Dear Prudence

I’ve Been Keeping a Secret That Could Ruin My Friend’s Life

I have had nightmares about it.

A sad looking woman with a secret so big she feels like she might burst.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

When my friend “Sally” got engaged, she had suspicions her now-husband was cheating, but married him anyway. On the night of her wedding, one of the groom’s friends got drunk and told me all about the infidelity. He carried out an affair with a close friend of theirs for their entire dating relationship (they’re still close friends and she’s over at their place all the time). Now Sally has a baby with him too. I have been keeping this secret. I didn’t see the point in telling her at the time, since she married him even with serious reasons to suspect him of cheating. But it’s been hard for me to stay close to her knowing what I know. I have had nightmares about it. I know I couldn’t forgive this if I were her, but she mostly knew he was cheating beforehand. She just didn’t want to believe it. She recently messaged me and asked if I didn’t like her anymore since I’ve been so distant. What can I do?! I feel like I can’t continue to be friends with her without telling—I’ll burst! Is telling her the right thing to do? Her life seems so perfect now; she loves being a new mom. I’m so torn.

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—Guilty Secret

You could ignore the message, and then weigh the pain/guilt you might experience over no longer speaking to a close friend in order to not have to be the (direct) bearer of bad news. You could answer without disclosing, reassuring her that you do care about her and that if you’ve been distant lately it’s for reasons that have nothing to do with her—but that might not work out in the long run, if you need to keep avoiding her lest you blurt the whole thing out. You could explain why you’ve pulled away, and run the risk of offending her and/or feeling partly responsible for a big fight, or even the end of their marriage. It’s also possible that she’ll blame you both for telling her and for withholding the information for so long, and take it out on you rather than deal with her anger at her husband. But those are your only options, at least as far as I can tell. While all of them are viable, if I were in your position, I’d apologize for keeping my distance and tell her why I’d done so, without delivering it as if I’m declaring a definitive, obvious end to her marriage. While none of the options before you are good, exactly, and you’re in a genuinely difficult situation, telling her the truth and letting her decide what to do with it seems like the best one you’ve got.

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Help! My Wife Needs Me to Review All of Her Work for Her Job.

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

Dear Prudence,

My partner of four years experienced childhood trauma. They claim just pushing it down works, but I know it doesn’t. They are triggered somewhat regularly, causing them to lash out and experience significant emotional distress. I have seen a therapist for many years and have told them about the good it has done for me, but they think therapy is just something that works for me and would never work for them. They feel they could never trust a stranger with their emotions. Recently they’ve started probing their feelings about the past in a healthy and introspective way and I’m so happy for them! However, this has manifested as several hours nearly every night where they talk at me about these feelings, usually drunk. I have been doing my best to listen compassionately and be encouraging but to be honest I’m becoming exhausted. Not only am I growing a bit weary of spending hours every night nodding while they talk through their emotional issues, I know I cannot give them the help they need. I have been trying to nudge them toward some kind of professional help both during and after these conversations, but they maintain they could never talk about this with anyone else. I don’t know what to do. I love them deeply and want to help them heal, but I am very aware of how little I can actually do if they won’t try some sort of professional help, and I’m scared if I express any negativity their walls will go right back up.

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—Not a Therapist

Your sympathy and patience for your partner are understandable, but don’t let your desire for things to be better than they are keep you from acknowledging reality. Your partner is not “probing their feelings … in a healthy and introspective way,” not by a long shot. They’re getting drunk almost every night and talking “at you” for hours. It’s different from simply pushing their feelings down, to be sure, but it’s not sustainable, and it’s not helping either of you. You’re exhausted, and they’re feeling a compulsive need to repeat themselves and get drunk. Worse than that, you’ve begun to feel so responsible for maintaining your partner’s emotional equilibrium that you fear saying “I can’t keep doing this” is tantamount to expressing negativity, or discouraging your partner from seeking real help and forcing them back into repression and silence. It will help embolden you to speak up if you can remind yourself that what’s happening right now is not actually helpful and not actually healing. Getting drunk and revisiting traumatic events in an hourslong monologue with the same person night after night is not a little bit of progress that you need to tend to or preserve.

