Dear Prudence

The Marriage Has Two Faces

My wife flirts with my brothers and trashes my sisters-in-law.

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Dear Prudence,
Recently my 23-year-old nephew asked if we could talk man to man. He told me he was marrying his college girlfriend. He said that if my wife ever treated her as badly as she has treated his mother and his other aunt, he would not be silent about it as my brothers have been. When I replied with shock, he ran down a list of statements, actions, and other offenses my wife has committed that he has witnessed over the past 15 years. My wife has gossiped to the church leadership about my brothers and sisters-in-law, losing them positions they should have had. She ruined family events with childish demands and outbursts when I was not in the room. He suggested failures in my career could be because of her. He ended by saying his mother and aunt have never once said anything demeaning about my wife in front of him or anyone. He told of a time when he was in high school and a lady from church confronted his mother about a lie my wife had spread that the church lady believed. I have been completely unaware of any of this. I talked to our pastor, my boss, and my brothers. All have told me stories that made me sick to my stomach about how she has flirted with them when I am not around, and the horrible things my wife has done to other women. They all have assumed I knew all about this and have been allowing it to continue. After we talked, our pastor agreed to talk to the other leadership and correct the lies that have tainted my sisters-in-law. My sisters-in-law are caring, compassionate, never judge, and put family above all else. I feel like trash having exposed them to 15 years of torture, and for believing for even one second some of the things my wife has said about them. While I am sick to my stomach and worry that my own children may see this behavior and copy it, I am torn about what do to. Our pastor feels that I should address the congregation and ask forgiveness—our whole family attends the same church. He then wants me and my wife to enter counseling to repair our relationship so we can grow and she maybe can change. I want to grab my kids, hit the door, file for divorce, and then begin repairing the relationship with my family. What do you think? 


Dear Stunned,
There’s a contradiction in your story, Stunned. You say that you have been entirely oblivious to the behavior of the apparent sociopath you’re married to. Then you note you’re sickened that you believed any of the nasty things your wife told you about your sisters-in-law. So I think that while the worst things she did may have been behind your back, you willfully decided long ago not to turn and face them. I have to disagree with your pastor’s suggestion. I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to stand in front of the congregation and say that you’ve come to realize you’re married to the spawn of Satan but that you hope with counseling (and maybe exorcism) she can be remolded into a lovely person. Sure, now that you know about the lies she’s spread, you should continue to do your best to address these and clear them up. I don’t understand the silence of your sisters-in-law. It’s one thing to turn the other cheek, it’s another to let someone claw at it for years without defending oneself. You may fantasize about fleeing with the kids, but it doesn’t work that way. First you have to tell your wife about what you’ve discovered. You’ve made a life and had children with her, and you have to find out directly what she’s been up to. If she starts lying to you, say you’ve always found your pastor to be an honest person, and he has attested to her perfidy. If you do divorce, she is the mother of your children and will continue to be a major figure in their lives—being scum is generally not reason enough to lose custody. I do agree that counseling is called for—for you. Whatever happens to your marriage going forward, you must address the fact that you have somehow sleepwalked through much of your adult life.


Dear Prudence,
My loving, kind boyfriend of five years has spent the last 10 months in prison. He was off to a great start in his profession when a friend snitched and he got in trouble for possession with intent to distribute an illegal drug (that is legal one state over). He is now getting out of jail in his early 30s with more than $180,000 in student loan debt, a felony conviction, and is losing his professional license. We have stayed together during this ordeal, and luckily my family and friends are very supportive. I love him dearly and can’t wait for him to be home, but as his release date gets closer, I am starting to have a return of some of the anxiety symptoms I began having after his arrest. I work full time in a field I am very passionate about and could eventually be employed by the government. I am worried about how his record will affect me in the long term. I also sometimes feel that I am being a real idiot for staying with him due to his poor decisions. However, I am crazy about him, and we have so much fun together all the time. Any advice?

