Cheryl Coronel, a Dr. Laura listener, requested a response on the following: "When people call about telling someone information that they are unaware of, you always ask, 'What benefit is it to the person to know?' When it comes to a spouse, is this the only question that one needs to ask? If it is about the children, must you tell? Can you please elaborate as to the 'rules.'" While this is a bit difficult to answer without specific examples, I'll do my best. Most people seem to think that if something is
it can or should be spoken out loud with impunity. Well, then, "Your thighs are flabby," "Your kid is ugly," and "Your wife's boobs are microscopic - how in the heck do you ever get turned on?" Some folks used the "truth" as a weapon to hurt or feel/appear superior. I have spent many minutes in many calls trying to pull people back from that temptation. You must always ask yourself, "What benefit is it to the person to know...whatever?" There are many times I have advised people to hold back on seemingly huge information because it would be severely damaging. For example, I have told men not to tell their children that the child is not "biologically" theirs. A common situation is when the woman was already pregnant by a sperm-donor type guy, and the caller stepped up to the plate and married her and raised the child as his/their own. Years later, they "worry" that the child has a right to the truth. I tell them that this child will be severely hurt by this disclosure and that they should go to their graves with that "truth." A sperm does not a father make - it's the man who does the job who should enjoy the title. Telling a child that his/her dad isn't, only makes them feel disconnected from family at a time when bonding and identification is so important. One argument I get constantly with this position is that the child needs to know their medical history. Poppycock. With full-body scanning, technologically superior blood tests and other modern medical diagnostic advances such as genetic screening, history is the least important issue in good health maintenance. Children also do not benefit from knowledge of all the stupid things you did as a child; they need to benefit from what you've learned from all the stupid things you did as a child. Now as to the "spouse" issue, I have often told folks who had a brief out-of-marriage encounter (especially when they have children) NOT to tell their spouses IF they are truly remorseful, they take full responsibility for their actions, do their best to repair the problems, and make dedicated efforts to not repeat their actions. While "admitting" their misbehaviors might make them feel better, it is cruel to make the spouse carry that burden, and those visions, if it can be avoided. However, I always advise people to definitely tell their fiancé or boy/girl friend of dalliances; before commitment it is important information for decision-making. When callers say they "saw" or "heard" some information, I tell them not to convey it unless they know it first hand as truth (versus gossip and hearsay) AND then only if it is something that person needs to know in order to protect themselves or their family. I always tell folks never to tell their spouses that they've fantasized about somebody, real or on celluloid; after all, they themselves are mundane too! While I have but touched the surface (and you can read more about my thoughts in my newest book,
The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage
), I believe the point is made: make sure that any information you convey is absolutely correct and always consider the ultimate consequences. Some things just should never be said.