Robbing Peter to pay Paul – A liar's deflection technique | Rebecca Jane column

We’ve all heard the saying ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, the way in which potential criminals rob from the innocent to pay their debts.
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During my almost 10 years in investigation, uncovering thousands of unfaithful partners, we used the phrase to understand a different type of injustice. A classic liars bible and mantra for trying to get themselves out of a sticky situation.

I am sure most people have been in a situation where a liar stands in front of them and claims to be telling the truth. Elaborate stories and tales are often told, but then, they drop in some very unfortunate truth that puts themselves in a terrible light. The tale they spin sounds terrible and horrific. The person reading or listening to the liar’s tale of woe laps it up. Believes every word being said, because why on earth would they say anything that actually incriminates them, this must be the truth? Wrong. This is a classic tactic of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

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For example, I once had a client who spun three separate stories to his wife about the supposed affair he was having. The saga had gone on for 6 months, we had spent goodness knows how many hours following him and whilst we spoke with many people who confirmed the affair, co-workers, friends and some family, he carried on denying.

Rebecca JaneRebecca Jane
Rebecca Jane

The problem was, the small details that were coming out were undeniable. Our client knew the truth, but her husband's constant denial had left her with a gaslit and unstable sense of reality. The wife pleaded and begged him to just tell her the truth, she was happy to deal with whatever the truth was, she just couldn’t live with not knowing and the feeling of living absolute insanity.

Ultimately, after more truth came out, he had to admit there was an element of truth. The gentleman in question told his wife the fourth version of the story.

‘Yes, I did have an affair with the woman you think. We worked together, it was a difficult period of our life, I accepted one offer that was on a plate and regretted it ever since.’

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The gentleman went on ‘an apology tour’. He even went to see the family of his wife, and apologised for the hurt he caused their daughter. He hung his head in shame and expressed complete remorse. The wife and everyone he spoke with said ‘ah, this story must be the truth, why would he admit everything?’ Wrong, again. He robbed Peter, to pay Paul.

He told a small portion of the truth, littered with a couple of insignificant lies to make everyone believe THIS was the truth. ‘He has finally admitted it’ were the relief echoes from our poor client. The aim of his game was to get the people off his back, neutralise some of the damage and deflect from a far bigger, terrible picture.

After all we had heard and seen, we knew this serial liar was simply using a deflection tactic and we had far from heard the real tale of truth.

It wasn’t long before the wife was back on the phone to us, saying she didn’t believe the fourth round of nonsense and hired us all over again.

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Once Peter has been paid, and poor Paul has been robbed, the liar thinks they have bought themselves some time and space. They have deflected attention for long enough, and now they can go back to their old ways.

Three months later, the gentleman was back in the affair with his colleague and thankfully, this time we got the full evidence we needed.

It was a very difficult Easter Sunday when the wife launched the videos and evidence of her husband’s betrayal on the lunch table, surrounded by her family and friends. The room went up in a blaze of arguments and tragedy, whilst the husband started to claim to his father in law that he had been photoshopped into the video… Although when the dust settled, he did eventually come clean. He had been backed into a corner, and there were no lies left to tell.

We couldn’t blame the man for trying to lie his way through the episode, who wouldn’t? In the thousands of people we investigated, I don’t think one person ever entirely admitted the whole truth when they were confronted with it. The journey to the truth is long and incredibly painful. It’s not just painful for the aggrieved person, but for families, friends and especially children. Many people are casualties of an adulterous act, and they often get forgotten when the ‘apology tour’ and life reconstruction is underway.

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It is painful for the innocent people, but it’s painful for the liar too. Narcissism awareness has significantly grown since our time in the investigation industry, but serial liars and cheats have all the hallmark traits of a narcissistic character. In this case, the husband was also living his life in pain and constant fear. Every single motivation he had, for the words he used and the actions he took was coming from a place of selfish protection. He was protecting his home, access to his children, his finances, and most importantly how other people saw him. He didn’t want to be known as a cheat, or a liar. Not behind closed doors, or to the public. The shame of living with his actions was almost unbearable, the more he could deflect, the safer he felt.

The question remains, what do we do if a person is ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul?’.

I have often said in this paper that I don’t believe infidelity is the end of the world. Physical infidelity isn’t my issue, how that infidelity is dealt with is the problem.

Lives and people are changed forever by the way a person who has done wrong decides to handle the process. By continuously lying, robbing Peter to pay Paul and only telling a small portion of the truth, to deflect from their own embarrassment and shame damages third parties more than most people will ever be able to understand.

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5 years after our investigation, the wife had gotten over the physical infidelity, she didn’t get over all the lies she was told at the time. Almost 18 months of her life was wasted, traumatic and in my opinion, abusive. Today, she still struggles to trust anyone. Thankfully, she left her husband and moved on to a lovely gentleman who helped her restore a lot of the faith she lost in human nature, but she still has to work at trusting anyone, every single day. When her husband was lying to her face, protecting himself, he didn’t think about how he was creating long lasting damage in her that could last for the rest of her life.

To cheat on someone is one thing, but to damage that person’s ability to trust, for the rest of their life, should be criminal.

So the next time someone stands in front of you, and your gut instinct is still slightly nagging at you, ask yourself, ‘are they robbing Peter to pay Paul?’.