DEAR CAROLYN: My husband, "Bill," heads a research lab at an academic institution. We met when I was working there my first year out of college. He stayed in academia and I moved on to the biopharmaceutical industry; I'm now head of manufacturing at a small company. My in-laws believe that Bill's Ph.D. means his job is much more important and lucrative than mine when actually I make quite a bit more than he does. We never felt the need to correct them, but my mother-in-law has been a royal pain about me working ever since I had my daughter, "Sara," two years ago. I recently got an earful about how I'm neglecting my daughter, how I don't need to work with Bill's salary and so on. I usually let this go since I'd work whether we needed the money or not, but I'd had a miserable, stressful couple of weeks and I snapped and told her to talk to her son, since I'm the main breadwinner and he should be the one to stay home. Of course she doesn't believe I make more money since I "only" have my master's, and she told Bill I was telling lies about him. Bill is now ticked off at me because he says his dad would be "devastated" to know that I out-earn him. Should I go along with what my husband wants and tell my mother-in-law I made a mistake, and of course Bill makes more money? If I do this Bill has promised to get her to lay off me, but the truth caused all this trouble — will a lie fix it?
BREADWINNER: The truth did not cause this problem! Your in-laws' sexism did, with a hard assist from their delusions. And from their son. Wow.
You say Bill is "ticked off at me" — not his parents — and he's offering to back you up only if you lie for him. He is angry at exactly the wrong party.
You can certainly apologize for losing your composure, and using the truth as a weapon. And you can spend some time exploring your own mind for the reasons you played along with this twisted charade.
But the solution is not to lie the truth back into a box in the closet. The truth is out, so, own it. Live it. For yourself, for your child, for The Cause and, ultimately, for your marriage.
Tell Bill you're not going to be part of a lie anymore. You'll love him, encourage him, support him emotionally as he stands up to his parents and takes a universe of flak for it, but you will not lie for him to appease anyone — especially not people who are so eager to diminish your value just to reinforce their own ignorance and self-satisfaction. And diminish his value, by measuring only in terms of pay. Enough.
If Bill is ready to die on this big fat lie of a hill, then it's probably time for a marriage counselor. (Suitably credentialed to garner his respect!)
RE: THE LIE: I'm thinking your in-laws didn't assume Bill made more than you. He TOLD them so. That's why he wants you to salvage his lie.