When my husband is out of town and the phone rings after 9 p.m., I'm sometimes scared to answer.
Husband: “Hi. How was your…”
Crash in the background.
“Hey, are the boys still up?”
Me: “No. I mean, they're having trouble falling asleep.”
Husband: “What?! It's nearly 10:00!”
You see, we have different ideas on bedtime. I also conceal my dollar-store toy purchases (he hates “landfill junk” in our home) and the amount I spend on their birthday parties.
I don't think of myself as a liar; I think of myself as a normal wife, sidestepping and spinning to keep the peace. And I'm not alone: “I keep things from my husband all the time,” says Angela, a mom of two in Connecticut. “I just don't want him thinking I'm too much of a softie, say, if the kids broke something or didn't do their chores.”
But I've learned that leaving your partner out of the loop consistently means there's a problem. “If there's an agreement you're constantly breaking, you either need to stop or get rid of the agreement,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF). Try to get down to an irreducible set of rules that you both agree have to be done consistently, and allow for slight variations in other areas.
Why are we so tempted to whitewash the facts? It's often because our values don't jibe. Finance is a common example. “My husband is bad with money, and if we have any extra, he'll blow it. So if we budget $600 for a dryer, and I buy one for $400, I'll tell him it was $600 and throw $200 into savings,” says Ellen Janssen, a Long Island, NY, mom.
“There are two issues here,” says Joshua Coleman, CCF co-chairman. “One is that she doesn't trust her husband to be responsible with money; the second is that she doesn't trust him to be reasonable if she tells him the truth.” Though it could be painful, it's best to handle these issues head-on—if you ever expect it to get better, that is, says Coontz. If you fear a blowup, it can be easier to reveal past lies in front of a therapist.
Of course, your husband probably isn't telling you everything, either. So try not to lose your temper if, say, you find out he hit the drive-thru again after you've agreed to wean the kids off fast food. Instead, come up with guidelines you both can live with.
Recently, I responded better than my husband expected. He had just had The Talk with our 11-year-old son, Gus. I asked how it went. “Good,” he said. “But I can't tell you any more.” My internal reaction was “I birthed him! What can't I know?” Then I paused. Gus was growing up and needed his privacy. “That's okay,” I said heavily.
In a way, I was relieved I wasn't the only one holding out on something.