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I’ve been with my husband for nearly 30 years. I began therapy after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop crying. Turns out my “unpleasant” college experience was actually sexual assault. In therapy, I started to unpack my life, and after about a year I came to the disturbing conclusion that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. That was almost a year ago. My husband, very much to his credit, has stepped up, taken responsibility, and changed his behavior. We are in therapy together, and it has been very productive. The hurtful behaviors have greatly diminished in frequency and severity. They aren’t all gone, but progress is ongoing. Not so long ago, I felt sure we were headed toward a divorce. Now I feel reasonably confident that we will, as a couple, get through this and be better off. I also see my own therapist as well.
My question is about cannabis. I love to get high. My husband, not so much. He usually doesn’t mind if I do, but there’s been many times in the (not so distant) past that he hasn’t been so nice about it. He has strong opinions about how much is too much and would be upset if he knew I got high most days. I’m through with letting his opinion and temper dictate what I do. Sometimes I’ll let him know I’m going to smoke a bowl. Sometimes he’ll partake with me. But often he has no idea when I’m high. Vape pens are very discreet, and he’ll never know if I’m buzzed while watching a movie at night. Since COVID, my intake has increased, because it helps with anxiety and stress. And, to be honest, why the hell wouldn’t I want to be high when I’m stuck at home after work with nothing to do (he’s a total workaholic)? I’m not even a little concerned about my consumption from a medical, psychological, or financial perspective. I also don’t think he has to know everything. I wouldn’t care if he did it in front of me, so I wouldn’t care if he kept it from me. I should mention that this is legal in my state, I have a medical marijuana card, and my prescribing doctor has told me the amount I consume is extremely reasonable.
You’re certainly not going to get a lecture about weed from me. If someone is smoking weed daily during the pandemic and it helps them deal with anxiety and stress, I’ll happily draw up a Dear Prudence seal of approval. But I want to go back to this sentence: “I’m through with letting his opinion and temper dictate what I do.” Inasmuch as you’ve given yourself freedom to vape without your husband’s permission, that’s true—but it’s also true that you’re keeping this from him not because you think you’re doing something wrong, but because you don’t really trust him. I think that lack of trust is well-founded. It is, as you say, very much to your husband’s credit that he has changed his behavior. It’s also true that he has gone from emotionally abusing you most of the time to only every once in a while, and that this change is still a fairly recent one. That’s 30 years of rage, manipulation, control, and who knows what else you have to contend with, and balancing out the scales on the other side is a few months of an uneasy peace. A sincere, earnest apology is meaningful. Changed behavior is also meaningful. But it doesn’t undo the trauma of the past, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to immediately feel safe, peaceful, and empowered when you’re with your husband.
I don’t want to discredit your commitment to your marriage, but I want you to consider, along with your therapist, the possibility that you still feel incredibly tense around your husband, despite his changed behavior, and that what weed (and the secrecy) is doing for you right now is offering you a sense of protection—a secret pleasure, a secret refuge that’s available to you anytime you need it. This puts you in control of the kind of intimacy and vulnerability you two share, a control that is additionally strengthened by virtue of being covert. I’m not troubled by how much weed you smoke, and I want you to continue to feel free to pursue things that feel good, relaxing, enlivening, pleasurable, and healthy. But I am troubled by the possibility that you are in fact still unhappy in your marriage, even with your husband’s renewed efforts. You spend most of your nights alone, and there’s more than a tinge of resentment to “why the hell wouldn’t I want to be high when I’m stuck at home with nothing to do.” Your husband is no longer abusing you very much, but that’s a far cry from having a husband who treats you well. You can accept his apology, genuinely appreciate his attempts to change, and also acknowledge that this has not healed your pain and trauma of the past 30 years, either. You don’t have to admit this to him yet. You might not want to have a vulnerable conversation with him at all right now—that would be eminently reasonable. But I hope you can discuss this with your therapist, as well as raise the possibility that you are very angry with your husband and that you are not getting what you need in this marriage. What might your life look like if you gave as much room to your anger as you give to vaping?
