accused, it might be our knee-jerk reaction to go into defense mode. This won’t help the situation.

In fact, if we get extremely defensive, it could lead our partner to believing even more so that we are guilty. In order to stay calm and regulate yourself, try to take a few long, deep breaths to slow down your central nervous system and buy the time to think before you speak.

Remind yourself that this isn’t fact, and it is your choice whether to get upset about the accusation or not. Your response could be a pivotal point in this discussion. The pause between the accusation and your response can make a world of difference so try your best to allow that space.

If you are struggling to deep breathe and regulate yourself, it might be best to ask for a minute to go to the bathroom or step outside for fresh air. If you decide to ask for this time, be sure to reassure your partner that you plan to come back and talk about this issue and that you are not avoiding it.

Kindly and calmly reassure your partner that the accusation is false

If you have information to back up your end, share that information in a kind and matter-of-fact way. A kind way to start off might be something like, “I am sorry that you are thinking and feeling this way, I assure you that…”

Pay close attention to your non-verbal cues and tone of voice

The expression on our face and our body language speaks volume and can also escalate or de-escalate a situation. Some Dont’s would include:

  • Do not raise your voice.
  • Do not cross your arms.
  • Do not move closer to your partner in an aggressive way.
  • Do not give a glare.
  • Do not roll your eyes.
  • Do not give a heavy sigh.
  • Do not look away disinterested.

Some Do’s would include:

  • Do face your partner
  • Do make eye contact
  • Do use a soft voice
  • If you move towards your partner – do it in a slow, gentle way

Ask your partner why they would think such information to be true

Most likely, this accusation did not come from nowhere, though it may feel that way on your end. Even if there was nothing that you said or did that led to this accusation, it could be a projection on your partner’s end. In other words, your partner could be projecting their fears and worries onto you and your perceived behaviors.

Perhaps your partner has an anxious/insecure attachment style that originated in their younger years, or perhaps your partner has been cheated on, lied to, abused, etc., in the past.

Projecting our “stuff” onto our partners happens all of the time. Maybe with curiosity, the two of you can gently explore where this accusation may have come from.

Have empathy

Let your partner know that you understand it must not feel good to have these thoughts and feelings and that you don’t want them to feel that way.

If you are able to have an open and honest conversation about where the accusation came from, this could lead to some really good vulnerability and connection between the two of you. Understanding, active listening, and forgiveness will be key here.

Ask your partner if there is anything that they need from you to help them through this situation. Maybe they just need a hug.

Joseph Gutheinz

Joseph Gutheinz

Former Commissioned Member of the Texas State Council on Sex Offender Treatment | Lawyer, Gutheinz Law Firm, LLP

It is best to either walk away or take precautions

I am a criminal defense attorney who has handled false kidnapping, sexual assault, aggravated assault, burglary, etc., charges filed by one unhappy partner against another to get leverage in a divorce, child custody battle, a property dispute, or simply out of spite.

I advise my clients dealing with such manipulative and vindictive partners to get on the bus Gus, and get your self-gone. Unfortunately, that advice is usually too late as a fictitious story has already been created and given to the police.

When dealing with a viper, it is best to either walk away or take precautions, such as meeting in public with witnesses present or otherwise documenting the encounter.

I once had a client charged with climbing into a girlfriend’s apartment window, raping her, and then kidnapping her. Pretty bad, right?

The government’s case began to fall apart when that “victim,” in the middle of the alleged kidnapping, walks into a store alone, buys cigarettes, and then walks out and drives the car away with my client in the passenger seat.

Fortunately, I was able to get the store video, and we prevailed.

In Texas, it is a third-degree felony to choke someone and, in the process, impede breathing. This is a charge that pops up quite a bit in child custody battles, and I have received several of these cases under those circumstances. Long story short, if you are in the middle of a child custody battle and this allegation is thrown in, the accused party likely will not get the kids. I have taken several of these cases to the grand jury and obtained N0-Bills on each.

Relationships can be the best thing that ever happens to two people or the worst, and you must be in a relationship before you learn which way it will turn out.

I was married when I was just 20 years old, and for me, it was a blessing. I love my wife today as much, if not more, than when I married her. Of course, like every couple, we argue over money, property, and kids, but the arguments were productive, nonviolent, and those arguments brought us closer together.

I have friends in my line of work who are bachelors, and seeing the seedy side of marriage, as I do now from the lawyer’s perspective, will never marry. I have told them that they have tunnel vision and that there are relationships out there that are worth the risk but to no avail.

It is 1:07 p.m. in the afternoon, and what have I already had to deal with:

  • One kid that accidentally shot another and they are both friends;
  • A man crying on the phone because his wife left him;
  • A couple who brought criminal charges against each other (mutual assured destruction);
  • A man and woman in a custody battle where criminal charges are suddenly brought by one against the other.

I remind my clients that before they were the worst of enemies, they were the best of friends and that a relationship need not end in a bang but with a handshake as both recall why they came together in the first place.

