Q. After being married for a year I found out my husband was further in debt than he confided prior to our marriage. I now understand why he never wanted to buy a house – he’s hundreds of thousands in debt. If he had been honest I would have married him anyway, just would have waited until his finances were more in order. I moved out last month. He calls me constantly. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. It all depends on whether you want to repair the relationship. If you do, there’s a lot to talk about. If you don’t, since you don’t have children or own property together – he lied, and it wasn’t a little white lie – walking away can still be regarded as good ex-etiquette. Infidelity is not the only sort of betrayal that breaks up marriages.
Following the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette may be helpful even for something as huge as you describe. There are two lists – 10 rules for when you have children and 10 rules for when you don’t. The rules for when you don’t have children apply here. They are:
1. Own your stuff. (Fault and blame is a waste of your precious time.)
2. Stay calm when confronted (or confronting someone).
3. No badmouthing. (Keep gossip to a minimum if you can.)
4. Set clear boundaries. (What are your deal breakers?)
5. Don’t be spiteful.
6. Don’t hold grudges.
7. Use empathy when problem solving. (Put yourself in his/her shoes.)
8. Be honest and straightforward.
9. Respect each other’s turf.
10. Compromise whenever possible.
So, let’s take a look at how you would apply the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette to your situation. Starting with Rule No. 1: “Fault and blame are a waste of time.” Let’s be frank, this wasn’t your fault, but blaming him, if you want to reconcile, is counterproductive. You’ll stay stuck in the blame/fault mode and never progress to trusting him enough to be married again. We all know a crucial component to a good marriage is trust. In your case, trust has been breached. Your ability to reconcile will be directly related to your ability to regain trust.
Along those same lines, two more important rules to consider are Rule No. 5, “Don’t be spiteful” and No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges.” Of course, your husband needs to apologize, which it appears he’s been trying to do if he calls constantly, but you have to decide if an apology is enough. If it is, then you must set clear boundaries for your future relationship (Rule No. 4) and respect each other enough (Rule No. 9) to be honest in the way you discuss things from this day forward (Rule No. 8). You may even want to put things in writing, if you think that will add to clarifying the boundaries. From this point on your relationship must be completely transparent.
Finally, if you do choose to reconcile, taking it on by yourselves will be difficult. It’s easy to backtrack without someone to help keep you on course. Don’t be afraid to consult an experienced professional to help guide your through the process.