We lift the lid on modern marriage, while five husbands confess their lies, big and small
Wives, here is a fact you definitely don’t want to know about your husband: he wants to shag your best friend. Not only does he want to shag your best friend, but also your second and third-best friends. (And fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.) There’s nothing personal about this. In fact, in a strange way, he means it as a compliment. You see, one of the many delightful things he has noticed about women is that they tend to associate with women who are on a roughly similar level of pulchritude and general hotness. So what he’s sorta, kinda saying when he fancies your friends is how much he fancies you. But he’d never try articulating any of this to you. It’s just one of those many things that Wives Just Don’t Understand.
Oh dear, I do wish I hadn’t written that paragraph. And I also wish I wasn’t about to write the rest of this article either. You see, as a man and a husband myself, I believe there are certain secrets to which the Opposition – ie, women/wives – should never be privy.
Yet just because I had a phone call from a female commissioning editor (with the same name as that of a girl I once snogged when I was a teenager, though no relation, apparently), I’ve decided to sell out the brotherhood for a few pieces of silver.
Sorry, chaps. My advice, if you want to get yourselves off the hook, is to look her in the eye and swear it’s all lies. Or at least a grotesque distortion of the truth. To help your case, you can point out that this piece is based on a mix of detailed interviews and half-remembered drunken pub chats with no more than a dozen men. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and income groups; some are recently married; some are on their second or third wives; some have had affairs; most haven’t (or not that they’ll admit to); at least one of them is gay.
But 12 men is still a pathetically small sample; that’s what I’d tell her. Remember, as you say it, really to feel as though what you’re saying is true. If you do that, she’s much more likely to believe you, because women just aren’t as basic as men. They are often less interested in what you say than the way you say it. This is why, for example, women are so often smitten by utterly amoral cads who can tell them the beautiful lies they want to hear with total sincerity.
Having studied psychology and counselled numerous couples in failing marriages, neuro-linguistic programming expert Steve Wichett knows about all the naughty things husbands get up to. He also knows the fundamental reason why men lie to their wives: “It’s a strategy to avoid pain and punishment.”
Possibly, he argues – citing Allan and Barbara Pease’s Why Men Lie and Women Cry – it’s an extension of man’s atavistic hunting-and-fighting instinct; the need to conceal his true intentions to fox his prey/opponent and ward off attack. Today, it has an equally important role to play in keeping a marriage together. “Telling the whole truth to your wife is neither realistic nor desirable.” Or, as Mike, a manager, robustly puts it after 12 years of marriage: “You start out with this stupid, romantic notion, ‘Because we’re now in a relationship there’s nothing we can’t share.’ Then you realise: ‘That’s bollocks!’”
And lest you think these are just typically male-chauvinist perspectives, here is The Times’s sex expert, Suzi Godson: “You don’t need to share everything in marriage because there are some subjects on which men and women will simply never see eye to eye.” She cites everything from expenditure to porn use to sexual fantasies. “Couples fare better when they keep their gender mystique.”
The first thing husbands very necessarily keep shtoom about is their nagging discomfort at having got married in the first place. It’s not that they can’t see the benefits of the union – “Men need it because it gives them a partner with the emotional intelligence they know they lack,” says Wichett – only that they will always consider obedience and perpetual monogamy slightly unnatural states for a bloke. “I don’t know many men who feel truly comfortable with it,” says Peter, 38, an art dealer. “I think most men see their wives as authority figures that they have to rebel against. Sometimes I’ll nip outside for a sneaky fag, not because I’m a smoker, but because of how much my wife hates it.
“Shopping’s another good one. I always use Waitrose because my wife gets cross that it’s so expensive. And although it isn’t true to say I buy things deliberately to annoy her, it’s definitely a good incentive. The other day I found this statuette on eBay, commissioned for a competition in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, of a female athlete raising her arm in an Olympic salute, which also looks quite Nazi. There’s a swastika stamped on the bottom. It was only £200, and it’s now in our sitting room, but my wife hates it. She says it’s a total waste of money and that everyone will think we’re Nazis.”
Many husbands see their relationships as a game of cat and mouse, of bluff and counterbluff, like a – usually – more amiable replay of the Cold War. “I’ll encourage her to have her friends round for a proper girls’ evening, making out like I’m really worried to ensure she has a nice time,” says Mike. “But it’s not really that, obviously. What I really want is an extra night out with the boys for me. I think that secretly she knows that. She plays along with my lie to please me, which suits me fine.”
Not one man I spoke to believed for one second that the best way to deal with your wife was openly, straightforwardly and honestly at all times. “Jesus, how could you?” says Ben, 34, a gym instructor.