Dear Prudence

Help! I Am Dying and My Husband Is Having an Affair.

He’s the love of my life and best friend.

A photo of a person with a scarf on their head with an illustrated broken heart in front of them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns—your first month is only $1.

Dear Prudence,

I am 32 and have been married to my husband, the love of my life and best friend, for the past five years. A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and currently only have about six-to-eight months left. This has been very hard, but I am starting to come to terms with the reality of the situation. My husband has been amazingly supportive of me during this time. We have no kids, and as my health has declined, he has sat with me through endless doctor appointments, hospital stays, and sleepless nights. On bad days he even has to help me bathe, and I know this has taken a toll on him. A few weeks ago while using his iPad to watch a movie, an email came in and I discovered he has been having a affair (emotional and sexual) with a co-worker for a few months now. For several days I cried, heartbroken at the betrayal, but now I feel like my husband deserves to have someone help him and support HIM through this emotional time. I have not confronted him about the affair, and were it not for the email and my subsequent snooping, I never would have known as I have not felt him pulling away from me. Do I confront my husband and tell him I understand? That although I am hurt, I forgive him and I don’t want him to feel guilty? Or do I just keep quiet and let him continue? If our families find out after I’m gone, I’m worried they will think ill of him, and I don’t want that either.

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I am so sorry about your prognosis and so moved by your insight and compassion. If you don’t have a therapist, please consider getting one in order to have someone neutral who can help you fully work through this and everything you are facing. But you have written to me for a reaction, and mine is that you should tell your husband. Don’t frame it as a confrontation, but as a conversation. I can see you taking his hand one night and telling him that it was by accident, but a few weeks ago you found an email to him from the woman he is seeing. Then you tell him what you told me. That of course it was painful to discover, but on further reflection you realize he needs some relief from this terrible sadness. You can assure him that he has been a rock for you. This will be a hard, tearful discussion, but it will also probably be relief of a terrible, guilt-ridden burden for him. As for your family, you are very thoughtful to consider that if after your death it ever comes out there was someone else in his life, he will turn from angel to devil. You don’t have to tell anyone else about this. But as you say your farewells to those closest to you, you can allude to it. Perhaps you can tell your family that you want them to know that life can be so difficult and complicated and that through all of it your husband has been everything you wanted. You can say you were lucky that you two never had any secrets. Thank you for this example of bravery and compassion. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! I Have Six Months to Live, and My Husband Is Having an Affair.” (April 9, 2013)

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Dear Prudence,

I’m a 23-year-old college grad looking forward to graduate school this fall. I’m writing because I’m puzzled by my mom’s behavior, and worry I’m being uncharitable. I’ve always had wonky teeth, and my mom took me to visit a new dentist—an appointment for which she was present. Things were grand until the dentist kissed me, through his mask, on the forehead mid-exam. This was done openly and obviously, and I was too shocked (and silenced by the hand in my mouth) to say anything. My mom witnessed this and said nothing. I was willing to consider it an unconscious slip-up when, near the end of the visit, he again kissed my forehead, this time without a mask. I was more stunned than before; again, my mom and a technician were present. When we walked the front desk and car, I was humiliated, but my mom seemed to find it funny and let me know—smiling—that I “turned pink.” (It was not from any appreciation on my part, I can assure you.)

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The more I think about it, the more weirded out I become by the whole thing, while my mom continues to treat it as a joke. I’ve let her know how troubling I find it, to which she becomes defensive, as she says she didn’t know how else to react. She also claims that she thinks the dentist is gay, and therefore his actions are harmless. (I find that entire line of thought objectionable. I have no interest in making guesses about anyone’s orientation. I’m freaked out because the middle-age professional who should know better kissed me, twice.)

Am I making a big deal out of nothing? I’ve considered writing to the dentist’s office to say that while I appreciated the kindness of his staff, he should probably consider how he is relating to female patients. My mom objects to this, as she wants to visit his office to take advantage of a special (reduced price on dental cleaning and an X-ray) and fears that if I complain it will ruin the chance of savings for her.

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You are not making a big deal out of nothing. It is a perfectly reasonable request to make of a professional that they not kiss their patients in the middle of a dental exam, regardless of their orientation. Your mother’s response was, and remains, completely inappropriate and wrong. The fact that she wants cheap X-rays (as who among us does not) is wholly irrelevant. You should absolutely send a complaint to his office, leaving out the bit about the kindness of his staff or the “probably” when it comes to not kissing female patients. You should also look for another dentist for yourself.

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It’s true that sometimes when something shocking happens in the moment, people are apt to freeze up or react in odd ways. That doesn’t mean your mother’s response was good, or that she shouldn’t spend time thinking about how she can act now. The best response to her attempts to excuse or minimize her behavior is this: “I didn’t experience it as a joke. I don’t want to be kissed by a dentist while I’m getting my teeth cleaned, regardless of whether he’s gay or straight. That’s a perfectly reasonable expectation, and he should be able to abide by that. I’m going to file a complaint with his office, and while I’d appreciate your support, I don’t need it in order to take action.” —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Dentist Kissed Me Twice on the Forehead.” (March 12, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I moved to a city a few hours away from my family after we got married. Shortly before our first child was born, I bought an Internet-enabled video camera to use as a baby monitor. Out of guilt that my parents don’t live nearby, I allowed them to access the camera through their phones so that they could see their grandchild regularly. This turned out to be a huge mistake. Any time they see something on the camera that they don’t approve of, they let me know. I was endlessly harassed for not putting socks on my son’s feet while he was sleeping, for example. The camera has a feature allowing viewers to talk to us through the camera, so my parents randomly start talking to me or my son when we’re in his room. If my son is throwing a tantrum, they will come on and say, “Stop that crying!” I’ve told them that I don’t appreciate their interjections and criticism, but it has not stopped. My son is now 2 years old, and we have another baby, with another camera in the baby’s room, and I want to end their monitoring us. The problem is that if I change the password and prevent my parents from being able to access the cameras, they will be offended and it will cause World War III. What’s the best way to do it while ruffling as few feathers as possible?

