THE BLOG

Adultery And Christmas Gift Dilemmas

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

These are letters from readers of Dear Isafold, my advice column at eyjan.is (The Island), which is one of the most popular websites in Iceland. Send questions to isafold@eyjan.is.

Dear Isa

I've been happily married - sort of - for 15 years to my husband with whom I have two daughters, 16 and 5. The problem is that although I love my husband, he is a rather "boring" guy, whereas I'm the type who needs more excitement. I'm usually the life of the party - and the one of us who likes to party - I love to entertain and go out, whereas he is quiet and prefers the quiet life at home. Sometimes I wonder why we were attracted to each other in the first place; we are so different. He is a doctor and works a lot; I work part-time and take care of the house and girls.

Our sex life is rather unexciting, I feel he just thinks more of himself than me, he just rolls over as soon as he is "done", hides behind a book and falls asleep. A few months ago, on a vacation abroad I told him that if our relationship didn't change, I'd just go and "find myself a lover"! We were drinking a little, so I don't know if he took my seriously. But he just said, "fine, suit yourself."

Well, I did just that. It was just supposed to be sex, but now I'm seriously involved with this man! We are desperately in love with each other, but I don't think I'd have a future with this guy (he's an artist, more than ten years younger than me, doesn't have any money, if we starting living together, things would get very difficult for us financially) - and I really don't want to break up my marriage, I don't want to do that to my girls. I want to stop seeing this man, but I can't! Help!

Belle of the ball

Dear Belle (Or should I say Madame Emma Bovary)

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina. Anna's unhappiness stemmed from her dissatisfaction with her husband and led to deceit, decadence, strife, and ultimately suicide. Emma Bovary's relentless narcissistic pursuit of greener pastures ruined her and her husband's lives, destroyed their finances, resulted in their untimely deaths - hers of suicide, her husband's of a broken heart - and doomed their offspring to a lifetime of destitute.

OK, maybe that's just a wee bit over-dramatic, but Tolstoy's point that continued deceit within a marriage is very corrosive is valid. Do you imagine that your affair is a complete secret to your husband and to your children? They may not know the particulars, but they surely know that you're concealing something very important emotionally.

It is unfortunate that you have let things develop to this point, but now you've crossed the Rubicon (beyond permissible bounds), just like Caesar you have thrown the dice. The obvious solution from the beginning before you took up with your paramour would have been to get counseling to address your marital problems (what comes to mind, is your husband exhausted from overwork, does he need to lessen his workload, do you as a family need to cut back on expenses?). That is the kind of problem-solving one would expect from competent adults. Instead, in an alcohol-marinated hissy fit, you decide that the answer is to go out and cheat on your husband.

You say that you don't want "to break up your marriage" because you don't want "to do that to my girls." This doesn't sound very convincing. It sounds to me like you don't want to break up your marriage because you don't want to do it to yourself, because you are quite comfortable being married to a high income husband who puts up with your selfish antics. Do you really think that your girls (at least the older one) don't suspect something is going on? What is the lesson you believe you're teaching your daughters? That breaking your oath to their father, to have and hold to the exclusion of all others, in order to satisfy your selfish desires is perfectly acceptable? That living a life of lies and deceit to avoid financial hardship is the way to go?

You need to lay it all out to your husband and ask his forgiveness - if you do decide that you want to stay with him and put honorable work into your marriage. He doesn't need to know the details, but out of respect for the fifteen (17?) years you've spent together. If you are lucky, he will forgive you. (You deserved to be dropped like a stinky rag.) But since you have all the qualities Flaubert (Madame Bovary's author) deemed necessary for a happy life: "To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless." you should do just fine.

Isa

Dear Isa

Now I am starting to think about Christmas presents. I cannot afford to give anything like I have previous years since my husband lost his job. We both come from large families and have many nieces and nephews, ages 4 - 18 (we have 3 kids, 2 under confirmation age). It´s become a nightmare buying gifts for all these people, especially the older kids because they have literally EVERYTHING and you never know what to get them! Then they don't even remember what it was they received when you ask them if the gift "fit" (clothing), did they read the book or enjoy the computer game!

I suggested last year that we stop giving presents to the kids after their confirmation as is done in many of my girlfriends´ families, but my brother didn't like the idea. I was thinking of suggesting this again to the family but I don´t expect it to be well taken. Can I do this unilaterally or would it be considered rude? Of course my oldest child would have to live with not receiving presents from her aunts and uncles whose over-confirmation kids we would not give gifts (she has actually indicated she'd be fine with it).

Dora

Dear Dora

When did the act of giving away free things become a burden? When did people start to feel entitled to tell others the level of generosity required of them?

A gift is "eitthvað gefið af fúsum og frjálsum vilja án þess að greiðsla sé þegin í staðinn, til sýna einhverjum góðvild, heiðra eitthvað tilefni, eða sýna vinarbragð."

As you observe, it has become exceedingly difficult to buy gifts for anyone above the age of 12. Not so long ago (just a minute while I get into my smug "In my youth..." mode...), children received games and toys only on their birthdays and on Christmas, if at all. As a result, those toys and dolls and games were rather precious to us. Now, as you observe, children seem to get whatever they want as soon as it is available for sale. Consequently, they seem hardly aware-much less grateful-of the additional items they receive on Christmas. After five minutes, the majority are just tossed in the closet to collect dust along with all the other consumer goods they've accumulated during the year.

And let's not even talk about what teenagers think of our taste in clothes, music, etc.!

Having said all this, it is important to realize that you cannot control other people's expectations. You cannot force your brother to stop giving gifts if that's what he wants to do. If he gets a thrill out of giving extravagant gifts to his teenage nieces and nephews, then good for him!

However, he has no right to shame you into spending money you don't have. Christmas should not be a contest between siblings for the hearts and minds of the next generation, but a time of joy and familial love.

It is certainly within the bounds of good manners for you to inform him that you will no longer be giving gifts to the older children, and that he should feel no obligation to give gifts to your oldest. You may want to consider giving cards or token gifts (a small box of homemade cookies, for example) to the older children to let them know that you are still thinking of them.

On the other hand, it would be a serious breach of decorum for your brother (or the older children) to comment on your failure to match his level of giving. We should not be teaching our children to equate love with money. Rather, we should teach them to accept whatever they receive with genuine gratitude, and to handle disappointment with grace.

Isa