—He’s in the Big House

Dear Big,
So you have a great guy who’s broke and has no prospects, and sadly he’s in this situation because of his own disastrous decision to distribute drugs. Yes, marijuana is slowly becoming legal—as I think it should be—but if it’s not legal in your state, and you are dealing it, bad consequences may ensue. We put too many people in jail, and continue to punish them—even nonviolent offenders—long after they have paid their debt to society. Sadly, in the age of electronic records, even a long-ago crime can make getting hired at a good job impossible. Your boyfriend has lost his career, has fallen behind in his student loans, and his employment prospects are dim. You love him, but the thought of getting back together with him is causing you anxiety attacks. You two aren’t married and you don’t have children. You and your family and friends should remain close and stalwart supporters of his—he’s going to need all the help he can get. But when you consider him as a life partner, you have to give serious thought to the consequences of staying together, and whether it would be better to let him go.


Dear Prudence,
I have been divorced for three years and have worked hard to re-establish my own life. However, something remains a continual thorn in my side: My ex refused to provide me with copies of photographs from our seven years together. She did accede to handing over some wedding photos, but I have nothing from our vacations, the early years of our pets, events with friends, etc. Nearly all of those photos exist digitally (and in extravagant scrapbooks she created at the time), so I cannot see any difficulty in compiling and forwarding them to me. I’ve debated contacting previous friends who I believe are still in touch with her, or even her family members, though I don’t know if any of them would help. How do I get back these important documents of my life?

—Say Cheese

Dear Say,
Let’s say there had been a conflagration that consumed all your photo albums and there was no digital record. You’d just have to accept they were gone. Well, there was an emotional conflagration that has resulted in your not being able to get your hands on the photos of your years together. If it’s true you don’t have a single nonwedding photo from that seven-year period, then you’d better get a selfie stick now and make sure you document your life to your liking. This marriage ended, and it sounds as if it came to a pretty bitter conclusion. Since you’re not in touch with her friends or family, I think they would find your request to act as go-betweens bizarre. It may be frustrating that you have no photos of the early years of your cats, dogs, or ferrets, but it’s not a tragedy. You say you’ve been working hard these past three years to re-establish your own life. Continue to do so by looking forward, and forget about trying to get your hands on evidence of the past.


Dear Prudence,
My husband and I moved away from family over 15 years ago to pursue our careers. Since then we have spent the majority of our vacation time and thousands of dollars coming home to visit our parents and siblings at least twice a year (including Thanksgiving, which is always a very expensive circus). In part, we visit out of a sense of obligation, but also because we want to stay connected. Meanwhile, our family has visited us only a handful of times. This year, I am trying to start a tradition of a summer retreat in which everyone gathers for a few days at a lake cabin. The location would be within a three-hour drive for them and the time commitment would be minimal. I am getting such a lukewarm, noncommittal response to this proposal that resentment has started to build. Why should we go to the trouble, year after year, to see the family if getting together is not important to them? I’m tempted to cut our trips home altogether, if it didn’t mean that our kids would lose time with their extended family. Is it reasonable to ask for some reciprocity from our families? Should we just stop visiting?

—Fed Up

Dear Fed,
They can be lukewarm about a summer get-together because it sounds as if they all see each other all the time and the vacation you propose sounds like cabin fever to them. You need to be less oblique about all this. Tell them that because you live far away, keeping a connection with all of them is important to you, but it’s also costly. Explain that it’s not just the financial expense, but the fact that you don’t take vacations elsewhere in order to see them. Then say this is all part of why you think a lake retreat would be a wonderful new tradition. If they agree you need a definite yes and a check. If it doesn’t come together, then you should take this opportunity to take a real vacation with your immediate family. I hope it’s so much fun that you decide to do more, and do so without guilt. If you live somewhere fun, suggest your extended family consider your home a vacation destination—that would help you feel visits are less one-sided. I love Thanksgiving, but I don’t have to brave any airports. If the travel headaches for this holiday are a misery, drop it, and choose some less taxing long weekend for an annual visit. Feeling angry and resentful at having to schlep to see your family will only defeat the whole purpose of the trip.


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