Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Mental Illness and Family: My (second) husband and I have been together for 14 years now. He has struggled with alcoholism and mental health issues this whole time. I have supported him in his quest to get healthy. In February, he had a complete meltdown, stopped his pills one day (you have to taper off these meds, not stop cold turkey) and during this episode he threatened to commit suicide, and I had to call 911 (he had a rifle and it was confiscated). First and only time he has ever threatened to hurt himself, I was in no danger, he never threatened me, nor did I ever feel in fear of my own safety. Since then he has been working very hard and getting counseling to get healthy and not have this type of episode occur again. I left him briefly after that and after a lot of counseling myself, and talks with our rabbi, I have decided to stay in the marriage and honor my vows. My problem is my 28-year-old daughter. I made the mistake of telling her about this episode, and now I have her saying “I never liked him, and don’t want him back in my life.” He has never been anything but kind and supportive to her. At this point, she is refusing to let him come to her wedding (in October), and I am at a loss on how to reconcile this part of our family. I am thinking I need to get her and me together with a family counselor? She did mention she is angry that I am working on this marriage, yet divorced her dad. Your input would be appreciated.
A: Just as you can’t control your husband, you can’t control your daughter’s reactions to this news about him. From your perspective he may have been kind and supportive to her, but presumably she has picked up that he was also an alcoholic with mental health issues. Yes, it’s juvenile that she resents your staying with him while divorcing her father. But independent of that she could have had difficulties and concerns about him over the years. Once you tell a loved one that your husband went crazy, threatened violence, and had a gun, you should be prepared for a lack of support for continuing the marriage. You also sound naive in the extreme if you think someone waving a weapon while in the grip of a suicidal mania could never be of danger to you. However, if your daughter refuses to include your husband at her wedding, it is your decision whether to take the stand that you and he are a couple and if he’s not invited, you won’t go. You can suggest to your daughter you’d like a neutral party to help you two hear each other out on the subject of your husband and her wedding. But don’t go into it with the idea that the point of the discussions will be to get her to come around.
Dear Prudence: Drama Queen Mom
Q. Husband’s Two-Year Affair: I wrote three weeks ago about discovering my husband’s two-year affair via Facebook. He exchanged graphic messages and evidence of hook-ups with the wife of a friend and you chastised me for sharing the detail with the wife’s husband before confronting mine. Skip to three-weeks later—I’ve confronted him, he came clean, his girlfriend/skank has also apologized, other husband is aware and he and wife/skank are dealing with things in their own way. Now, I’m trying to figure out what to do and how to feel. Husband wants me to forgive now that he has apologized and swears he wants me/us more than anything else. Says they just gave each other something that was missing in their lives, but it’s out of his system and he’ll be good. I don’t really believe one can deny or turn away from something so intensely personal and physical as what he had with her for two years. She’s totally opposite from the type of person I am. Their messages were so XXX and disgusting. The voice in my head is telling me to walk away, but it’s hard. We’ve been married for almost 30 years and I still feel a loyalty to our marriage. The ironic thing is we were in counseling for a while a few months ago before I discovered the affair so I’m really angry that he was so dishonest all along. Should I cut my losses? I’m so exhausted and humiliated and feel like an idiot.
A: I think I am to draw the conclusion that whatever you are, it is not a skank. Your husband had a lengthy, sexually thrilling affair which he apparently did little to hide. Sexually explicit messages on Facebook are a poor clandestine technique. Your husband was a full participant in this, so it would be better for you not to deflect your anger onto the “skank.” Your husband lied to you during counseling, which is not a good sign. You have nothing redemptive to say about him, your only interest seems in preserving the marriage, which you make sound as if it exists separately from the two people in it. Last we heard you were on your way to the lawyer’s office. I don’t see any reason you shouldn’t keep that appointment.
Q. Everyone’s Expecting … but Me: I’ve been married for eight years and struggle with infertility (I’m 33). My parents keep asking about grandkids, and of my circle of friends all of them are pregnant. I’m literally left out of all discussions and it hurts. We’ve been trying for a baby for the past seven years but always come up “empty.” None of my friends can understand the emotional toll this is taking and I don’t want to be the “Debbie downer” so I often find myself making excuses as to why I don’t want to go over for a group dinner or a game night. I’ve managed to alienate everyone and am soon going to find myself not getting invited for anything. My husband knows how hard this is for me and there’s nothing he can do, he keeps saying go to the doctor but it doesn’t matter—we don’t have the money for the infertility treatments (he’s not working) and insurance doesn’t cover it. I find myself getting more and more depressed when I think about it. I’m trying to be a strong person and act like this doesn’t bother me but it’s just not working, I’m starting to crumble. Everyone is always asking when we are going to have kids. I just don’t even know how to respond anymore and I’m finding I’m starting to become bitter and resentful. Any suggestions on how I can get out of this funk?
A: First of all contact Resolve, an infertility support organization. They may have advice on treatment options for you. They certainly will have advice on coping and not retreating from everyone you love. If you’ve never even tried fertility treatments because of the cost, this seems like a time to go to both your parents and see if they can help you out. I also wonder if you’ve really explored your options with your own insurance company. It never hurts to press your case. Take action now because the sooner you address this medically the better the potential outcome.
Q. Relationships: My boyfriend and I have been dating for two-and-a-half years and we’re likely getting married someday. I have been welcomed into his family as one of their own and my family is also happy for me. There’s just one problem. Recognizing that both of our families are pretty traditional and old-school, my boyfriend and I lied and told our parents that we met through friends. In reality, we met online. We aren’t ashamed about meeting online, it has become a norm with our peers and in urban communities. While the story of how we met isn’t a recurring topic that comes up, we realize that if we tie the knot someday, this is likely to come up again. Our friends know we met online and our families don’t. How should we break the truth?
