My Wife Went Behind My Back

I went out of town with one of my children to visit my grandmother yesterday, and my wife decided she wanted to take my other two children to a rock climbing gym.

Personally, I find the idea dangerous because I think that it is subjecting children to a serious injury if equipment were to fail or a child falls in a way that is hard on the body. My wife thought the better of it and took them anyway. I specifically asked her not to do so. How should I approach the situation? I already told her that I was unhappy that she went against my wishes, and that this was hurtful, and she thinks that I don’t trust her to keep our children out of danger.

I was unhappy that her “good intentions“ of having the children “have fun“ went above my judgment. I believe that we need to be unified in our decisions, and that just because the cat goes away, “the mice should not play.” This would not have been something my wife would have scheduled had I been there.

Thank you so much for your consideration.

Daniel B.

Dear Daniel,

Let’s take a step back and isolate the issue. It is not whether supervised rock climbing is dangerous or not. It is not where to draw the line in protecting children versus coddling them. It is not whose judgment is correct. Those are all very good questions, well worth exploring.

However, the most important issue is how the two of you act when you disagree. We can predict pretty confidently that there will be any number of matters on which you’ll disagree in the future. You are justifiably feeling hurt that your wife took advantage of your being away to do something that you find objectionable. Daniel, may we ask you to remove the hurt you are feeling so we can explore this analytically rather than emotionally? Here is the deeper question: What messages are your children getting? We don’t know if they knew that there was a disagreement between their parents. But one thing is certain; both you and they will be worse off if they learn that they can divide you. Furthermore, it is an additional problem if they learn that disobeying either of you is acceptable to the other one. They might even take away from the outing the notion that behaving duplicitously is o.k. None of this would be good for your growing family.

Even if we assume that your children are completely unaware of their parents’ opposing stances about rock climbing, we are still very disturbed about the two of you not parenting off the same script. We can’t insist that Mom and Dad must always be “on the same page” because sometimes you may have different ideas. The important thing is that you both agree on what actions will take place.

From your perspective, since you were opposed to the activity, it should not have taken place. Now try putting yourself in your wife’s place and ask yourself if she might have felt that her feelings and opinions were discounted? Our suspicion is that the two of you expressed your opinions to each other but never established ways to follow up. Did you agree to sit down and discuss this further? Did you let your wife know that her perspective on the subject mattered, or did you issue an autocratic ruling? Did you perhaps feel that simply expressing your objections automatically overrode her views on the topic? Maybe the opposite happened and you didn’t emphasize that this was important to you and you just issued a wishy-washy, “I don’t like this idea”? We do note that you talked about “my” children instead of “our” children. That is a small language “tell” with large ramifications.

We feel that what happened is a marvelous opportunity to work on communication and dispute resolution.

Once the two of you disagreed, you could have defaulted together to your way of moving forward. But you probably do not yet have a default mechanism for dealing with disagreement.

Here is one alternate way this situation could have played out. Maybe you both could have agreed to do some research and find out how often rock-climbing accidents happen in these venues. Your wife could have agreed to read articles or listen to podcasts that support your views and you could have agreed to read and listen to ones that support hers. Is your assertion that her goal is the children “having fun,” completely accurate, or is she worried about the general tendency today to wrap children in bubble wrap? Do you have a specific fear about rock climbing or does this extend to other physical activities as well? All these questions should have been discussed. And obviously not in the children’s hearing (which, by the way, is sharper than most parents realize whether it is 2 PM or 2 AM).

In summary, assuming that your wife knew that you had strong views and that she was going behind your back, she certainly was wrong. Understanding why she either felt the desire to go behind your back or else why she felt comfortable doing so, as well as setting a procedure for dealing with future disagreements is a productive way to move to a better future.

Children can be an impetus to a better marriage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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