Not a Vault

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My question is simple: When is one obligated to keep a secret? The
circumstances are not. In our circle of four couples, one has had a
very rough patch. The husband, who works for a state agency, is being
sued, as is the agency, by a disgruntled censured member of the
professional association for which he is an investigator. The wife’s job
was horrific and she just started a new one. Stress plus stress equals
lots of crying. I have been a shoulder to cry on and advice giver for
the couple, though I always end my insights with “Do what your
attorney says.” If things go badly they could lose the house that they
just finished rehabbing. The husband confided in me the other day that
he did something he thought was smart (phoning in an anonymous tip
to the feds about the person who’s suing him) without talking to his
wife or attorney. I thought it was dangerous and dumb. He ended with
“Promise me you won’t tell anyone.” I did but now feel very
compromised. What should I do?

Not a Vault

Dear Not A Vault:

Dial the husband and tell him you feel compromised by his request
that you keep silent. Tell him very clearly that you are a friend to the
family, not just him, and that you know his wife is already suffering,
emotionally and financially, because of the suit. Tell him that they
share in this together, and that it is unfair of him top put her in a
situation where she may be blindsided by the financial repercussions of
the lawsuit, when he has pulled some cowboy stunt without even the
advice and consent of his attorney. Say you won’t be put in that
position again, and that you are not sure if you will be able to keep his
confidence forever. Insist that he talk to his wife about what he has
done so they can move forward as a team, even if that causes anger
between them.

The last sentences put him on notice that if he dos not talk to his wife,
you might. If you really are her friend, you need to be able to say
things to her like, It really matters that you two communicate. And
Has [husband] told you all this thoughts and actions in the case?
Litigation is not cheap. Even winning a defense can be expensive. If
their names are jointly on the home and their savings, her life could be
devastated if the plaintiff prevails. You didn’t agree to confidentiality to
the mutual friends. Warn the wife, sotto voce, that he sometimes
“colors outside the lines” but don’t give details. It’s not a direct path,
but you shouldn’t have to be his secret keeper.