Friday, February 9, 2018

Spousal Disloyalty

Fortunately for her, S. C. did not write to Ask Polly about her problem. She wrote to Philip Galanes of the New York Times, an etiquette columnist who most often offers sensible and correct advice.

The issue is spousal loyalty. S. C. was disloyal to her spouse and does not seem to understand it. If so, she does not understand what it means to be in a marriage. She is acting as an independent, autonomous individual… which means that she might soon get her wish. Not only was she disloyal, but she has refused for eight years to acknowledge her error and to apologize.

As you know, couples counselors tend to believe that bad sex and poor communication ruin marriages. For my part I suspect that ethical failings, like spousal disloyalty, are more often to blame.

Examine her letter:

My husband and I fought (again) today about something that happened eight years ago, when we were newly married. He was devastated that I tried to have a cordial relationship with his ex-wife (who wronged him). He felt betrayed that I didn’t mirror his feelings toward her, and abandoned by my attempts to create a workable relationship for their children. Frankly, I can no more apologize and have a hand-holding cry with him than fly to the moon. I am emotionally detached, and he is wildly demonstrative. How to bridge this gap?
Obviously, she had no business being on cordial terms with her husband’s ex-wife… especially if her husband did not want her to do so. He considered it a betrayal because it was a betrayal. She has been incapable of seeing the error of her ways and he continues to be furious at her. As you can see, this marriage is in serious trouble. And the fault lies with the wife who felt that she should be able to do what she wanted, regardless of what her husband thought. We do not, of course, know why the husband’s first marriage broke up. We do not know how acrimonious the divorce was.

Evidently, S. C. is in a hole and keeps on digging. Galanes attempts to offer her a way out. By his analysis, it was not her call. She did not have the option to do as she pleased when dealing with her husband’s ex. It was his call and she does not seem to understand the point… eight years late. One suspects that she is some kind of ideological zealot.

I concur with Galanes’s advice, and believe that it’s basically her last chance:

No, he’s distraught because you are not (and I suspect, never were) sorry for your behavior. Any apology you made would be unsatisfying. You feel no actual remorse.

Instead, you made a pragmatic call about the best way to deal with his ex-wife. (You rationalize it still, and I may agree with you.) But deciding how to interact with his ex, early in your marriage, was mostly your husband’s call. You robbed him of that choice, probably accidentally, but you seem not to have acknowledged your mistake.

Give him his due now. Say, “I’m sorry I overstepped with Susan, and even sorrier for dragging my heels in apologizing sincerely. I promise that I have your back.” If that’s too “demonstrative” for you, get yourself to a therapist. But if you make an honest go of it, you may be amazed at how nicely your different temperaments align.

Dare I say that he is more optimistic than I am? And yet, he is offering advice, not writing a blog post, and, in truth, he ought to cast his advice in a more optimistic tone… the better to persuade her to take it… before it is too late. I suspect that they are close to that point, already.


Ares Olympus said...

Perhaps this is probably a reason I'm not married. I don't believe in controlling a spouse, and I'd expect her to not try to control me. OTOH, the word "control" in cases like this is always an exaggeration, so the correct interpretation should be "request".

If my spouse makes a request of me, that I don't befriend someone they don't like, I want a very detailed explanation, stronger than "This makes me uncomfortable."

I imagine the answer will be something like "I'm afraid she's going to tell lies about me." And then the answer should be "If she says anything unkind about you, I'll give you a chance for a rebuttal, and I'll put your word higher than hers, until I find out otherwise.

That would be loyalty to me. Its scary, but it works if you have a security personality and a clear conscience. (Oops, I'm short on both accounts, which is why I need people to not be too loyal to me!)

Jack Fisher said...

AO, I suspect you don't have much, meaning any, experience with women.

Redacted said...

Ares Olympus said...
"Perhaps this is probably a reason I'm not married..."

I have a different theory.

Sam L. said...

"... my attempts to create a workable relationship for their children." I'm wondering if the ex has them, or the husband has them, and why wouldn't he want the children to not be fought over.

Jack Fisher said...

Fish, meet barrel.

Sam L. said...

A.O., I'm guessing that means Too Much experience, most-to-all of it bad. Is bummer, Tovarich.

parent said...

My wife's sister was gossiping to my mother in law about problems my oldest son was having (severe psychosis which caused him to later take his life). My mother in law would then call my wife and berate her and she would reduce her stress by berating me. I asked my sister in law to stop hurting our family. She, a lawyer said, "I will take it under advisement" I replied that if the situation were reversed and that I had hurt her family I would be very repentant and immediately stop. The lawyer sister blew up. Several weeks later I mentioned to my wife that I had an interaction with her sister. My wife replied, "I just assumed you were in the wrong." I stayed because my son was severely ill and for the other 2 kids, but I no longer trust my wife further than I can throw her 168 lbs.