The Ethical Dilemma: Stabbing a Spouse in the Back

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Stabbing Spouse in the Back? My spouse and I don’t always agree on everything, including how to raise our two young children. My spouse is much more into dictating to them, while I am much more inclined to listen to their requests and arguments (even when they were barely verbal) and work with them, sometimes saying no, sometimes yes.

The problem is that my spouse will suddenly, without first consulting me, just tell them they can or can’t do something, and I will argue with my spouse in front of them. Later my spouse will berate me for “not having his/her back,” and in response I will berate him/her for springing this stuff on me in front of the kids and assuming I would just go along. In many cases, if my spouse had raised the issues beforehand, I would not have fallen in line.

I know parents are supposed to present a united front to their kids, but I don’t think it’s fair that my spouse demands my backing with no regard for what I think.

–Am I In The Wrong?


Dear Wrong?,

Well, if I had to say one of you was in the wrong, it wouldn’t be you.

I tinkered with your letter to remove any gender bias, as there shouldn’t be any in the response.

As you know, it isn’t always possible for parents to work everything out in advance and then present a united front to their children. Situations arise and action must be taken on the spot. (e.g., “Before you climb that ladder and jump off, give mom and dad a minute to confer about it.”)

But it is possible to establish some guidelines and principles on which the two of you agree that can be applied to various situations, such as what requires permission, what is and isn’t allowed, policies for watching TV or playing with friends, mealtime manners, or whatever has come up in the past or is apt to in the future.

It’s also not necessary for two people to pretend to be one for the sake of their youngsters. Although it can be confusing and stressful for kids to see their parents argue, sooner or later they will understand that you are not of a single mind. Nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong is for a spouse to assume you will back him/her without consulting you first, particularly if your spouse is aware that their assertions flies in the face of your values. Although it’s not particularly important for a one-off circumstance, you could play along and speak to your spouse later about avoiding such situations in the future. However, it’s completely out of line for one of you to decide to dictate policy and expect the other simply to comply.

You two need to talk (when the kids are not present). Establish some ground rules and maybe even a signal when you need to have a private conference in the middle of one of these episodes. Look back at the specifics of past conflicts and try to work out an agreement on handling similar ones in the future. No two parents will ever agree on everything, and that’s okay as long as they and the children understand and accept that.

When your kids seem ready, you can also loop them in. Explain to them that people don’t always agree on everything, that it’s not always a matter of right vs. wrong, and that’s just how life is. Talk to them about things that one of you is uncomfortable with but the other is okay with, so they know for example, not to ask one of you to go for fast food, but the other is cool with it. I’m not saying to teach them to be sneaky or to play you off against each other. Rather, I’m advocating for raising your children to be sensitive to people’s differences and savvy about how to go about getting what they want—a good life lesson that most kids figure out pretty quickly, no matter how united a front is presented.

Meanwhile, if you and your spouse have intractable disagreements about significant issues regarding your children, you must make a concerted effort to work them out, possibly with a professional, before there’s serious damage to your entire family and your marriage.