“Ask a Priest: What’s My Duty If My Husband Lied and Is Manipulative?”

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Q: I just found out that my husband secretly had a vasectomy and lied to me about it. About a year ago, he told me he was open to the possibility of having another baby, and told me weren’t going to do natural family planning anymore. We have three children and I have always wanted another child. Before we were married, we both said we wanted a large family, having both come from big families. Apart from the profound betrayal of lying to me because he knew I would never agree to any form of sterilization, and the cruelty of getting my hopes up for something I wanted so dearly, I am not sure about ever being intimate with him again. He is otherwise usually manipulative and verbally abusive. I feel that the marital act would lack all of the proper ends of marriage. I realize it’s not my sin if I didn’t know about it or consent to it, but does this relieve me from the “marital debt”? – L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about your home situation. There seem to be issues here worth looking at separately.

First is the manipulation and verbal abuse your husband displays. That indicates that he has serious problems and probably needs counseling, as well as a good confession.

Second is his talk before marriage of wanting a big family. Was he sincere at the point? Or was he being manipulative? If the latter, there might have been a problem with the marriage from the start.

Third, it’s understandable that you don’t feel drawn to be intimate with him, given the betrayal (and the manipulation and abuse). You don’t need to allow yourself to be treated like a doormat.

It would be good to seek out professional help, including marriage counseling for you and him together, preferably with a solid Catholic counselor.

Also, you might want to intensify your prayers for him. Whatever faults he has, he is still your husband, and your children need a mom and a dad around.

If he shows repentance for the vasectomy — for instance, by an apology and by a good confession — you certainly want to consider forgiving him. And you could certainly resume marital relations.

But you would do well to verify his change of heart, given his practice of manipulation. This wouldn’t necessarily contradict the spirit of Christian forgiveness.

“Forgiving does not mean forgetting,” Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti. “Or better, in the face of a reality that can in no way be denied, relativized or concealed, forgiveness is still possible” [No. 250]. He adds, “Forgiveness is precisely what enables us to pursue justice without falling into a spiral of revenge or the injustice of forgetting” [No. 252].

The Pope’s words were in the context of great social and political evils, but the principle has value in relationships, too. Helping others to overcome their faults and to hold them accountable can be a needed act of charity.

For now, try to take care of your own well-being, through prayers, the sacraments, and a bit of guidance, either with a confessor or a competent spiritual director. Then, take things one day at a time. And don’t lose hope.

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