The first, a self-described happily married woman, had a one-night stand with an old friend. Now, in the light of day, she is consumed by guilt. She cannot shake the feeling that she has betrayed a man that she loves.
Apparently, she has convinced herself that she will feel less guilty if she explains it all, openly and honestly, to her husband, and if she then promises never to do it again.
Somehow, somewhere she has gotten the impression that open and honest communication is the key to marital bliss.
And she is about to turn this very bad idea into some very bad behavior.
So, she asks Yoffe to help her to figure out the best way to break the bad news.
As I would have expected from one of my favorite advice columnists, Yoffe offers the best advice. She advises the woman not to tell her husband.
Yoffe has been in the advice business for quite some time and she-- as I-- has heard of the horrors that such a confession can visit on a good marriage.
There is a great virtue to learning how to keep a secret. Telling all is a form of verbal incontinence. It should not be encouraged in the name of open and honest communication.
Strictly speaking, it is impossible to share everything. Learning to have enough self-control to keep certain things to yourself will build your character and make you a better person.
In truth, people who pretend to be open books are not very attractive. They are oppressive.
When someone confesses all to you, you impulse as an ethical being is to reciprocate. If you would rather not divulge some of your secrets, you will be placed in an uncomfortable position. You will feel torn between the need to maintain balance in the conversation and your decision not to share certain secrets with that person.
Where is this advice-seeking married woman going wrong? Simply put, she cannot see beyond her own struggle with her own guilt. She has not thought about how her husband might react to the news.
Confession might be good for the soul, but only if it is practiced with a trained confessor. You should not take your spouse as your confessor.
To regain her moral footing, this woman should ask herself how her husband might interpret her unwelcome news?
And she needs to understand, as Yoffe suggests, that if her one-night stand is not, presently, an issue in her marriage, once she confesses it will become the central issue.
Does she have a reason for making it an issue between her and her husband?
If hers was merely a singular mistake, one that had no relevance to her marriage, then the best way to ensure that it does not come between them is to forget that it ever happened. If she tells her husband he will never forget and probably never cease reminding her of it.
If she tells her husband, he will start thinking: Why is she telling me this?
He will feel betrayed, and he will feel, quite reasonably, that the woman he married, the mother of his children, cannot be trusted.
If he did not suspect anything, he will start asking himself how many other times she deceived him. And he will start wondering how many other people know about it. In who else's eyes should he feel humiliated? Is he the last to know?
All of this will cross his mind before he even gets to thinking about whether or not his children are really his.
What possible reason could she have to confess? Is she looking for a way out of the marriage? Is she afraid that he might hear the news from someone else? Or does she want him to punish her for her transgression?
As Yoffe suggests, nothing good or positive can ever come from confessing infidelity.
In the same column Yoffe addresses a problem that is very similar to this one, even though it is quite different.
Another married woman-- she does not say she is happily married, but does say that she loves her husband-- writes that she has developed a wild crush on her married boss, a man who is old enough to be her father and who has grown children. The two work and travel together.
As of now, she has not acted on this crush, but since she describes her feelings as extreme and dangerous and overwhelming, she would clearly be powerless to resist if, as she puts it, her boss were a lesser man.
She also informs us that her husband is not doing well at work himself and has been somewhat depressed.
Since depression is often associated with diminished libido, it would not be strange to imagine that this woman would find herself attracted to an older, more successful man, a man whose libido is not waning.
She does not tell us what her husband does for a living or whether he is of the same socio-economic status as her boss. We are left to suspect that the boss has higher status, higher income, and more prestige and authority.
As it happens, her husband suspects that she has a crush on her boss, but she has deflected him by saying that her boss is so old that she cannot be attracted to him.
But, how can you have a crush on someone you say is not really very attractive?. Isn‘t that a contradiction?
Clearly, this husband does not want to know anything about his wife’s crush.
I would infer, without any further information, that this woman’s husband only wants to know whether or not she is going to leave him. Given that his own libido is less than it should be, he seems to be willing to accept that she might develop feelings for a man who is more of a man than he is.
Why then would this woman want to tell her husband something that he does not want to know? And what advantage would she gain by failing to respect his wishes?
She says that she would like her husband’s advice, even though she knows that he is the last person she should ask for advice.
But, if she tells her husband that she has fallen in love with another man and that the feelings seem to be reciprocal, she is not really treating him like a husband or a lover. She is treating him as a therapist or confessor.
Some might say that she is trying to show her husband that he had best get his act together. His moping around and refusing to treat his depression is alienating her.
But then, will the news be a morale stimulant for a depressed man or will it be a mortal blow to his self-respect?
She says that she wants to keep her job, but if she tells her husband about her feelings, how then can she go off on another trip with her boss? Confessing to her husband might well doom her career.
Or, look at it in a different way: Is she asking to be admired for her restraint or asking for permission to act on her feelings?
When a woman tells her husband that she is in love with an other man and that he loves her, the conversation most often spells the end of the marriage.
Might she be testing the waters with her husband, perhaps to see how he would react to her leaving him? And if the conversation precipitates a discussion of divorce, would she then mention it to her boss to see if he too might want to get a divorce to be with her?
While the first married woman seemed committed to her marriage, this woman does not.
Still, Yoffe gives her the best advice. She tells her not to mention it to her husband, but to talk it over with someone who will listen to her in a professional capacity.
I also like her suggestion that the crush she feels for the boss is more like a test of character than a desire that needs to be acted upon.
I think the advice correct even though I also believe that this woman seems to be looking for a way out of her marriage. If that is true, then Yoffe is quite correct to refuse to collude.
If this married woman chooses to have an affair or to end her marriage, it is not for any advisor to push her toward the exit.
As it happens, we do not know whether this woman has children. I suspect that she does not because she did not mention them.
Perhaps she has not had children through a ten-year marriage because she and her husband do not want to have any. Or else, she may not have wanted to have his children? Or perhaps, given the problems at her husband's job, she might be facing the prospect of being mother and breadwinner.
Apparently, when it comes to skills at providing, her boss would do much better than her husband.
How would the situation be different if she is telling the truth about the fact that her boss is too old for her to feel attracted to him physically, but that she is really saying that she is attracted to his status, his prestige, his authority, and his financial solvency?
If that is true, she may well be trying to engineer a double divorce and a new marriage. Can you think of any other reason to confide in her husband?