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You say your parents will start World War III if you cut off their surveillance privileges. But although you have given them Dear Leader–type access, unlike Kim Jong-un they can’t back up their threats with nuclear weapons. Your parents need to be reminded that when they raised you, there was no technology to monitor your every breath, fart, and twitch, and this lack of constant scrutiny was probably better for everyone. It would be satisfying, the next time they start shouting admonitions at you, to look straight in the camera, wave goodbye, and toss it in the potty. But you can be polite enough to let them know this experiment has run too long, it’s coming to an end, and the password is about to be changed. Then change it immediately. If this results in your parents having a tantrum, because you are no longer connected through an electronic umbilical cord, you won’t be able to hear them pounding the floor. If they threaten to boycott your family because their unlimited access has ended, then that’s their choice to disappear completely from their grandchildren’s lives. Often when people have a child, they hear the voices of their own parents in their heads—but this is supposed to be metaphorical. No one wants the actual voices of their parents issuing from a speaker in the room. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! I Gave My Parents Remote Access to Our Baby Monitor. Huge Mistake.” (June 25, 2015)

Dear Prudence,

The last time I was intimate with my wife was before our son was born—he is 2-and-a-half now. My wife’s pregnancy with difficult, and our son was in the hospital for a week when he was born. Since then, he has been the focus of her every waking moment despite the fact that he is a very happy, active toddler now. I love my son, I love his mother, but I desperately miss my wife. My son co-sleeps with us and every conversation revolves around him. I have tried to help—get a housekeeper to come in twice a week, get my sister to watch our son so we can go out to dinner, even invite my in-laws to stay for the weekend so we could have help. My wife doesn’t want it. She didn’t like having a stranger cleaning our home and hates letting our son out of her sight. We end up getting the meal to-go and are home before 7:30. I miss sex but even more I miss having actual adult conversations with her. Art, history, world events: I fell in love with a woman who had wit to spare, and now our only conversations are about the Wiggles. I bring this up and we end up arguing. She says I am pressuring her and we end up going in circles. I am tired. I am lonely. Porn meets the physical needs but makes me feel worse when I climb into bed with my wife and son. We have tried counseling briefly through our church, but we stopped after a few sessions. My wife said it made her feel like a failure as a wife and mother. I just don’t know what to do.

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Let’s begin with the obvious: If you “briefly” attended a handful of sessions with a church counselor, I am not surprised you and your wife did not find a great deal of relief from therapy, because you have not actually tried therapy. Therapy is not something you resort to because someone has failed; if your counselor was making your wife feel like a failure, then you need a new counselor. If the mere prospect of attending therapy sessions was making your wife feel like a failure, then you and your wife need to have a conversation about what therapy is and what it can do for your relationship. Find a therapist you both trust (preferably not one who’s part of your religious community and likely to pop up in a pew next to you on Sunday) and go regularly. Go for more than three weeks. Be honest about what you want—is it to stop co-sleeping with your toddler? To have regular date nights? To change the division of labor in your home?—and listen to what your wife says she wants.

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Let me also make a plug for self-examination. You say that you’ve tried to help your wife by attempting to hire a housekeeper and get your sister and in-laws to provide child care. Have you tried to help your wife by attempting to help keep the house clean yourself? Are you spending sufficient time with your son, or do you allow your wife to shoulder the lion’s share of the work of raising him? If you’re already doing those things and simply attempting to hire a bit of part-time help on top of it, that’s fantastic, but if you’re not, that might explain a great deal of your wife’s stressed-out behavior.

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If, upon ruthlessly honest self-examination, you believe both you and your wife contribute fairly equally to your son’s care and your house’s upkeep, and that at least part of the problem is your wife’s inability to let anyone else relieve her workload for even a minute, then it is incumbent upon you to pursue this point, both in therapy and out of it. If your wife considers it “pressure” to offer to pay for a weekly housecleaning so you two can go out to dinner, then she has an unreasonable definition of what “pressure” is, and you need to have an honest conversation about what you want out of marriage. —D.L.

From: “Help! My Wife Stopped Thinking or Talking About Anything but Our Son When He Was Born.” (Jan. 10, 2017)

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More From Dear Prudence

I’ve made a terrible mistake. I flirted heavily with a co-worker at our holiday party, much more so than a married woman should flirt. Lots of touching, and there was a moment where we almost kissed but held back. Now I feel extremely guilty and ashamed, but do not plan to burden my husband by telling him what happened—it would devastate him and destroy the trust in our relationship. My dilemma is that I genuinely like this co-worker and now realize I am also really attracted to him. I’ll be more cautious about spending time with him alone now that these unexpected feelings have surfaced, but what else should I do to protect my marriage?

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