Five years ago, my husband lost his first wife (he married very young). She was a great collector—think collective plates and figurines, lots of pictures that never went up on the walls, etc. The family couldn’t deal with going through any of it, so it all went into boxes that have taken over half of the garage and guest room. My husband and I have been married for two years. I haven’t pressed about the mess because his twin daughters were still grieving and would refuse to discuss it. I have tried to get them into grief counseling, but it was pointless.
Now I am pregnant. My stepdaughters live at home in separate rooms while they finish their last year of college. We need the guest room cleaned out and turned into a nursery. I want to bite the bullet now, rather than in several months when I have a newborn. My husband agrees and told the girls they need to set aside a day to go through the boxes in the bedroom. My stepdaughter “Sylvia” went into hysterics—we can’t throw away their mother’s things, I am a horrible person, and her father never loved their mother or them. My husband and I expected reluctance, not this. Even her sister was horrified by Sylvia’s outburst. It has not gotten any better. Sylvia refuses to speak to her father or me and will leave the room if we try. She will put her hands over her ears and scream I can’t hear you. It is ridiculous. I lost my own father last year. It still hurts, but you have to move forward. My husband has suggested the twins share a room. We can’t afford to pay for an apartment for them. All this is causing me enough stress that my doctor is concerned. Help!
—A Room With a View to the Past
Although Sylvia’s response has been wildly outsized and inappropriate, I can understand why she and her sister might have felt ill-equipped to decide which of their mother’s possessions to keep or get rid of when they still live at home and don’t have any way of storing or using her things. I agree that you shouldn’t have to handle any more of this and that your husband should take over dealing with the twins and figuring out what goes where, but I wonder if there’s one possible compromise you’ve missed: Renting a storage unit is much cheaper than renting an apartment, and it might be a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind and avoiding something as fraught as “These candlesticks are all I have left to remember my mother by.” Let him find something affordable, or if there’s nothing nearby in your budget, maybe he can ask a few relatives to take a few boxes each, enough to clear out the guest room (but not so many boxes that any one of them feels overloaded). Tell the girls they have a chance to go through their mother’s stuff by such-and-such a date—not either to keep or get rid of forever, but to see what they want to keep in the house now, what they want to put into storage and decide about later, and what they want to take when they move out. I hope this could remove the emotional pressure and Sylvia will come to her senses shortly and resume talking to you. (If she doesn’t, it wasn’t about her mom’s collections after all.) In the meantime, let your husband run interference while you work on being pregnant. And congratulations!
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My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in March. She has been getting treatment, but unfortunately it’s not working, and she doesn’t have much time left. I haven’t seen her in over a year, as I live halfway across the country with two small children. I try to call, text, and video-chat when I can, but she isn’t very responsive. Often she won’t return the calls or will watch TV instead of talking to me and the kids. This was pretty typical before she got sick, and it drove me nuts then, too. She’s been pretty secretive about how she’s doing, and I only get updates from my sister, who lives in the same town. I tried to visit in August, telling my parents this would probably be my only chance, since COVID numbers started going up, plus having to relocate for my husband’s new job. They told me not to visit. They were also very rude to me, insulting my parenting and telling me to take the bus or taxi from the airport for an hour with the children because they didn’t like the flight arrival times. My husband no longer wanted me to visit after that conversation because he felt upset with how they treated me.
My sister is getting upset that I haven’t visited, keeps telling me I am going to regret it, and is coming up with elaborate plans so I can see our mother like meeting in the middle and renting a house to stay in, or flying out to live with my parents for months. Am I really a terrible daughter for not visiting my dying mother? Especially because I most likely won’t attend her funeral either when the time comes. Am I going to regret not visiting her in person one last time?
—Double Guilt Trips
It’s a little difficult to separate these issues, some of which might be irksome but relatively insignificant (telling you to take a cab from the airport), and some of which seem pretty serious (insulting your parenting). If you and your mother simply don’t have a good relationship, she doesn’t want you to visit while she’s sick, and you already planned to skip her funeral, you may very well decide not to go at all. Your sister may continue to push, and you can decide just how honest you want to be with her about your reasons for staying home. There is, after all, an excellent reason right now not to visit a late-stage cancer patient after a long trip. It’s understandable that your sister wants you to visit, especially since she lives nearby and sees your mother’s decline up close, but she has to realize that stationing yourself in your mother’s home for months while your husband parents your two kids alone isn’t going to work out, not least because your mother does not seem to want you there.
