Dear Prudence

My Husband Just Confessed to Having a Teen Daughter

I want to be supportive, but I’m hurt that he didn’t tell me sooner.

Photo of a man next to a silhouette of a teen girl
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Samrat Khadka on Unsplash.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been married for three years. We have a 4-year-old son and 16-month-old twins. I have four older children. My husband was briefly married once before me; I was previously married for 12 years. We were both going through our divorces around the same time, messed around, and got pregnant. We hadn’t planned on anything serious, but we gave it a shot and ended up falling in love. Early in our relationship, I shared something vulnerable with him: I got pregnant with my oldest at 16, and I never told her birth father. I didn’t think he was reliable, and I decided to raise her myself. I have absolutely no regrets. She is now in college with a bright future. I don’t share this with many people, but I wanted to be totally honest before getting into a serious relationship with my now-husband.

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I haven’t been with many people, while my husband has been with hundreds of women. We have joked before that he might have a bunch of children that he doesn’t know about. Recently, my husband had been drinking and asked me if he could share a deep, dark secret. He said he’d had a one-night stand with a friend of his sister a long time ago. About 10 months later, that friend told my husband’s sister that she had had a baby girl but had moved out of state and was raising it with her then-partner. She didn’t want anything to do with my now-husband. Her sister told him, and that was it. He never reached back out or tried to get in touch. They never told anyone else. That girl would be about 15 or 16 now.

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I have a lot of feelings about this. None of them are positive. But my main issue is that he didn’t tell me about any of it. And he had plenty of opportunities. I am absolutely shocked. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened either—he had admitted to getting a DUI about 12 years ago, but I found out he was arrested for DUI at least three times. After a lot of discussion, he finally apologized for not telling me sooner, but he maintains that she never told him and she never gave him a choice to be present. I feel like I never got to choose whether this was a dealbreaker before we got married. It’s not such an easy decision now. He says he told me because he thought I would be able to relate, given my daughter’s situation. I want to be supportive. I know this was hard for him to talk about. But I also feel like the trust between us has been damaged. We have lots of other issues that need work, but I need to first learn how to live with this. Will my feelings of shock and betrayal ever go away? Should I just move past it, if he has?

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—The Past Isn’t Past

Without rendering any final judgments on either your husband’s choices or the woman he (possibly) fathered a child with, you’re absolutely entitled to feel shocked and dismayed by this revelation and to be hurt and angry that your husband didn’t tell you sooner. Your job is not to move past this just because he has, and it’s not at all clear to me that your husband has moved past it. It seems to be something that weighs heavily on his mind and that he’s barely discussed with you or anyone else, which sounds more like repression than moving on. You can both appreciate that it’s a difficult subject for him to discuss and express your frustration that you went out of your way to bring up difficult subjects before you two got serious while he didn’t. That doesn’t necessarily have to retroactively invalidate your relationship, your marriage, or the life you two have built together, but it can certainly inform those things.

Nor do you have to sign off on your husband’s belief that he was without recourse if he had chosen to be involved in his (potential) child’s life. While it might have been logistically and emotionally difficult, he could have reached out to the woman and asked to talk, or he could have petitioned the court for a paternity test and asked for shared custody. He was not without options at the time, and he did not exhaust those options. You are allowed to ask questions, to reflect on the various choices you both made in similar yet distinct situations, and to draw your own conclusions without adopting his wholesale.  You have more options than either “decide your husband is a bad person and get a divorce” or “have no reaction to this new information and get over it.”

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You don’t say whether you’ve told your husband you know he lied to you about how many DUI arrests he’s racked up nor what his relationship to alcohol is like today. I’ll simply reiterate that you have the right to ask questions and register concern about information he’s withheld from you. You might find either couples counseling or individual therapy useful, and you should also talk openly to a few close friends or relatives so you don’t feel like your husband is the only person you can talk to about trouble in your marriage. Your job now is not to get rid of your feelings of shock and betrayal. You should pay them close attention and ask your husband to join you in the process.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m struggling with maintaining meaningful friendships as an adult, and I think my income is part of the problem. I’m careful not to flaunt my wealth, and I don’t choose expensive outings that my other friends can’t afford. I grew up poor, and we often ate cheap ramen for several days in a row to make ends meet. Many of my oldest friendships are with friends who grew up in similar circumstances, and not all of us have been able to cross the poverty line. Even when I meet new people, I tend to prefer friends who grew up working class and lower-middle class because we can relate to one another better and often share similar values.

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My partner and I met in college as STEM majors and spent all of our 20s saving money and prioritizing our careers. We’ve been lucky, and now we’re truly financially secure. We lived in a modest apartment for a decade and were recently able to buy a house. It’s nicer than average, and it’s in a great school district. We’re both homebodies, so having a really comfortable house was always our goal. But there have been major fallouts with our friends as a result. I haven’t flaunted our purchase. I even held off on telling some of them because I was afraid of their reaction. Now I’m being treated like I am “too high society for them,” which seems crazy, because I don’t see how my actions or interactions have changed at all, aside from this one massive purchase. Is there any hope that I can sit down with these friends and say, “I’m still me”? I’m so hurt by some of the backhanded things they’ve said. Two of my friends outright ghosted me when moving came up, and I specifically tiptoed around the actual kind of house it was with them. Is it normal to not be able to have friends with different incomes? Or am I forced to get wealthier friends? Where could I even start to find new friends so that this won’t be an issue?

