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Indecent proposal: Wife won’t come clean

When a spouse withholds information, says psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, it could be a symptom of other shortcomings in the marriage. How can one reader get his wife to tell the truth about an unwanted "invitation"?
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Q. A few years ago, my family moved to a small town. My wife and I are in our 40s. We met a group of couples with kids the same age as our kids, and we get together for holidays, birthdays and just to have fun.

My wife just told me that, last year, one of the husbands asked her to go out with him. I was disappointed and angry at her for not telling me sooner and also for not telling his wife about this unwanted “invitation.”

My wife refuses to tell me who he is. She doesn’t want anyone to know about it. There is a get-together coming up soon and I hate to socialize with someone who is not worthy of my friendship and trust.

My wife thinks I am overreacting. This is putting stress on my relationship with my wife. I will feel uncomfortable and embarrassed at the party. How can my wife and I solve this?

A. Of course you are uncomfortable and embarrassed. Frankly, your wife is not being very empathic if she doesn’t understand how you feel. She has left you hanging — wondering who this man is and feeling that you want to avoid all of these people, because you are kept guessing.

Ask her to stand in your shoes and imagine how you feel. If you told her that one of her female friends hit on you but you wouldn’t reveal which one, how would she feel?

Or suppose this guy broke into your house to steal your money. If she spotted him, wouldn’t she tell you he was up to no good?

There could be several reasons why your wife is withholding his identity. Maybe she likes the man’s wife and doesn’t want to upset the applecart or risk losing her as a friend. Or maybe she is worried you will fly off the handle and retaliate against this man in some way.

So in any discussion of this, you must reassure your wife you will act in a rational and mature manner if she reveals his identity.

You are also probably wondering whether your wife is preserving this man’s anonymity because it leaves the door open for future flirtations. She gets to keep this guy around — somebody who is interested in her, which is flattering. She might, consciously or not, want you to feel an edge of jealousy and know that other men find her attractive. This doesn’t mean she intends to act on this, or that she doesn’t love and trust you. On the other hand, it’s a slippery slope from flirtation to problem, so this door is best left closed.

It's also possible that your wife is craving more attention from you, and is making the whole episode up.

But let’s suppose she is telling the truth. If you do find out who this man is, I suggest you not do anything but act distant and cool toward him. It shouldn’t take long before he gets the message and figures out that your wife is not interested, you know what he did and he better steer clear.

The upcoming get-together isn’t the problem. The rest of your life in this community is. You can avoid one party, but it merely represents the party of life. There will be other parties.

Still, it’s the fact that your wife won’t tell you who this man is that raises a real red flag. It is unfair of her to leave you wondering whether every guy in this group is the one who has been disrespectful to you. Your wife cannot reasonably expect you to maintain friendships with people you are suspicious of. It is troubling that she is titillating you with a glimpse of information, but keeping most of it hidden.

It’s also unclear why she chose now, a year after his advances toward her, to tell you about it. This leads me to think there may be issues in your marriage you are not fully aware of that are creating a distance or lack of intimacy. So I suggest you look at other factors in your marriage, which are likely to be the real issue. Talk with her about whether she feels there is any problem that the two of you could address together. Also tell her that it's upsetting enough to have someone hit on her, and her keeping this secret from you compounds the hurt into betrayal. If you are both to move forward together, as an alliance, you need her to be honest with you.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: There are many reasons a spouse withholds information, but it could be a symptom of other shortcomings in the marriage.

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, .