Detering a jealous partner

The Ethicist takes on a relationship conundrum in which the boyfriend has proposed a solution. He says that his girlfriend’s “jealously marred the early years of our long relationship but gradually abated.” But after a recent outburst of jealous rage, the boyfriend suggested deterring future incidents by putting $1,000 in escrow, which would be forfeited if the girlfriend made another accusation.

The Ethicists’ response? It’s unethical, and if the boyfriend is going to punish her for making false accusations, he should also reward her for true ones.

As to those merits, well, it’s tough to see any amid all the flaws. Here’s one: a loving relationship is not a business relationship. Another: contract law is not the best mechanism for regulating the tender yearnings of the heart. And this: a lover’s feelings, even rage, ought not be so crudely suppressed. Quite the contrary, intimate partners should be free to reveal themselves, to be known and understood. An angry outburst may not be the ideal way to do this, but it is preferable to enforced silence. If you are to cultivate a close connection to another person, you should not promote a plan that discourages her from confiding her feelings or from disclosing herself.

Then there is the matter of symmetry. If you penalize your girlfriend for a false accusation, shouldn’t you reward her for a true one? To do that, you must deposit a similar sum that she would receive if her accusation proved true. Sauce for the goose — the gander, the usual.


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