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—Gaining a Home but Losing Friends

I wonder if holding off on telling your friends that you were buying a house was counterproductive. They may very well have interpreted your silence as an indicator that you were pulling away or that you didn’t want to remain close after you moved to a more expensive neighborhood. That wasn’t your intention, but people are apt to draw their own conclusions when we fail to provide them with concrete information, and if all they had to go on was “My friend bought a fancy new house and suddenly became distant and evasive,” I don’t think their reactions are abnormal. That doesn’t mean you have to turn over your bank account for your friends to review every time you make a big purchase, nor that you should apologize for buying a home. But these are some of your oldest and closest friends, and it sounds like you’ve been at least somewhat open with one another about your relationships to money in the past, so you had precedent to work with before deciding how and when to discuss this move with your friends.

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While I think you could have prevented some of this distance by initiating conversations sooner, I don’t think you should fault yourself for not knowing how to discuss something as fraught as your own upward social mobility while some of your close friends are still struggling financially. That’s complicated, and there aren’t a lot of road maps for having such conversations. And even if you reach out now and try to have a gracious, open conversation, it’s still possible some of your friends will lash out or otherwise try to make you feel guilty. You do not have to like or countenance such treatment, and you can have compassion for the context that informs their behavior without saying, “That’s fine, no problem, I’ll call you tomorrow so you can yell at me again.” But I do think you should try to see if some of these friendships can be repaired before deciding you can’t take any of them into your new home. Reach out to them individually, apologize for your withdrawal and acknowledge that you haven’t always known how to discuss your good fortune with them, and ask if they’re willing to meet you in the middle. Maybe some won’t take that step toward you, and you’ll have to mourn the loss of those relationships. But I think some of them will, and you’ll be so glad that you made the effort.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be lightly edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here, or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-3327 to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

Eight years ago, I met my fiancé while I was living in a large city. He lived more than an hour outside of the city in a semi-rural suburb and commuted in for work. After a year of dating, I moved in with him, under the impression that we would move in a couple years. I’ve always been pretty adventurous when it comes to moving and have always wanted to experience living in new areas. Today we are still in the same house, in a community that I don’t like and don’t have much of a connection to. I’m very lonely and isolated, rural living doesn’t fit my personality, and I’m feeling depressed. My fiancé clearly has no intention of moving, and now I find myself having to decide if I should end the relationship and move out. The idea of staying makes me sad, and the idea of leaving makes me sad.

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—Should I Stay or Should I Go?

You say that your fiancé “clearly” has no intention of moving, but you don’t say whether you’ve actually had a concrete discussion with him on the subject. Do you think his intentions are clear because he hasn’t brought up the possibility of moving over the past eight years, or because he’s come out and said, “I’ve actually changed my mind, and I don’t want to move after all”? If it’s the latter, then I agree that you’ve arrived at a sad but necessary impasse and should probably move out, grieve the loss of that relationship, and find a place to live that excites you. If it’s the former, you should have that conversation now! You might not be able to make immediate plans to move together, especially with the pandemic still on, but if you can stress how important this is to you and how necessary having concrete plans to move within a certain time period is to the future of your relationship, you’ll at least be able to make a decision one way or the other instead of letting “stay” and “go” war with each other in your heart endlessly.

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Help! My Developmentally Delayed Teen Is Suddenly Really Interested in Sex.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Alexis Coe on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been with my partner for eight years, and in that time, he’s become the best friend I’ve ever had. Since becoming estranged from my parents a few years ago, I think of him as my “forever family.” But I love him like family, not like a soul mate. I have always hoped I would start feeling erotic/romantic energy, but I never have, although we have an active sex life—a fine one, even. I can’t describe it other than a persistent feeling of bad faith on my end, of some kind of secret insincerity I keep hidden from him. I’m terrified that I’ll still be with him in 10 years. But I don’t think I could exist without our jokes, our long conversations, our time together, our mutual support. We are a part of each other. What can I do?

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—Chosen Family

My first recommendation is to pursue therapy, rather than to make a decision right now about whether you should stay together. You’ll want to untangle “erotic” and “romantic” energy and try to assess how important both of those things are to you independent from each other. When did you first notice their absence in this relationship? Have you felt them with other partners in the past, and how much did they matter to you? Do you believe your partner feels erotic/romantic energy toward you too, or do you think the sense of “found family” with sex as a secondary/workable function is mutual? Does the idea of being together in 10 years feel terrifying because you’re worried you’re harming your partner by not feeling something you think you ought to? Or is it terrifying because you really, really want to be in a relationship where you feel deep romantic and sexual attraction to your partner, and you’re afraid to acknowledge that’s never going to happen here?

