Can we do surprises in this marriage?

Husband has just returned from 2 weeks of annual Army training. (Hooray!) Originally, I was supposed to be out of town on a girls’ weekend the day he arrived home. We were disappointed that I would be driving off from our home just hours before he would be turning into our now-familiar driveway, but my trip had been planned for months whereas his training was scheduled a relatively “late” six weeks ago. With husband’s agreement, I decided to be selfish and go forward with the trip even though that meant two additional days before we’d reunite. He knows the group of ladies I would be traveling with, and knew how much I was looking forward to our getaway.

However, my trip was cancelled two days before his training ended. Wanting to surprise my husband by being home for the weekend, I kept up the front that I was going:

  • “Yup, I’m excited for the weekend. I just finished packing. Tomorrow I’m going to make a pasta dish to bring for dinner one night, and pack some snacks for the car.”
  • “I’m so sorry I won’t be here when you get home on Friday. But you’ll enjoy having the house to yourself. You can catch up on sleep and watch Netflix without me telling you to get up and do something productive.”

Friday came and I almost let it slip that I was not on the road that morning as I should have been. When he called me around 9, I answered the phone from my office with, “Hey, can’t talk, I’m working.”

“Working?” He replied. “I thought you’d have left for the lake by now.”


“Oh, I meant that I’m just answering emails before the carpool arrives,” I recovered. He didn’t give it a second thought.

I took off early that afternoon but just missed him at home: His laundry and suitcase were all over the kitchen, but he had gone to a massage appointment I had booked him as a welcome home gift. No big deal. I showered, put on makeup and a dress, and played with our dogs while I waited for him to come home.

And waited. And waited some more.

Finally I texted him: “Where are you?”
Husband: “Oh, I just left the house. I decided to go out for dinner rather than stay home.”
Me [red flag pops up in my brain]: “Oh. You just left the house?”
Hubs: “Yeah. I came home after the massage to let the dogs out, and now I’m headed to dinner. Where are you?”
Me: [red flag begins slowly waving] “We’re almost to the lake. Send me a picture of the dogs. I miss them.”
Hubs: [Sends a video of the dogs greeting him inside our house!]
Me: [red flag is whipping back and forth] ….

Maybe that request for a photo could be considered entrapment, but I wanted to give my husband one last “out.” I wanted him to say, “Well, actually I am going to straight to dinner, but the dogs should be fine. I’m not planning on being out late. Just going to eat and come home.”

Except that he produced a ready-to-go video of a scenario that probably happened that afternoon, but can I really be sure?

Oh heck no.

Enough. I called him: “Where are you?”
Him: “Right now? I’m at home.”
Me: “No, you’re not, because I’M at home and you are not.”
Him: “You’re… At home?”
Me: “Yes. The trip was cancelled two days ago.”
Him: “I’m coming home.”

He pulled into the garage with an angry look. When he climbed out of the car, his first words weren’t “sorry” or “Please forgive me.” They were:

“Well, we both lied.”


He’s right.

I lied to him about this situation, too.

What is the difference between a surprise and a lie? Was I wrong to try and surprise him by being present sooner than he expected? I thought he would be happy about that. (He was. But his face needed to go from red back to normal first.)

But I still lied to him for two days. I told him I was packing. I told him I was prepping meals. I told him we were on the road, and here’s who is with me, and sure, I’ll tell them hello. He didn’t like finding out I misled him.

His lie didn’t sit well with me either, and he knew it. What do I care that he went out for dinner instead of staying at home with a sandwich as he originally said? If I really had been on my trip, what could I have done about it? Nothing, that’s what. He could have told me he was at a strip club, and I could have done nothing in that moment. (Though upon my return, we would be doing some serious soul-searching.) But in our marriage, it’s not a crime to go out for a hot dinner.

Standing in our driveway opposite each other, he said he knew I wouldn’t really mind. He didn’t know why he lied. I said I was sorry for misleading him. I just wanted to surprise him.

But maybe surprises aren’t a good idea for us. Just like some couples can’t do certain activities together because they become too competitive or irritable, maybe we need to agree that surprises too easily lead to fibs and the feeling that we’re being dishonest with each other. Therefore, we need to not do surprises.

Yes dear, now I’m telling the truth.

Or maybe we need to discuss what is okay to keep hidden and for how long, before it slides from the positive plateau of “Yay, fun!” to the hurtful valley of “Why didn’t you just be honest with me?!” I love this post from Melissa M. about how her family keeps surprises, not secrets: A surprise is something hidden but positive, and has a relatively short deadline for revealing it, like a birthday gift or a surprise party. A secret is something that is kept quiet because revealing it would hurt someone, get you in trouble, or get someone else in trouble. In her family, secrets are not allowed.

Her post is written from the perspective of a parent trying to protect her kids from harmful strangers or “friends” while at the same time teaching them to be honest about their own actions. But maybe her categorization of secrets vs surprises would be good for couples to consider in terms of the amount of trust we want to maintain with each other. As my husband and I discovered, our words and actions can have an outsized effect that twists our good intentions. I wanted to surprise him with extra time together, but he thought he could come and go as he pleased because I told him I was not home. He wanted me to not be disappointed that he was going to a smoky pub, but I was exactly where he thought I would not be for his lie to work. Furthermore, where I place my white lies on the spectrum of acceptable truth differs from where husband places them. Then we not only have a problem with honesty, but also a problem about expectations for each other.

How much do I want my spouse to trust me?
How is this white lie going to affect our mutual trust after this?

In the name of a healthy marriage, do we keep surprises, secrets, or nothing at all from each other?

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