His marriage was in trouble. He and his wife had not spoken for over a month. He left the house early and come home late in order to avoid any interaction. I asked him what the cause of the problem was and he told me a story of his wife’s unreasonableness, vindictiveness and spite. He had made a small mistake, broken a small promise and his wife had labeled him as a terrible person. He was not considering divorce but he did not see any way forward. His wife was immovable in her anger.
What he did not know was that his wife had been in to see me a few weeks earlier and she had told me an entirely different story. As he described it he had intentionally deceived her, not broken a small promise. She told a story of incredible deceit and malice which culminated in terrible heartbreak.
As I listened to him relate his version of the story I found myself wondering what the truth was. The stories were so directly contradictory that reconciling them into one consistent narrative was impossible. As I did not know who to believe I struggled to give him advice. I ended up giving him generic advice to pursue counseling and to love his wife as best as he could.
Our conversation lingered in my mind after he left the office. I had known the family for years and was the doctor who delivered their youngest daughter. They had always seemed like nice people, she was the sweet wife and mom and he was the hard working business man. They both had talked of church and faith and a happy home life. I wondered how much of what I had been told in the past was true and what was false.
I thought of how in each of their stories there was clearly an effort to paint the other in a negative light. In the areas where their stories aligned they had each emphasized the parts that made themselves look good and the other look bad. It was as if they were more concerned with looking good in my eyes than they were about resolving their differences and solving the problem. I was certain that they had both made serious mistakes, had both been vindictive and both needed professional help, but neither of them were interested in dealing with these issues. They wanted the other person to change.
It seemed that the one thing neither of them was thinking about was how their actions were impacting their daughter. I wondered how she was doing, what damaging lessons she was learning about love and marriage. I wondered if, like me, she was hearing partial truths and and partial lies from each of her parents, if she was being asked to take a side in the dysfunction. She was the only innocent party in the dispute yet she was the one who was going to be harmed the most.
I wonder how many of the families I see are similarly damaged. We live in a world where few people are willing to first look at themselves when conflict arises. Sacrificial love, which should be the foundation of every marriage, is becoming increasingly rare. Winning has become the essential marital value in America.
Sadly, when winning is the value, everyone loses, especially the children.
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