Hi, Carolyn: What is your opinion of married men who refuse to wear a wedding ring? My husband of many years took his off a few years ago, after we started having problems, and has steadfastly refused to put it back on even though I’ve stated plainly and repeatedly that it would mean a lot to me if he would wear it again.
My gut says he’s either cheating on me (physically or emotionally), or looking for the opportunity to cheat. — Mine’s On
Or he’s holding onto some spite from a few years ago and knows it chaps you that he won’t wear his ring. Or it doesn’t fit comfortably anymore and he’s embarrassed. Or, fill in the blank.
My opinion of married men who refuse to wear rings is as varied as the men themselves are. Here’s my opinion of fidelity between people who don’t communicate: hollow victory.
It’s so tempting to look at problems in romantic relationships as binary, “cheating or not cheating,” and try either to gotcha or reassure away any uncomfortable doubts.
It’s also a distraction and so self-defeating. Let’s say your husband isn’t cheating and has no plans to cheat. Doesn’t that still leave you with the fundamental problem that you neither trust nor understand your own husband?
Please consider that the real source of your distress isn’t that your husband goes ringless but that you have no idea why — neither why he does it nor why its importance to you isn’t persuasive. Consider that the real worry isn’t his possible intimacy with someone else but instead the lack of intimacy between you two.
If you agree that’s the case, then please say as much to your husband. Take it one step further, even, and make it clear to him that you’re not peering at collars and credit card bills looking for signs of other women. Instead, you’re looking for him, because you miss him.
Even if your gut is right that his attentions are elsewhere, this will make it clear that yours are something he needs to face — something he can’t stonewall or rationalize away.
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Dear Carolyn: My parents recently went through a very ugly divorce. My mother cheated on my father, and a year later he’s still angry about it.
While their marriage was falling apart, I was being proposed to by my soon-to-be husband. Wedding planning has been challenging. I am doing much on my own and am constantly worried about how my parents’ families will behave at the wedding.
My mother and I don’t really have much of a relationship, but we are working on rebuilding. Recently, my father asked me if I would be inviting her to the wedding (I haven’t made up my mind on that just yet). I explained to him that it’s a possibility.
He responded by telling me that if she comes he won’t be attending, which seems pretty selfish and unfair. I’m not asking him to sit at the same table with her, in fact, we plan to keep families separated as much as possible. I explained this to him, but he doesn’t seem to care.
He keeps saying this is “his problem” but fails to realize the impact it has on me (therefore being my problem also). What to do? — Overwhelmed Bride-to-Be
I’m sorry your happy occasion is shot through with sadness.
Some ways to clarify things, if it helps:
1. “No, Dad, it’s my problem, too — I have two parents, which hasn’t changed even though one hurt the other terribly.”
2. As painful as the prospect might be of a wedding-day feud, family stuff can only get to you to the extent you let it.
Think about what’s really at stake here: Are you afraid your family will embarrass you in front of other guests? (No one worth impressing will judge you for it, I swear.) Do you fear reopening the wounds of your family’s dissolution? (Done deal, no?)
Are you afraid any fighting will ruin the experience for your guests? (Assigning each parent a “body man” — a volunteer to help preempt trouble — can give you peace of mind.)
Do you fear “rewarding” the wrongdoer? (See, “I have two parents,” above.) Be specific about your fears, because that unlocks specific solutions.
3. Take whatever fears you identify in No. 2 and compare them against the idea of excluding your mom, and of having your dad boycott. Project to 10 years from now. What’s your worst case? When the best outcome isn’t an option, it’s useful to think in terms of being able to live with yourself.
I realize this sounds about as warm and appealing as an IRS audit, but there’s no skill you’ll use more in marriage than the ability to sort out your own priorities from others’ and either bend or stand fast accordingly. Might as well give it a spin.