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I’m also concerned about the detail in your letter that your partner regularly gets triggered and “lashes out.” You don’t say who they lash out at, but I can’t help but read between the lines and guess it’s often you; you don’t say what that lashing out looks like, but if it’s coupled with statements like “I could never trust a stranger with my feelings” and “I could never talk about this with anyone else,” I’m more than a little worried for your well-being. Your partner’s childhood trauma is real and deserves treatment, but it will not be healed by the erosion of boundaries in your relationship or by designating you as the sole possible outlet for any and all reactions. I hope you’ll speak to a friend or two about this painful new dynamic so that you can have some support of your own, as well as external reassurance that your own needs still matter even though your partner was traumatized as a child. I also think you need to reconfigure your goals here. They should not be to nudge or gently persuade your partner into seeking professional help, such that you feel obligated to participate in these drunken episodes or to minimize “lashing out” as long as you think it might serve the greater goal of helping them heal somehow. Your goal should be to set reasonable, clear, loving limits so that you feel that you’re in a healthy, stable relationship. That might include being available for these conversations only when your partner is sober, and only so many times per week; discussing this painful new dynamic with your own therapist and prioritizing your own mental health instead of trying to manage your partner’s; or talking to a trusted friend or two about what’s been going on—although this list is by no means exhaustive. Taking your partner’s pain seriously does not mean you have to pretend this is healthy or that this cycle can safely continue in the long run.

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Dear Prudence,

I am very close friends with a single woman in her early 60s. We were both eligible to be vaccinated relatively early. I jumped at the chance and got my shot. “Kate” (who is generally healthy) did not. At first she blamed it on the difficulty of getting an appointment, but when my kids made multiple offers to help her, she admitted she was very vaccine-hesitant. I spent some time going over the facts with her, encouraged her to do it, and left her to make a decision. It’s been eight weeks, and I’m now fully vaccinated. I have begun to cautiously reenter the world, seeing my kids and going to the supermarket. My friend has asked me several times to run errands for her, like going to the post office and picking up a few things at the store. I don’t mind once in a while, but the requests are becoming more and more frequent. I don’t think she wants to take advantage of me, but she’s terrified of getting sick. I understand that she has the choice to be vaccinated, she just refuses to take it. My kids think I should give her an ultimatum: Either we’ll help her get an appointment and run all her errands until she’s fully immunized, or she’ll have to start doing her errands herself.

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I would never forgive myself if she got sick waiting on line in the post office when I could have safely done it, but herd immunity is a long time away, and I already have what feels like 5 billion things on my plate. While she has other friends and family, I am the only one close by. How can I best handle this?

—Can’t Always Run Errands

If it’s an ultimatum your kids are suggesting, it’s an awfully low-impact one. I’d suggest modifying it slightly, since you still feel uncomfortable, to something more like, “I can help you with X this week, but it won’t be until Thursday, since I’m not free before then, and I’m afraid I can’t help with Y and Z, so you’ll have to make alternate arrangements.” You’re not forcing her hand, and presumably if she’s made it through the past year of the pandemic without you to run errands for her, she’s had some experience in either having things delivered to her house or planning ahead for her other family and friends to help her out. You’ve done a lot to encourage her to make an appointment, but you’re also not the only person in the world who can help her figure out ways to get what she needs without running unnecessary risks. Just tell her upfront how much time you have available to help her with errands, and let her make her own arrangements with the rest.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

My husband and I both work full time and have two children under 5. My parents strongly disagree with me (a mom) working full time outside of the house. They are both passive-aggressive and full-on aggressive about their disapproval. When they visit and insist on watching the kiddos, they point to normal toddler behavior and dissect it as ways in which my kids are suffering because I—but not my husband, ahem—am not staying home with them. I don’t question my decision—I love my work and my kids are fine—but my parents stress me out and I don’t know how to make it better.

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