Saturday, July 27, 2013

Her husband is a cheater. Should you tell her?

My mother was twenty-five-years-old when she learned her husband Carlos was an adulterer.

Everyone in her small town of Fosston, Minnesota knew - but she didn't have a clue.

Later in life she told me how she misread the quiet signs.

"Everyone tried to tell me," she said.  "But I didn't want to know."

Everywhere she went, she said, picking strawberries, Ladies' Aid meetings, shopping for produce at the fruit market, the other married women treated her with a strange respect.

They stopped speaking when she approached.  They whispered as she departed. The ones who knew her best huddled around her, asking again and again if she had any "news."

Sometimes, my mother thought she saw pity in their eyes, worry.

But hindsight, she said, is always 20/20..

Then, one steamy August afternoon, Carlos came home early from the butcher shop and confessed.

He was sleeping with a seventeen-year-old girl named Phyllis.  Phyllis, he told my mother, was pregnant.

"And I don't believe her," Carlos pleaded. "I don't believe a word she says.  Give me six months, Bernice.  Six months alone, at the cabin with her.  I'll prove her wrong and come back to you."

And so it came to pass that  my mother moved her two children back to her father's house in St. Paul and became a "divorcee".

The year was 1938, and it was not easy rebuilding a shame-ridden life among  judgmental,  irritated Swedes.  Even so, my mother worked hard to remove the taint and scandal of abandonment.

Nothing was righted until nine years later when she married Hans, my father.

The power of lies.

Flash forward eighty-something years.

Carlos is dead.  So is his childless widow, Phyllis.  My mother and father are dead too.

But the lessons of all their intertwined lives continue to educate. 

Living in a family devastated by lies,  I learned the importance of always speaking the truth, no matter how difficult.

But sometimes,  the truth is wrapped in bad news.  And bad news is hard to deliver.

Still - if my mother were still alive, she would say what she always said.

The truth never hurt anyone.  And if it does, the pain is always worth the knowledge gained.

So, at midsummer, when I'm certain several of my women friends are unaware of the antics of their ne'er do well spouses, I offer . . . .

Five simple rules for sharing the worst news possible.

  1. Be certain your facts are correct.  Verify, verify, verify. 
  2. Before you contact her, contact him.   Warn the cheater.  Tell him you're about to blow the lid off his lies - unless he tells his wife the truth.  Give him a deadline - but be careful.  A trapped animal strikes out at anyone - so make certain you deliver this message in a bright, sunny place, surrounded by strangers.  And then - leave town for a few days.  Better safe than sorry.
  3. You're wondering what to say and how to say it?  Phone her - and say this.   "I have information about your marriage.  I want to share it with you, but I won't do so if you do not want to hear it." 
  4. She'll beg you to tell her - but never, never drop the bomb over the phone.   Offer to meet. 
  5. Bring flowers.  Bring a bottle of wine.  Bring a box of Kleenex and all your support. 
You will be surprised how easily the words come, once you see her.

Another thing that grows in the sunshine;  friendship. 

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