David Clark

David Clark

Personal Injury Lawyer Veteran | Lawyer & Partner, The Clark Law Office

You can file a case against the other person for libel or slander depending on how it was committed

In the case at bar, false accusation, even in a relationship, can be construed as a civil wrong. When your partner falsely accuses you and such accusation is made known to another, damaging your reputation in the process, then it constitutes slander or oral defamation.

If such an accusation is made in writing or published even on social media, it constitutes libel.

Even when such a false accusation is made by someone you are in a relationship with, it is still considered a civil wrong, and you can file a case against the other person for libel or slander depending on how it was committed.

Most states like California consider a false accusation or imputation of a crime as defamation per se or inherently damaging. In defamation per se, a damaged reputation is presumed without the need for proof. On the other hand, defamation per quod is considered as not defamatory on its face, so additional proof of damage is needed. In Michigan, a false accusation constitutes a misdemeanor.

You, as the plaintiff, have the burden of proving that there was defamatory negligence or that the defendant knew that the accusation or statement was false, that you were clearly identified, that there was an oral or written publication and that your reputation was damaged. The defendant can, however, claim the absolute defenses of truth and consent.

If you have been falsely accused in a relationship, make sure it is well-documented. Get a copy if it was published, and consult with a lawyer to protect your rights.

Dean Tong, MSc., CFC

Dean Tong

Forensic Trial Consultant, Abuse-Excuse | Master of Science Degree in Child Forensic Studies in Psychology and the Law | Author, “Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused

Be proactive in protecting yourself from false accusation

In the current climate with America’s paranoia and anxiety on steroids due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still living in a world of he-said-she-said. That means you’re one false accusation away from:

  • Possibly being arrested for a crime you did not commit.
  • Being prosecuted, convicted, sent to prison, and registered as a sex offender.
  • Losing your child(ren) to Child Protective Services (CPS) and possibly having your parental rights terminated.
  • Losing your job and having your story published offline and online.

Not to mention the financial, physical, and mental toll it may cause. So, it’s incumbent upon individuals within families, especially when separation, divorce, and/or a protracted child custody battle is forthcoming, to play Private Eye, in part. It will help protect your freedom, children, and sanity.

How does a person protect himself/herself in a relationship from a false accusation? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I’m a firm believer in being proactive.

  • Wear a body cam because you need accountability

However, before doing so, keep in mind to check the taping laws in your State with your Attorney (if you have one) before taping your significant other without their approval.

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  • Install mini-audio/video cams inside and outside the premises of your residence when your significant other is away at work, shopping, et al.
  • Install (even if you have to have an ASE-certified auto technician do so) the Zoombak GPS tracker underneath the family vehicle.
  • Create a Timeline (journal or chronology by dates/events in your computer) and note any different or unusual signs, symptoms, and/or behaviors of your significant other and your children. Most of my high-conflict Court battles involving false accusations involve kids.
  • Retain an Attorney who can practice in Criminal and Family Court and do so “for criminal interference purposes” to help prevent your arrest based on hearsay from your significant other and/or children.

Additionally, the Attorney can be proactive and contact CPS and the local District Attorney’s Office/Police Department to “forewarn” these decision-makers a complaint may be forthcoming.

  • Consider retaining Experts who can work with your Attorney and who can “psychologically and psychosexually” test the accused (de novo) to have empirical raw test data the accused doesn’t possess the propensity or penchant to be the monster the other adult or child(ren) may be or is/are painting you to be.
  • Provide a signed and notarized Affidavit to your Attorney accounting for where you’ve been, dates/times and places, and with whom.
  • Obtain Affidavits or references from your closest family members/friends (especially those who are Mandated Child Abuse Reporters like Physicians, Nurses, Therapists, Teachers, et al.) and provide the same to your Attorney.

Cheri Timko, M.S.

Cheri Timko

Relationship Coach, Synergy Coaching

“You’re cheating!”
“Why are you lying to me?!?”
“I know you took it!”

Being falsely accused in any context is a nerve-wracking experience. Being accused by your partner is even more difficult. It is a delicate situation, regardless of which type of accusation is being leveled against you. You need to be careful about how you proceed.

Ask good questions that give you more information

First of all, being falsely accused means that there is a problem, but it is often hard to tease out the root. It is important that you understand what the accusations are before you answer them. You will need to ask good questions that give you more information.

In order to ask good questions, you need to stay calm and curious. Whatever you do, don’t be dismissive or blow them off.

Be open and transparent in your response

Secondly, it is important that you are open and transparent in your response. Most of us want to jump to our own defense immediately. You need to explain exactly what happened and why. Particularly if there has been a history of actual wrongdoing, transparency and openness will help build trust.

Have an open conversation about why this is coming up

Thirdly, start an open conversation about why this is coming up. There are several options to consider:

  • Are you doing something that makes your partner uncomfortable?
  • Do you have different ideas about how to behave in the relationship?
  • Do either of you have earlier relationship injuries that this situation is tapping into?
  • Is the accusation related to a deeper problem such as trust, respect, or communication?