I don’t know if you’ll regret not visiting your mother someday. Maybe you’ll regret the fact that a trip wasn’t possible, or that your relationship wasn’t warmer, but that’s not quite the same sort of regret as “I had an opportunity to bring desperately desired comfort to a dying woman, and I bailed.” It just means that you accept what is, is.
Help! My Husband’s Been “Promising” to Quit Smoking for Eight Years.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Diana Stegall on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
I’m transgender, and I’m having a gender-confirming surgery right before Christmas. I’m out to my mom, who’s wonderfully supportive, and brother, who’s wildly bewildered. Everyone else either doesn’t know or is unsupportive. My mom and I decided to say I was having a totally different surgery as the reason why I won’t be at family holiday events (COVID and other refusals don’t budge them from asking). The problem is that the extended family are now panicked about this made-up surgery and want to be involved, and I feel bad lying to my brother. He’s the one other person who might be on my side in a meaningful way. How can I push away the extended family without digging a deeper hole or giving them the real story? How can I bring my brother closer, without overwhelming him?
—Going Further in the Closet
This is a little tricky, and part of the reason why I encourage nonspecific lies, when lies are unavoidable. “I’m getting surgery before Christmas. Everything’s fine, and it’s nothing life-threatening, but I don’t want to talk about the details right now, and I hope you can respect that” is a lot easier to maintain than “I’m having my gallbladder removed” and having to memorize common symptoms of gallbladder disease. That said, the best way forward with your extended family isn’t giving them more information they can use to erode your privacy. As you’ve already experienced firsthand, they don’t take your word for it when you ask to be left alone. If you say, “I’m not coming for Christmas because it puts me at risk of contracting or transmitting COVID,” they push and try to get you to change your mind. If you say, “I’m not coming for Christmas because I’m having a cholecystectomy,” they push, ask for details, and invite themselves over to take care of you afterward. If you were to say, “Actually, I’m trans and I didn’t want to tell you about this surgery because I knew you’d start pushing when I’m not ready,” they’re likely to push, ask invasive questions, and say hurtful, transphobic things. You cannot expect them to respect your boundaries for you, so you’ll have to maintain them yourself.
Tell them you’re not discussing your surgery any further with them, that you’ve already made arrangements for your recovery, and hold that line. If someone calls and won’t stop asking questions, end the conversation. If they try to pass messages through your mother or brother, tell them, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to do this.” Repeat yourself as often as necessary, but only briefly. They won’t like it, and they might try to pressure your mother into revealing more, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as “digging a hole,” and I certainly don’t think they’ve displayed any signs they’re prepared to handle the news that your surgery is related to your transition. That sort of intimate information is earned through mutual trust and respect. They’re not entitled to it by mere fact of blood relation.
The question of when and whether to tell your brother should mostly depend upon whether you think he can keep that information confidential, at least until after the holidays and the surgery itself have passed. If you think there’s even a slight chance he’ll tell someone else, I don’t want you to have to deal with surgical prep and a family of self-righteous transphobes acting indignant at the same time. Plenty of people who don’t have the stomach to avow their own transphobia often go for feints like “I don’t care that you’re trans; I just can’t believe you didn’t tell me in advance you were planning on getting surgery,” as if there’s something underhanded or suspicious about not trusting transphobes with sensitive medical information. There isn’t. Focus on what will make life easier for you as you get ready for surgery, and consider your brother’s “need” to know your surgical details as secondary. Good luck, and take care of yourself.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“The fact that you require being constantly high in order to tolerate life with your husband is not the mark of a match made in heaven!”
Danny Lavery and Slate writer and editor Dan Kois discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
A couple of months ago, my husband got mugged. He lost his wallet and phone, which were the only valuables he had at the time, and nobody got hurt. Everything lost was replaceable. It was scary to hear about, but I’m just glad he’s OK. My sister, though, thinks this is proof that my husband is a spineless wimp. She says that any man worth my (or her) time would have put up a fight. She asks me what would have happened if we had been together and someone tried to attack me, like would he have let me just get hurt because he’s too scared? Or what if he saw someone try to kidnap me? I think this is all paranoia and also just stupid, because a guy demanding your cash is not the same as someone trying to drag a woman into his car, and your phone isn’t worth you getting hurt over. What should I tell her? She’s the sort of person who will bring stuff up at family gatherings, pick fights, etc. Of course I’ll stand up for my husband, but I’m going to get sick of hearing about this whenever she wants to pick on me.
