Somebody has to be the grownup

Once, many years ago, on another continent, I was working with a couple that was having serious marital difficulties. The wife was certain that her husband was not being honest with her as to where he was in the evenings. He was a military officer and it certainly was possible that he would have to work through dinner and not return home until late, but she didn’t believe him.

She had a couple of friends, wives of other officers, and just as patients in a waiting room end up trading symptoms, well, one after the other decided that her husband also was lying about where he was and what he was doing if he didn’t get home on time.

The women, though, decided to check out their husbands, and so one evening, they followed one of the husbands as he left work. He went to a bar. They got out of their car and peeked into the bar, hiding behind doors and window curtains. They saw him talking to another man, having a couple of beers, talking to another man or two, and then get into his car. The women raced to the car they had come in so that the wife would be home when he got there. However, she had to drop off the other two wives before she could get home and so when she arrived home, her husband was waiting for her and asking where she had been.

I don’t know what she said, but some people never learn, because the next night the three women again followed one of the husbands. This time the man stopped in front of a home in the town near the Army base. They watched as he entered the house. They hid in the bushes with binoculars and one was able to see him sitting on a sofa watching a football game with another man. Finally, they left.

The three women continued their expeditions, trying in vain to trip up their husbands, not realizing that there was a basic lack of trust on both parts that was driving a wedge into all three of the marriages. These evening outings turned into fodder for lies and misrepresentations thus increasing the distrust and distance that were instrumental in bringing these men to go out without telling their wives in the first place. But, in my opinion, the women were making matters worse by carrying on in a rather infantile manner.

After all, the world isn’t like television. This isn’t “I Love Lucy” and it isn’t a soap opera. In the real world, following people and hiding in the bushes and making up stories to cover one’s tracks just doesn’t work. The “First Wives Club” is FICTION. Relationships are built on love and respect and honesty and integrity. Even if we think our spouse is being less than truthful, we need to maintain our own moral standards. We cannot allow someone else’s behavior serve as a justification for ours.

Often when couples are in conflict, one or the other will revert to infantile behavior such as lying, blaming, and sneaking around. I try to encourage the other person to be “the grownup.” As a matter of fact, I have frequently told wronged spouses, “Somebody has to be the grownup.” When one person is out of control, the other has to stay sane. If a calm discussion is impossible, then a third party might be needed to provide a safe atmosphere. Some people have a clergyperson or lay religious leader who can help. Some people see a marital therapist, but in some way, both spouses have to be able to speak honestly about their differences and misunderstandings instead of acting like sitcom or soap opera characters. And somebody has to be the grownup.

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