A: By telling them the truth. When you are each with your own families, either separately or together, and the topic of marriage, etc., comes up, you say, “We need to correct a misimpression. We didn’t get fixed up by friends. We got fixed up by an algorithm that had excellent judgment. We met on an online dating site.” Let’s give your families enough credit to assume that they won’t get the vapors about this. And if they are all so traditional, then tradition would dictate they say something like, “We appreciate your telling us the real story. We will now be grateful to those little computer elves for doing such good work!”
Q. Re: Everyone’s expecting: Been there, done that. It stinks. However, there are many options for fertility treatment that ARE covered by insurance. See: my oldest child. Most insurance does not cover IVF (although I’m not sure that’s even true anymore), but most other options are covered. You owe it to yourself to at least talk to a fertility specialist.
A: Exactly. As another reader pointed out, insurance might cover the diagnostic tests to find out the reasons for the infertility and correcting the problem might also be covered. She’s got to take action.
Q. Daughter’s Boyfriend: My 20-year-old daughter recently got back together with a boyfriend she had broken up with about three months ago. Her father and I were happy when they broke up because we didn’t approve of him—he lies, doesn’t work, and they have gotten physical in their fights. Now that she’s supporting herself, we fear that she’ll let him move in and basically live off her. How can we support her when all we see is a disaster brewing?
A: You tell her you are concerned about this reconciliation because someone who is capable of the behaviors he engaged in is highly likely to repeat them. Then you keep tabs as much as possible without being overbearing, which will likely only push her closer to him. I wish there was a magic formula to keep women from attaching themselves to violent losers.
Q. Recurring Dreams: A little more than seven years ago my mom passed away from cancer. Since then I have had recurring dreams that she is alive and then just disappears from my dreams. Since my mom passed, my dad has remarried a lovely lady. Sometimes what also happens in these recurring dreams is that mom is alive but dad chooses his new wife over my mom and then my mom runs off and disappears. Each time I have these dreams I just wake up broken-hearted. Yes, I’ve mourned my mom, but I still miss her very much. Is this a “normal” thing for people to have with these kinds of dreams or is this something that I’m just unlucky to have? I don’t want to wish these dreams of her completely away because sometimes these dreams are happy ones with my mom and I just enjoying doing something like we used to when she was still alive.
A: This is totally normal and I’m glad you find some comfort in these dreams. Many people who have experienced loss look forward to this kind of nightly visitation. I think you should appreciate the way your unconscious is dealing with the fact that because your mother no longer exists in the earthly realm your father has to choose his new wife. Keep a dream journal and write down as many details of the dreams as you can. Capturing them will make you feel more in control and also make you appreciate how creative your sleeping mind is.
Q. Re: For everyone’s expecting: I am undergoing infertility treatments now and in addition to what Prudie advised, I also urge you to confide in some friends. Pick those you trust to be sensitive and caring and open up. After not telling anyone about my own problems with this, I finally did and it’s made such a difference. For example, you may find as I did that one of your pregnant friends needed some help to get there. And besides that, you’ll be giving your friends the chance to support you and be there for you, which is something you need right now. Please don’t isolate yourself, and hang in there. You’re not alone!
A: Good advice, thanks.
Q. Shadow of the Ex: How do I keep myself from feeling compared to the ex-wife of my fabulous boyfriend? I adore him, we have a wonderful time together, and I KNOW that he chooses to be with me, that their relationship was over before we met. However, he was with her for a decade, so all his stories are “we used to XXX” and it rubs me the wrong way sometimes. I’m not jealous, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a relationship with her too?
A: It depends how often the “We used to” comes up. If every time you go to an ethnic restaurant he has to mention that Karen loved that type of food, that’s weird. But if you’re planning a vacation to France and he says that he and his ex went to Provence annually, that’s germane. If the mention of the ex is a verbal tic and you’re not being oversensitive, then with as much humor and calmness as you can muster just say that you’d like to hear less about the ex.
Q. Re: Recurring Dreams: Four years ago I lost my bipolar older sister to suicide. I too occasionally suffer from recurring dreams where I notice my sister is slipping backing into one of her extremely manic states and I wake up thinking I need to call my mom to tell her I think Sis has gone off her meds again and we need to intervene. The dreams can feel so real I forget that she has already passed. Yes, it’s heartbreaking, but not abnormal. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed, there are always times we miss loved ones that are gone. It’s good to miss them! It’s a reminder of how much we loved them while they were here. Moving on from a death doesn’t mean you don’t miss them, you just discover a new normal.
A: I’m sorry for your loss and thank you for this wise response.
Q. Dangerous Co-worker: I have a colleague who’s an older man who is always butting into conversations and sharing personal and sometime inappropriate things. He doesn’t pick up on social cues, so once he starts telling you a story he’ll follow you around until he’s done. He has started telling people he thinks he is either blacking out, or possibly having seizures. His cubicle is right next to mine and repeatedly he has come into mine to sit down thinking it’s his. A couple of weeks ago he started acting funny and then someone found him just a few minutes later passed out in the elevator. Today, while walking through an open hallway he tripped over a chair. I’ve passed him driving on the way to work and I’m worried he’s a danger on the road. He’s mentioned he’s been to the doctor to be checked out, but I seriously doubt he would ever admit to being a dangerous driver.
A: Report your concerns to a higher up. If someone can’t remember his own cubicle, trips on furniture, and passes out in the elevator, this means he is need of a medical evaluation immediately. If he does any driving in the course of his work duties, that could create potential liability for the company. Tell human resources or his supervisor that you don’t want to get into his private affairs, but he’s expressed a concern that he may be having seizures and his behavior around the office indicates his worries may be well-founded.
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