Dear Prudence

Help! My Husband’s Family Won’t Forgive Me for Cheating on Him. Should I Say Something?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Rebuilding in-law relationships: I met my husband at the end of 2011. We married in 2014 but separated six months later due to infidelity on my part. After some time apart, I realized how stupid I’d been, we both realized we loved each other and wanted to fix things, and the past year has been mostly glorious. We’re both working hard on our marriage, and I’m happy. The problem is his family. Although they’re never blatantly rude to me, they’re never any more than civil. I completely understand their need to punish me a little—I did very much hurt their son and brother, after all—but I also feel that clinging to the past doesn’t help anything, and it really bothers my husband to feel he must continually defend his decision to “take me back.” We’ve got a big family gathering coming up in two weeks, and I want to say something to let them know that I know I messed up, but my husband forgave me, we love each other, and I really want to start trying to rebuild my relationships with each of them. What do you think?

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A: I think it would be a mistake to announce, “I’m not cheating on Derek anymore” at a family cookout. It’s terrific that you and your husband are working on your marriage and are happier than ever together, but it’s also an enormous red flag that you cheated on him almost immediately after your wedding. This was only two years ago—your in-laws aren’t exactly “clinging to the past.” They’re still wary of the fact that you were unfaithful to your new spouse before you even had the chance to send out thank-you cards. Not just unfaithful, but unfaithful to the point of separation. Presumably your in-laws saw your husband during that period and were deeply saddened by the fact that the two of you could not even live together only a few short months after getting married. I agree that you shouldn’t be punished indefinitely for something you and your husband have both decided you can move past, but I also think that your in-laws are well within their rights to treat you civilly but coolly. They’re not being rude to you, but I think you might see that change if you tried to demand (particularly during a public family gathering) immediate forgiveness and reconciliation from them. Trust, as they say, is gained in drops but lost in buckets. Only time will be able to prove that you’re not the same person you were two years ago and that they can trust their beloved son and brother with you.

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