—Not a Wimp
I agree that a human being is not comparable to a phone, that it’s perfectly reasonable to hand over your phone when you’re being mugged, and that it’s perfectly reasonable to try to protect your wife if someone ever attempts to kidnap her in front of you. But unless you live in a region where adult kidnappings are common—and I think you’d probably have included that detail in your letter if you did—it’s reasonable to think that how someone deals with a mugging is hardly a test case for how that person might deal with a kidnapping.
If she brings it up, you should fight with her—argue, not punch, to be clear—and tell her she’s being an asshole, and for absolutely no reason. Tell her she’s being ridiculous and bizarrely rude to someone who just got mugged, and hold your line. Who hears “I’ve just been mugged” and responds not with, “Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you OK?” but with “I’ll bet you’d let marauders carry off your wife without a second thought if the Visigoths ever invade”? (An asshole, is who.)
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.
I have been married to a wonderful guy for three years. He is good to my children and has four kids from two previous marriages. While I get along with the older ones, it seems that I can’t do the same with the younger ones—a 14-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl who both live in another state. They don’t ever talk to my husband, not even on Father’s Day or his birthday. The girl is always trouble when she visits. She uses drugs and is always doing something to sabotage my marriage, like sending my husband pictures of her mom. She has called me really ugly and offensive names and never apologized. This year she called my husband after more than a year of not talking to him and says she wants to spend Christmas with us. My husband seems excited about it, but I can’t feel the same way. What do I do? Am I wrong for wanting to spend a nice Christmas without trouble? Do I just lock myself and my kids in a room when she is here? My husband won’t understand me because he says I have my kids with me, and no matter how bad a person she is, she is still his daughter.
—Soon-to-Be Ruined Christmas
You both have good points here. Your husband isn’t wrong to be hopeful that his daughter wants to spend the holidays with him after a year of estrangement, and you’re not wrong to expect more backup from him when she insults you or acts out. You have good reason to dislike her behavior, but it seems pretty relevant that we’re talking about a troubled teenager, not a “bad person” whose character is fully fixed and wholly irredeemable. She can’t ruin your marriage by showing your husband pictures of her mother. He knows what she looks like, and it doesn’t sound like they have made him reconsider his relationship with you, so I’d encourage you to let that sort of thing go. When it comes to things like calling you names, you should stress to your husband ahead of time that you expect him to intervene in such an instance and that if he doesn’t, you will. Not by locking yourself and your children in the bathroom—that would be causing your own sort of trouble—but by setting an example of restraint and civility and asking her to apologize. If things get really heated and you need to take a walk until you feel reasonably confident you’re not going to start screaming at a teenager, do it. If she doesn’t age out of this bad behavior a few years down the road, I think it would be fine if you made separate holiday arrangements for you and your kids so you don’t overlap with her. But this year, try to see if you and your husband can devise a reasonable compromise between giving them the chance to rebuild their relationship and making sure she doesn’t walk all over you.
Over 20 years ago I had an affair with a married woman who became pregnant with my child. She reconciled with her husband and they raised the boy as their own. I have not had any contact with my biological son, at the husband’s request. No one in my family knows I have a secret son. Two weeks ago I found out my niece (my sister’s daughter) is engaged, and the groom to be is none other than my biological son! Prudie, I am livid that my son’s mother and her husband did not stop this relationship in its early stages. “No, Bobby, you can’t date that girl because she’s your biological cousin” is all it would have taken. I contacted the woman and she swore she didn’t know our son was marrying my niece since my niece has a different last name. I asked her what she planned to do to stop the wedding and she said she’s doing nothing! Our son doesn’t know anything, and according to her, cousin marriage is harmless! Prudie, how do I bring this up with my niece and her parents? I have never had any contact with my son, and I don’t think I should approach him about it. He doesn’t know his father is not his biological father. I don’t want my niece to live in incest because of my past mistake. Please help.
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