Dear Prudence

The Other Man

My husband of 30 years is devastated by the death of his male affair partner.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
My husband and I have been married for more than three decades and have grown children and grandchildren. Fifteen years ago, I discovered that my husband had been having an affair with another man for about five years. I was devastated, but my husband and I worked through it and stayed together. We poured ourselves into the lives of our children and grandchildren and now our marriage is better than it was before I discovered the affair. I thought it was all behind us. However, a few months ago, in the middle of the night, I woke up to find that my husband was not in bed. I went looking for him and found him sitting in the backyard sobbing. He told me that he had learned that the man he’d had an affair with had passed away. I said nothing and left him alone with his grief. Since then, he hasn’t mentioned this man, but I can tell he is depressed. I want to be supportive and understanding but I am having a hard time gathering any sympathy. I feel torn because I don’t even want to acknowledge that this “other man” even existed. Any suggestions?


Dear Uncomfortable,
Before answering your letter, in my mind I changed “other man” to “other woman,” to see if it made a difference. I think it does. Let’s say years ago your husband had had a female lover, and your discovery of the affair almost ended your marriage, but you soldiered on and rebuilt your happy lives. By now that time would have come to seem like a blip in your solid marriage, not the blight of it. Sure, if you discovered him sobbing over her death, it would have felt like a stab to the heart, but you could also comfort yourself that he made the decision to recommit to you. But a long affair with another man raises other issues. Maybe your husband is bisexual and this was the only time he explored this aspect of himself. But maybe, if your husband had been born in another world—well, this world—and recognized he was gay, he might have decided to live his life as an openly gay man, and then you two would not have married. If your husband, who is presumably in his 60s, had wanted marriage, children, “normalcy” when he was young, that would have required repressing his true nature. Maybe he did so—until he couldn’t anymore. In this situation, giving up his lover for the sake of his marriage was closing the door on a more honest version of himself. You would like to pretend this long ago episode never happened. I don’t know if in your struggle to save the marriage back then whether you two ever really grappled with what was going on. But it sounds as if you tacitly made it clear you wanted your husband to keep from you some essential knowledge about himself. There is not much more someone can do to protect a spouse than to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to sob in the backyard. I know his sadness over the loss of his lover reminds you of the violation of his vows to you. But to honor your decades together, it would be magnanimous, and healing for both of you, if you reached out to him. You can say that you are happy and grateful you two kept your marriage together and you hope he feels the same way. Tell him his ongoing depression over the death of his lover stirs up painful feelings for you, but that you also understand he needs to mourn. I think you should suggest he seek grief counseling because he needs some place to express his feelings. Encouraging him to really deal with this is the best way to get him back. 


Dear Prudence,
I was raised by liberal parents in a small conservative city. One of my good friends from high school, “Wendy,” is a deeply religious evangelical Christian who spent several years after high school without much direction. During that time, she got pregnant and terminated the pregnancy. I was the only person she told because she knew I wouldn’t judge her. Wendy has subsequently figured out her life and become a mother and works in a respected career. We are in touch only on social media. She is rabidly pro-life, and with the recent news involving Planned Parenthood, she is posting a lot of vile pro-life literature: Women who have abortions are murderers, they are going to hell, Planned Parenthood is run by the devil, etc. I am bothered not only because I disagree with the content of the posts, but also because I know that this friend had an abortion. My husband thinks I should call Wendy out for her hypocrisy. He thinks I should privately message her and politely remind her that she herself was once in a desperate spot. I think that such a message would be seen as a threat. She may fear that I will tell other people about her abortion, and as much as I would love to air a conservative’s dirty laundry, I made a promise not to blab. But there is a part of me that really wants to call her out. What do you think?

—Liberal in Middle America

Dear Liberal,
I think your friend is maddening, but that contacting her would give neither of you satisfaction, and that outing her would be a violation and counterproductive. She’s a hypocrite, but if you were to publicly call her out, you’d look like a bully and wouldn’t change any minds. If you sent her a note saying, “Remember your abortion?” I agree she’d probably see it as a threat. She’d also likely parry your reminder. She’d say the reason she is so active now is because of her grave sin, one she has regretted ever since and which she hopes to keep other young women from committing. Since this relationship has dwindled to social media only, cut that final connection and get Wendy and her rants out of your life.


Dear Prudie,
I am a married woman in my early 40s with young children whose longtime, local job in New England is being transitioned to the corporate office in the Midwest. My husband works for the same company and has a job offer there and we’ve decided to relocate. The company is compensating us generously. The issue is that my mother, who’s in her late 60s, is having a very difficult time accepting our decision. She insists that I stay, even though she knows it would put my family at financial risk since I would no longer have a job. She is giving me guilt trips laden with mentions of emotional abandonment, threats that she’d “rather not be alive” if I go, and accusations of putting greed before family. We have asked her to move with us, and she refuses. We have told her we can bring her out for weeks at a time to stay with us, which she also refuses because she said she won’t drive such long distances and doesn’t like to fly. I understand her sadness, but I’m becoming angry and resentful that she thinks it is a viable answer to put my family in financial peril for her. Please help.

—Leaving on a Jet Plane?

Dear Jet,
Though I don’t buy her claims of emotional abandonment, I do buy that you are being emotionally blackmailed. Your mother is insinuating she’ll kill herself if you follow the absolutely necessary path of transferring to headquarters. I believe that’s an empty threat, but if she keeps this up, she’ll only make your move easier by causing you to want to flee her harangues. You don’t say that your mother is infirm, so while she may not be up to driving herself such long distances, there’s no excuse for her to say she’ll refuse to get on a plane for a relatively short hop. But flying to see you wouldn’t even be necessary if she’d agree to take you up on your offer of moving to the Midwest. Presumably, she’s a lifelong New Englander with a web of family and friends, so she may not want to start over. But that’s her decision, and it means spending time with you and the grandchildren will require travel. Tell her you’re going, her options have been explained to her, and you are going to refuse to listen to more weeping and wailing. If she starts in, hang up the phone or leave—until you leave for good. If she does change her mind about staking out a claim in the Midwest, be sure she gets a place of her own. You don’t want to deal with a mother like this under your roof at the end of every day.


Dear Prudence,
I have a 32-year-old son who lives by himself and has no current girlfriend. He’s often at my place for meals and he is good company. However, he never helps with the dishes, never cooks or prepares any food. He does, however, help me around the house in many ways, such as fixing my computer, doing small electrical jobs, helping in the garden, etc. I would like him to help me cook and do dishes sometimes, and I think being able to make a meal is a skill everyone should have. Am I wrong in wanting him to do more kitchen things even if he is doing a fair bit of work around the house?

—Apron Strings

Dear Apron,
I agree basic familiarity with the kitchen is an essential life skill for everyone. It’s too bad you didn’t get your son an apron about a quarter-century ago and have him help you with cutting and cooking, and setting and clearing the table. But it’s not too late! Since he’s over frequently, just start including him in the meal prep. “Sweetie, please set the table.” “I could use your help chopping the ingredients for the spaghetti sauce,” etc. If he protests he doesn’t know how to lay a place setting and has never done any kitchen knife work, then tell him that’s partly your fault and it’s time to rectify that. Let’s hope in short order you two can have a companionable time in the kitchen working side by side. If you help him get some basic skills, when your birthday rolls around tell him the thing you’d love most is for him to cook you dinner.


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