He's worried that wife and wine don't mix

Washington Post Writers GroupNovember 30, 2009 

Dear Carolyn: My wife and I both have wild pasts. We both believe we have found a relationship we can commit to. The potential problem: She enjoys the company of men from work and will stay late one night a week to "socialize," which she greatly enjoys. She drinks wine and that does affect how she acts. Since I am occasionally traveling during these events, I am bothered by her "socializing" for 4 to 5 hours, drinking wine, discussing personal issues with others that seem to evolve into the others' love lives, and finally just getting home late. I think it is the combination of the above that bothers me.

I do trust her, but wine creates some uncertainty here, and she has a habit of only telling me a version of events that she thinks will not upset me, which then allows her to deviate from the truth. If I basically trust her, should I not worry about this situation? When do my worries and comments to her about this become controlling? - Somewhat Worried

So you trust her, except for the lying, the drinking and the getting chummy into the wee hours with bunches of men from work?

Trust actually isn't as facile as I just made it out to be. It's not an off-the-rack "tell every truth" and "touch no one" - though we often assume it is, and then assume our mates agree. I can think of real and different levels of trust that real and different people would find acceptable.

So I'll put them to you. Do you trust that your wife: won't humiliate you by getting too chummy with these men, much less cheat; might get a bit too chummy but still won't sleep with another man; won't cheat unless she has one too many; might cheat but it won't mean anything?

Or - do you just trust that she loves you, and hope the rest takes care of itself?

When it comes to drawing lines within a relationship, you first have to know where your lines and limits are.

Don't think how "most" couples operate, or "should" operate - instead consider what works for you. Decide what you are and aren't willing to accept. That shapes your notion of commitment.

And that, in turn, shapes your conversation with your wife about what kind of commitment you both want.

To avoid overstepping your bounds, just make sure you limit your "worries and comments" to matters that are yours to decide. For example, it isn't controlling to tell a mate where you believe the lines are, or how you feel when she colors outside those lines; it isn't controlling to ask her where she believes the lines should be. Controlling is when you insist on having things your way, or else - whether the "or else" involves physical punishment, yelling, name-calling, silent treatments, withdrawal of emotional or financial support, revenge, jealousy, snooping, or even just constant calls and text messages whenever she's out of your sight.

If your conversation reveals different ideas about commitment, then you hear each other out, as equals. If you don't respect each other's position enough to find middle ground - or at least a marital referee - then you either make peace with the status quo, or go your separate ways.

Send e-mail to tellme@washpost.com.

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