Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. My in-laws used to hate me: I’ve been married to “Ben” for almost eight years. We have three wonderful kids, and I adore him. Recently, at a family gathering, I found out that my in-laws thought I was a rebound and that I tried to trap him with a pregnancy. They didn’t trust me for some time and encouraged Ben to get a paternity test. It turns out Ben started dating me three months after breaking up with the “love of his life.” (I knew about her, but Ben told me they’d been broken up for much longer.) We were together for six months before I became unexpectedly pregnant. Ben proposed right away, but I turned him down, and we didn’t get married until long after our first child was born, when we’d fallen in love.
My in-laws have never been anything less than loving toward me; whatever he thought in the past, Ben and I have a great marriage now. I’m not sure, then, why these revelations have shaken me so badly. I went home and cried myself to sleep, which I’ve never done before. These revelations came from Ben’s cousin and best friend, not my in-laws. He has no reason to lie, but I still haven’t spoken with Ben about what I’ve learned, and I’m so angry at myself for letting this secret fester. Every time I open my mouth, the words die. I’ve never felt or behaved this way before. What’s wrong with me?
A: I think it’s perfectly reasonable that these revelations have shaken you! I also agree that they shouldn’t necessarily cause you to doubt the solidity of your marriage now, but hearing that your in-laws, who had previously always seemed loving and accepting, not only mistrusted you but believed you were a blip after the real love of your husband’s life and that you were the kind of person who would attempt to “trap” a man into marriage (by being fertile, I suppose)—that would shake anyone.
Please speak to Ben about this as soon as possible. You shouldn’t have to carry this anger and sadness alone. I know it’s been hard to bring the subject up, so it might help to open with that. “I’ve been trying to find a way to bring this up with you, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.” Maybe speaking it out loud will make it real and open you up to further risk and vulnerability. But please don’t be so hard on yourself, or assume that just because you’ve never felt this way before that there must be something wrong with you. You’ve presumably never learned such devastating and shocking news before. You thought they always liked you, and you found out they went so far as to encourage your husband to get a paternity test—no wonder you’ve never felt this way. That doesn’t mean you can’t rebuild a relationship with them, but you don’t have to swallow this wholesale and move on right away. Moreover, your husband lied to you about how long he’d been split from his ex before you two got together. Again, that’s not necessarily the sort of lie that should call into question the wonderful marriage you’ve built over the years, but you’re allowed to feel surprised and hurt, and you’re allowed to talk to him about that.