Years ago, on the morning after a wild party, I inadvertently captured on video a friend's plea to keep an extramarital affair secret from the spouse. Both the friend and the paramour make brief appearances on the screen. Neither knew he/she was on camera.
Although it's likely to be a forgotten episode, my preservation of the recording means any of the following could happen: 1) One of the people involved becomes tremendously famous, making the video useful to biographers and historians. 2) A criminal case develops in which the video provides valuable evidence in the pursuit of justice. 3) My friend gets divorced and much later I reveal the video, and we have a good laugh. 4) Despite my precautions, the video somehow makes it online and leads to the implosion of the marriage.
I have never told anyone this video exists. Would you suggest I erase it or continue to hold on to it?
Answer: You spend a lot of time in D.C.? Hollywood?
Fortunately for you, I have received extensive training in the archiving and storage of materials suitable for future blackmail, so I can advise you . . . yeah, no, I can't even finish the joke sentence.
Erase the video. Now.
Question: My wife of nine years has been controlling, possessive, and verbally abusive for years, maybe since the beginning. I have thought a hundred times that it's time to call it quits, but then I think of our kids, all under 11. I suck it up most of the time, bite my tongue, and let the hurtful words and false accusations keep coming. Someone else is to blame in every issue we face, in her eyes. She rarely, if ever, apologizes for the things she says, and there exists a double standard for behavior like you wouldn't believe.
The worst part isn't the near-daily arguments or underhanded comments I receive from my wife, but that I have begun to see her treat my kids in the same manner. I try to insert myself and draw her ire onto me, but all the same, they hear it.
I don't want a divorce. I just want the arguing to end and for us to actually be the family she insists we should be in public all the time.
What do I do short of divorce? If it came to that, I'd feel like I left my kids to deal with her issues (diagnosed anxiety at the minimum) by themselves.
Answer: It's a difficult and painful situation. I'm sorry.
You are also in way over your head. Just because it's a marriage as opposed to, say, a medical procedure doesn't mean you're equipped to handle it.
Your wife is an abuser, and, if I'm reading you correctly, struggling with mental illness. Both of these are best addressed professionally. Please get therapy - for you, alone.
Your kids, meanwhile, are not the beneficiaries of your emotional sacrifice to stay in your marriage, as you rightly intend them to be; instead, they are as stuck as you are inside the blast radius of your wife's hostilities.
This problem is complicated, of course, because separating could put your kids in your wife's care without you around to protect them. That's an important consideration. However, seeing this as the only possible outcome is premature unless you've already explored and exhausted all other options. And if you haven't yet documented the abuse and consulted discreetly with a family therapist and a divorce lawyer, then you haven't even begun.
Of utmost concern, though, is that you and your kids have no support for living amid chaos. You need strategies, and your kids need a safe place to process what they're witnessing and feeling every day. Otherwise, they're just storing up anger and confusion for later - setting the stage, as I'm sure you've already figured, for behavior like their mother's as they emerge into adulthood themselves.
It all starts with a simple referral, so make the call, please - to your kids' pediatrician, or to the counselor at their school, or to Childhelp's hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Get names, make appointments, and get ahead of this before your kids fall too far behind.
Question: Should a husband treat his wife as a higher priority than his mother, as a general rule?
Answer: I leaned in close to this question first, to see whether it was ticking.
I'll choose my words carefully: Spouses are each other's No. 1 person in day-to-day life, so neither one has any business making decisions that favor a parent without the other's input, consent, and support.
Parents are the old No. 1 supplanted by a spouse or life partner, though - and onetime sustainers of life and all that - so of course they get special consideration. It's a matter of proportion: As long as you're mindful to minimize imposition on your spouse in service to a parent, a gracious spouse won't stand in the way.
If you need me, I'll be under my desk.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.