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I spilled a secret about my brother-in-law's wife

The question

Lately I've been spending more time with my brother-in-law (my wife's sister's husband). After our wives went to bed one night, he and I started talking about past lovers his wife had had. As he went through the list I noticed one was missing that I knew about.

I pressed the issue, mentioning the person's initials, not getting specific but implying there was more about the person than he knew.

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My brother-in-law later confronted his wife. She lied about it, making up a story about dreaming about the man.

Now, she's upset at me for almost ruining their relationship, while he's upset at me for stirring up trouble with what he thinks is unimportant news. I apologized to her, for initiating the confrontation, but not specifically for what I said, since it is the truth - known by at least four other people outside of their marriage. And now I have found out that while she has been married, she e-mailed the man, planning to have sex with him after a stag 'n' doe they were both at (she had just had a child, and the man turned her down when they got to the stag 'n' doe).

I believe the truth is paramount, and I live in a relationship in which we speak the truth, no matter how painful that truth might be. How do I conduct myself around them? Do I lie too and still try to bond with them? Or distance myself from the façade?

The answer

Have you heard the saying: "O what a tangled web we weave, when we blurt out the truth without reprieve"?

I think I got that quote right. In any case, it definitely applies here.

Listen, throughout your life, people are going to try to feed you a load of rubbish on the topic of the truth: that it will "set you free"; that you should always tell it because "it's too hard to remember lies"; that honesty is always "the best policy."

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Don't listen. Unremitting honesty, untempered by tact and discretion, is a terrible policy. I've seen too many people get a burr under their saddles and suddenly decide, "I'm going to be honest with everyone about everything." Then, bull-in-china-shop-style, they start blurting out all sorts of home truths, ugly revelations, unsolicited observations and embarrassing, harrowing overshares. And friends, colleagues and lovers all start running for the hills.

Don't go down that path. The truth will set you free, all right: It'll set you free from your wife or girlfriend, husband or boyfriend, from your job, from your friends, from your sanity, from a decent, well-ordered existence in general.

In your circumstance, sir, I have to say I think "the best policy" would be to keep your mouth shut and your proboscis out of other people's affairs.

Now, I have to admit, I'd be taking a different tack here if it were some good old friend of yours whose wife you suspected was cheating on him.

Then maybe - maybe - a quiet word to the wise would be called for.

But you are in the midst of a very ticklish nexus, a potential minefield full of marital claymores and familial bouncing betties. You're sitting on a metaphorical truckload of emotional ordnance. You sure you want to start pulling the pin on a bunch of information-grenades and tossing them around?

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No, better, far better, to take a big step back, inhale and exhale, and, having exhaled, refrain from further blabbing.

Don't worry about your bro-in-law being kept in the dark forever. "The truth will out" - now there's an aphorism I do agree with, when it comes to the truth. And if, as you say, four other people know about the wife's past, and her possible schemes for an adulterous, recidivist tryst with her ex, let one of those four be the information-bee that brings him the news.

Why you gotta be all CNN in this situation? Clamp down on info flow henceforward. If he asks you follow-up questions, just say you're sorry, that you must've got some stuff mixed up, heard wrong, whatever. Enshroud everything you've already said in a dry-ice cloud of misdirection, mystification and obfuscation.

And then, just to say it one last time, man up and clam up.

Now let's move on to another matter. You say you've extended your brutish, brutal-honesty policy to your own love life.

May I gently suggest you not pursue this policy too zealously?

Otherwise one day your girlfriend may be twirling in front of the mirror, asking: "Do you think my ass looks fat in these 'mommy jeans'? Do my 'muffin tops' gross you out?"

And then a few days later you'll find yourself doing shooters of Jagermeister in a sports bar with your "bros," eating chicken wings and beer nuts for dinner, fresh-packed suitcase at your feet, wondering where it all went wrong.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, will be published in the spring of 2010.

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