Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Wife’s Secret Past

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the wife’s secret past.

Nicole: Oh, gosh. What a painful thing.

The answer here as far as I can tell is to just keep speaking honestly to your wife about how you feel while also respecting her privacy.

Danny: Yeah, I understand that the LW’s concern for the possibility that the kids might find out later

Nicole: For sure!

Danny: but I don’t think that should override the fact that right now, you and your wife are very much alive, and she’s made it clear she doesn’t want to tell them


Nicole: Yes! And I think the right avenue to pursue isn’t “convince her to tell” so much as “it might be time to talk to someone who isn’t me about this,” while also being prepared to back off.


her boundaries around telling the kids are extremely clear

but this is a deep deep source of pain for her and I know I would want to gently try to encourage her to deal with that

Which may never happen!

Danny: yeah, and I think the LW feels like they CAN’T say this to their wife because it’s so painful for her

and so they’re doing this in secret because it feels less confrontational

Nicole: Yes.

Danny: but in fact it’s a very straightforward contravention of her wishes


so you can either destroy those pictures OR you can tell your wife that you did not actually destroy the box and say you want to revisit the issue now

Nicole: Right!

Danny: and i don’t think that you’ve done anything really bad, exactly, but it has the potential to become bad

Nicole: You can absolutely own this decision if you are honest about it

Danny: i don’t think she’s necessarily going to see this as a big betrayal if you’re honest now about why you felt unable to talk to her about it, apologize for not being honest, and asking to talk a little bit more about it now, or at the very least encourage her to see a counselor


and if she remains totally determined then you should get rid of the pictures

Nicole: Yes, I think that’s right.

Danny: you have grounds and latitude to encourage her to reconsider

but not enough to say “even if you won’t tell the kids, I will”

Nicole: Absolutely not.

Danny: I think it can be hard when your position might very well be better for the kids but it ultimately isn’t your call

and your wife hasn’t done anything to cede the fact that it’s her call to make


Nicole: If this was a child you had together and gave up for adoption, it would be very different

Danny: yes, 100%

Nicole: But this is her story, not yours and hers together

Danny: and while I think you can encourage her to talk about it to SOMEONE, even if not to the kids

I don’t think you should belabor the issue

and you should definitely make it clear that it’s up to her, that you will not try to undermine her, and that she has your support

Nicole: Which is probably a source of real fear for her

Danny: It’s clear the LW really cares about their wife and wants to do right, so I think that will serve them really well