Q. My husband and I have been in counseling because both of us have work to do on ourselves and with each other, but we agree we want our 23-year marriage to survive. One of our issues is that my husband loves to be the center of attention at parties and ends up behaving in a way that embarrasses me. Alcohol is often involved, as is playing around with other women. Consequently I feel uncomfortable before the evening begins, fearing the worst. We have strategies to deal with this, and one is that we talk about the evening and what we want to happen.
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On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner with about 15 old friends. We had talked through how we wanted the evening to go. He was doing well and was not drinking because he would be driving home. Toward the end of the evening, someone decided we would play a game that involved a female being blindfolded and picking a male name out of a hat, and then rolling dice so the winning body part would be massaged by the male. She then had to guess his identity.
Eventually my husband and my best friend got picked. The dice rolled and the body part was her breasts. I was uncomfortable, jealous, angry and humiliated, but I managed to keep it together. My friend seemed to take forever to guess. I have been so extremely upset with both of them — angry with my husband and betrayed by my friend.
My husband realizes how much he has hurt me, but claims he felt he had to perform. My friend says it was just part of the game. In the past, she has confided that she does see other men, although outwardly she is happily married. Whereas I am fairly certain that nothing is going on between them, I cannot seem to get over this. I think about it most of the time and it is making me ill. I am hurting so much, but I feel I have made a mountain out of a molehill and the consequences will cause issues in our circle of friends. What can I do to get over this?
A. It sounds, from your note, as if you have been trying to deal with the issue of your husband’s embarrassing behavior in a mature and frank way, in terms of discussing how it makes you feel. As you know, alcohol is a disinhibitor and often an excuse for this kind of over-the-top behavior, so it’s good that he refrain from drinking.
Discussing things with him and planning out how the evening should go sounds really beneficial. And yet it is completely inconsistent with your subsequent actions.
Because you both went willingly into this party game, you were telling each other that it was perfectly OK for him to feel up another woman. So you gave him the go-ahead to do this, even though you claim you both had decided it was not OK!
When someone introduced the idea of this party game, you both should have, and could have, said you thought it was not a good idea. You could have left the party or proposed a tamer game, like charades. Instead, you went ahead and played a game that all but guaranteed your husband would be putting his hands on another woman.
Your husband wasn’t drinking, but you may have been, so your own judgment might have been impaired. Still, alcohol doesn’t make you do things that you consider completely unacceptable. Though you say you are angry at your husband and betrayed by your friend, you are not acknowledging your own participation in this unfortunate episode. It is unfair for you to turn around and accuse those two when you also were a willing participant.
It sounds that your husband doesn’t have the same boundaries for behavior that you do. This is an example of how, for many couples, having a spouse be sexual in any way with somebody else doesn’t work out well.
I’ll add that in a party atmosphere, or in any situation where there is a group dynamic, people often do things they would not do individually. So you need to do more than pay lip service to the idea of being extra-cautious. You need to actually put your words into practice.
I would also be wary of this woman. She is the type of person it is difficult for you to have as a best friend. She has revealed that she has cheated on her husband, so you know that’s something she is willing to do. In fact, maybe a group of friends that chooses to play this kind of party game is not the healthiest group for you to align yourself with.
It is reasonable to insist that both your husband and your friend not have any further sexual contact. Then, in the future, don’t place yourself in a situation where this kind of thing can happen. It sounds that you both have trouble controlling yourselves in such a situation, so you should absolutely bow out of any party games with a physical or sexual nature.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It’s fine to have a plan for how you and your spouse will behave in social settings, but such a plan is meaningless unless you follow through.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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