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Parallax - Advice            April 17, 2000

   An innocent work-date blows up in his face...

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This is the biggest mess I've ever been in. My wife thinks I have betrayed her with a woman from work but it's not true. This woman is only a good friend, and I invited her to have a drink on her birthday, simply as a gesture. My wife found out and she almost flipped. The problem is she's a Jehova's Witness and she is strongly against going out, let alone celebrating a birthday. She thinks I did it to spite her and that I truly prefer the woman from work. It's insane but she won't budge. I asked the woman from work to call her and explain, but she feels that it's not her place. I can't believe it but my marriage seems at risk. What can I do?

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Her view:

Dear Distressed,

OK buddy, this is much more than the dinner. There is clearly a lack of trust here. Maybe you're not spending time with her, maybe you don't compliment her, or maybe she's having an affair and projecting...my random guesses - you need to take a look at what is going on in your marriage. I have a feeling that if I asked you if everything was perfect before this dinner, you'd say no. She's uncomfortable with something, and it's probably you. The dinner is a red herring - she's insecure in the relationship and latching onto a meaningless night out to tell you that.

I agree that it is not the place of the other woman to contact your wife and make them both feel stupid because of marital problems you have going on. Take your wife on a weekend holiday and try to work out what is troubling her. Try not to even address the dinner and just bring up the other issues. Get it all out on the table and work it out once and for good.

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His view:

Dear Distressed,

In my experience most trivial arguments, about simple gestures for example, are usually an innocent manifestation of a very big problem. Not that I would call your situation innocent, but I do think there are two distinct issues.

Your immediate problem is how to resolve the crisis about the drink.

However, I believe there is a deeper question, one of principle. I think she is upset because she sees you doing things that are incompatible with her chosen lifestyle. Perhaps you both thought, when you married, that you could tolerate your differences - but over time this has not been easy. Perhaps you tried to please her by giving up activities that you increasingly missed. Then came friend's birthday and the desire to do your own thing was more than the willingness to please your wife. Maybe what she's really saying is that you either live by her ideas and customs, or you live separately. Or maybe she's just trying to see if she can push you into that.

I don't think you absolutely have to make a final decision now. You may be able to survive the crisis this time, beg for mercy and save the day. But the real quandary will still be there, and she'll eventually call your bluff - unless you risk it all now and call hers.

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