What is the mature thing to do?

I discovered an e-mail from my wife to a man she is involved with. Should I confront her?


Cary Tennis
March 19, 2003 1:33AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I have been married for 13 years. We have had our ups and downs, but this past year has been particularly hard. Last June my wife took our 12-year-old son on a trip around the world. Yes, it sounds great, unless you are in my shoes, with a job and unable to join them except at a few times during the year. I was laid off and spent two months with them at the end of the year. It was tumultuous, and I came back in January to start a private law practice.

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Now to the question. We have been e-mailing off and on. I sent her an e-mail I regretted sending. I knew her password and decided I would get into her account and delete it. When I did I discovered she was e-mailing someone she met and was involved with him. My question is, do I let her know I know or do I keep my mouth shut? Yes, I am shattered. I sit and wish this is a passing thing and we'll be back together, but at the same time I think I have to wake up and face reality. If I tell her I know, is that just my way of getting back at her? I don't want to do anything that is nothing more than an excuse for pushing my feelings on someone else, yet I want to be honest with her and with myself. I guess what I am really asking is how to be a mature adult.

Mature?

Dear Mature,

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There is much that is not being said here. I feel as though you and I are speaking in the dark; you are pointing a flashlight at a little snapshot of you, your wife and your son and saying, "What do I do?" And I am trying to see around the edges of the photograph. I am feeling my way around the room. I know that in this room there are mementos of a life, both objects from the past and things used every day. A diary sits on the table; a broken snowshoe hangs on the wall; in the corner is a leg cast; over the door is a mask from a Halloween party. Why do I see all this when I picture you? What is that snowshoe all about? Have you been walking across frozen ground lately? And what of the leg cast? There's been an injury lately, in this very room. And you have pulled the curtain so it is dark and all you want to show me is this little photograph.

Perhaps you have the lawyerly habit of revealing only what you must reveal. That is understandable. But I assure you, in this matter, which is a matter of the heart, it will be necessary to reveal more.

For instance, what was this e-mail that you regretted sending? Were you accusing her of something already? Were you feeling hurt and angry that she had taken your boy and left you? Were you feeling self-pity, you the worker, provider, supporter of the family, you who had been, if nothing else, at least a breadwinner, stripped even of that? Were you vaguely suspicious of her actions to begin with? What were you trying to stuff back into the bottle?

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And just how accidental was your reading of that letter? Were you snooping? Is your anger at her thus contaminated with guilt for snooping?

You ask me how to become a mature adult. That is a puzzling request from a lawyer. But here is a thought: Perhaps the practice of law can allow a man to remain, in a sense, a child. We tend to think of lawyers as adults, but perhaps the law, if practiced only as a game, can make of its practitioners perpetual children. Next to baseball, it's the best game in town, isn't it? A lawyer must make decisions, but the rules are all in the books. The law, in fact, that great intellectual edifice, that complex crystal of thought and labor, can also mask the passions and allow a man to make decisions without ever confronting the murkier regions of his own irrational being. And the law can be a cage where you sit and brood while your wife and your son tour Venice. So perhaps what you are asking is how to behave toward your wife, knowing both what you know and how you discovered it. And I would say that the first step in becoming a mature adult is in confronting her.

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So yes, my dear man, I believe you have to tell your wife what happened and ask her to tell you the truth.

It is not some kind of sick revenge thing. It is not "pushing your feelings onto her." It is, as you suggest, a way of facing reality. And that is how one becomes a mature adult.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.


Cary Tennis

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