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Carolyn Hax: Covid-19 will one day subside, but lying is relationship cancer



At first my husband lied to me about seeing this family. After I found out, he said he won’t lie anymore but is going to do what he wants. He and his son are now spending several hours a day with this family, not social-distancing — driving in the car together, having them inside the home, etc.

I was doubting myself so I talked with a doctor, who assured me I am not being unreasonable or alarmist. She recommends having no non-socially-distanced contact with this family.

In order to protect myself, I have temporarily moved out and am not having any in-person contact with my husband or his son. Obviously this is not a long-term solution, but I don’t know what to do next.

I feel like this has uncovered deeper issues. Three days ago he promised he wouldn’t have anyone in the house, and I found out last night he in fact had one of the kids from this family inside. I don’t know how I can trust him. I am very concerned with what I’m learning about him, since he’s ignoring my concerns and not willing to take such steps to help me feel safe even if he doesn’t think it’s necessary himself. How do I move forward?

Disagree: You don’t even try to. Sometimes, not knowing what to do next is a step in itself: the one where you stay right where you are until you can envision what a sensible step after this one would look like.

You have some obvious information to work from — that you can’t trust your husband — and some less obvious.

The trust issue isn’t (just) that he won’t “take such steps to help me feel safe.” That’s not necessarily as black-and-white as you suggest — since, for starters, he could write a similar letter to complain you’re “out-of-control anxious and treating me as if I can’t make adult risk-assessments.”

Left to wing it, groups of Americans everywhere are wrestling with this exact same conflict and not coming to tidy solutions. Couples, roommates, co-workers, extended families, fellow shoppers. Forget that everyone’s risk tolerance is different — that’s complicated enough to reconcile — but in this case we’re all living the consequences of everyone else’s risk tolerances in a way most of us haven’t seen before (with the possible exception of Boston driving).

So while I won’t pretend his choices are at the responsible end of the scale, I will eagerly pretend covid will eventually stop running our lives and therefore disagreements on handling it don’t need to be partnership-enders.

Here’s the problem with your husband that would outlast this shining moment we’re in: His coping tactic for a significant disagreement is to tell you enough of whatever you want to hear so you’ll get off his back and he can resume doing whatever he feels like doing.

That lays bare such profound emotional immaturity that it’s a valid question whether you and he can have a marriage of equals again, now that you know what he’s about.

That is, unless one of two things happens: He recognizes how much evolving he has to do and then does it, or you decide you’d rather forgive this particular, fundamental frailty in him and stay married, as-is, than leave for good.

I don’t see the former happening given how far he seems to be from self-awareness — though lives take all kinds of surprising directions, so who knows. Wake-up calls schedule themselves. And it sounds as if you haven’t tried couples’ counseling yet, which exists to deliver the clinical version of one. To this point he still has room, as I framed before, to think he’s the one behaving reasonably in response to the virus.

I also don’t judge anyone who decides the latter, to stay married with full knowledge of trust issues. Do that, though, only if you can put enough conviction behind that decision not to hound him for past lies or live in fear of the next ones. Stay only if you trust yourself enough to be at peace with treating his words as frills and his deeds as the workable truth.

So you have some thinking to do. Fortunately, you also have room to do it, thanks to possibly the smoothest trial separation ever initiated — since you had no idea that’s what it was when it happened.

Put it to good use, please — to weigh if there was enough before to justify an after, given what you know now.

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