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Once you have a stronger sense of what’s troubling you, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about how to discuss these things with your partner. It’s not necessarily insincere to love someone the way you love him, but it is very difficult to live with someone if you constantly feel like you’re doing something wrong simply by staying. At a certain point, you may have to weigh the potential pain of breaking up with someone you love dearly and don’t want to lose against the potential pain of feeling constantly deceptive. Breaking up with your partner carries real risks and downsides, as you already know, as does staying together without sharing your inner turmoil with anyone else. But if it’s at all possible to investigate this turmoil, first confidentially with a therapist and possibly later with your partner, to address some of your fears and to define your terms such that you can feel confident that you and your partner share a working definition of your love for one another, it may just prove possible to live together more happily in the next 10 years than you did in the first.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I just think if you guys would read Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita Libri, you’d understand my position a little better”
Danny Lavery and Frankie Thomas discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

My brother tormented me growing up and was a sexually threatening presence in my life. I have a lot of trauma surrounding those years and experiences. His name is a relatively common unisex name (think “Charlie”), and I encounter it often, as my job requires a lot of one-off interactions with college students. Every time I see or hear it, I’m left with racing thoughts and a physical anxiety response. It derails my whole day. I’ve been in therapy before to address this issue, but my therapist was unhelpful, and I eventually quit. I’m on waiting lists for a few different therapists now, but don’t anticipate being able to start back any time soon. How do I cope in the meantime?

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—Unavoidable Trigger

I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this on a daily basis and that your previous therapist wasn’t helpful. While you’re waiting to find a new one, and since there’s nothing you can do short of quitting your job to avoid this regular trigger, I think one short-term solution might be to get a cognitive behavioral therapy workbook and take yourself through it. I don’t personally recommend any particular guide over another, but by way of example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles offers a free workbook here. CBT can prove particularly useful in dealing with specific, targeted triggers that prompt automatic catastrophic thinking. While it’s not a panacea or a guarantee that your trigger will ever disappear, it may provide you with some useful distractions or means of rerouting mental patterns just enough to make something unbearable feel merely difficult. I hope you can get off the waiting list soon and wish you all the best in finding new coping strategies in the meantime.

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Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

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Dear Prudence,

Five years ago, my husband and I became uncle and aunt to a wonderful niece. While we love her more than life itself, we’re frustrated that my husband’s parents can do little else but talk about their granddaughter. When she was born, we were all so excited to welcome her. It made sense that we heard about every single milestone in her first two years of life. But now that she’s kindergarten-aged, it’s starting to grate that every topic of conversation always gets rerouted back to her. My husband and I could be discussing work, our own health, the death of a relative, or even just the weather, and my parents-in-law will steer the conversation back to our niece, with the thinnest of justifications.

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We do not have children of our own and recognize that we can’t fully understand what it’s like, but we wouldn’t want any of our future children to be the sole subject of conversation either. We love our niece, and we love everyone’s investment in her, but the dynamic makes it difficult to discuss anything important or have deep relationships with them because we know where the conversation will end up.

—Nieces Aren’t Everything

I’m surprising myself a little on this one, but I don’t think this necessarily calls for a big-picture intervention—partly because I think your in-laws would get defensive, but also because I think it’s easier in this instance to intervene directly in the moment. The next time they try to reroute a conversation about work or mortality or your health back to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, either you or your husband should politely interrupt: “Sorry, but I want to get back to _____ before we change the subject.” If it happens multiple times in a single conversation, you can acknowledge the pattern without making it seem like a huge failing: “I know we all love Rebecca, but we’d like to sometimes have conversations that don’t focus on her. Is that all right?” You’re not asking them to pretend she doesn’t exist nor filing a formal complaint that they always do this, just politely drawing their attention to the fact that they sometimes get a little tunnel vision on the subject of their granddaughter. You can treat this trait of theirs gently and with affection. Lots of grandparents go overboard when it comes to their first grandchild, and it’s fine that they think she hung the moon. You two just need them to rein it in once in a while!

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I also think you should resign yourself to the possibility that you and your husband may never be able to have deep relationships with his parents, even if you’re able to successfully redirect a lot of future conversations. If they’re unwilling to “go deep” with you, or hold you at arm’s length because you don’t have children, or are easily distracted when you’re trying to talk about something that’s important to you, you may need to accept that the most you’ll be able to get out of a relationship with them is affection, tolerance, and mutual bewilderment. That might have to be good enough.

Classic Prudie

My wife and I have a female-led relationship. Before we got married, I agreed that she could “take other lovers,” while I would remain faithful to her alone. She said that she might not ever see anyone else, but she liked that I knew she could. Well, now she’s pregnant, and I’m wondering the obvious. We do have intercourse, but not often. She was away on business near the time she would have conceived. I don’t know whether she’s ever had another lover. I could have asked that before, but now I’m afraid of how it would come across. Should I ask, or just wait to see if the baby looks like me?

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