Once you understand what is going on, you will need to explore how to adjust the relationship to deal with that core issue. If you have tried before, it might be time to bring in a neutral third party such as a relationship coach or couples therapist who can help you bridge each of your positions.

Just remember, your calm reaction to these accusations are an investment in the future of your relationship.

Erica Cramer, LCSW

Erica Cramer

Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

Determine the source and validity of the false accusations

The first thing to do with false accusations is to determine their source and validity.

  • Are they coming from a place of insecurity?
  • A reminder of a betrayal in a past relationship?
  • Or a factual situation in the current relationship?

If they are coming from a lifetime battle of low self-esteem or scars left from a partner in the past, it is important to consider if you are okay dealing with the baggage this person brings to their relationship with you.

Related: The 32 Best Books on Confidence and Self-Esteem

If you are, it is essential to validate the accusations (the person has a legitimate reason for feeling the way they do based on their history or certain evidence) and honestly discuss the accusations with them.

If they are accusing you of cheating because you are always working late, acknowledge that you understand the situation from their perspective but assure them it is not the case.

Do not get angry, defensive, or come up with all sorts of excuses and stories

Simply remain calm and tell them the truth. Hopefully, that will suffice, and you can both utilize this as an opportunity for growth in the relationship.

If they are constantly falsely accusing you of things you aren’t doing, it may be time to take a more aggressive approach (such as individual therapy for them or couples therapy for both of you). As is the case with all relationships, it is important to constantly evaluate the progression of the relationship and whether or not it is healthy for you to be in it.

Kelly Lynch, LCSW, EMT, CPT, PN-1

Kelly Lynch

Licensed Social Worker, Turning Point Wellness | Personal Trainer | Nutrition Coach | Life Coach

Understand the difference between something being about you vs. something being directed at you

As painful as false accusations are, and as much as the pain they create causes you to want to defend yourself, it’s not about you. False accusations are a representation of who the accuser is as they move through the world.

This can include people who struggle with trust, who tend to reject others before they themselves can be rejected; it can include people who struggle with self-worth, or at the extreme end, people who are abusive and engaging in gaslighting behavior.

When you know you are being falsely accused of something, it’s important to understand the difference between something actually being about you versus something being directed at you.

Something is only ever about you if it directly relates to the behavior you have actually engaged in, which impacted the world around you. Something being directed at you is typically a reflection of the person accusing you of the falsehood and where they’re at in their own lives.

It’s a projection of their own pain.

That being said – even if you recognize that the false accusation isn’t actually about you, but rather the other person, it’s still appropriate, healthy, and acceptable to set clear boundaries and expectations and to hold them accountable for their behavior.

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

I highly recommend the book “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz for these types of topics.

Dr. Marie Murphy

Marie Murphy

Relationship Coach | Podcast Host, “Your Secret is Safe with Me”

Listen, ask clarifying questions, and see if you can respect their concerns without agreeing with them

Sometimes, even wonderful people who are generally quite reasonable get an idea in their head and can’t let go of it, and when this happens, they may accuse us of doing something they think we have done that we have not done.

It can be completely bewildering and frustrating to be falsely accused. We may be inclined to get angry at our accuser, become defensive, start to wonder if our partner trusts us about anything, or question the viability of the entire relationship.

Here’s the deal: sometimes people get strange ideas in their heads and latch onto them, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or with you. (An ongoing pattern of false accusations is another story and might be worthy of serious concern).

If you can listen to your partner’s accusations calmly without reacting, that alone may go a long way in defusing their concerns. Getting defensive right away won’t help anyone feel better.

Listen to them, ask them clarifying questions, and see if you can respect their concerns without agreeing with them. Give them the chance to say what they want to say. You might want to emphasize that you care about their feelings and want a trusting relationship (if these things are true).

Then, ask them if it’s okay for you to share your side of the story. Then do so, as calmly as possible.

They may be agitated, and you may feel agitated by being accused of something you didn’t do. But there’s still a tremendous opportunity for you to de-escalate the situation by staying calm and reasonable, even if the entire thing seems totally unreasonable to you.

People get confused at times, after all. We’re humans! We believe crazy stuff sometimes. It’s important to remember that to help keep things in perspective.

Elliott Katz

Elliott Katz

Coach | Speaker | Author, “Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man

It may be a sign to end the relationship and get going

Being in a relationship with someone who makes false accusations is a sign of a toxic relationship. If you’re with someone who has made false accusations against you — it is a sign to end the relationship and get going.

You’re entitled to be in a relationship with someone who has integrity. A person who makes false accusations does not have integrity.

If the person has already made false accusations against you before and you are still with that person, ask yourself: Why are you still there?

Why don’t you think you are entitled to someone who has integrity, respects you, and doesn’t make false accusations? It may be helpful to seek therapy on why you think you are not entitled to someone who has integrity.

If you are beginning a new relationship, listen to how your new partner talks about past relationships.

Did they make false accusations against previous partners? This is a big red flag. You may think you’re different, and they won’t make false accusations against you, but you may eventually be surprised. That person’s false accusations may cause a lot of trouble in your life.

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