Dear Prudence

Help! I’m Livid Over Why My Best Friend Didn’t Tell Me About Her Marital Problems.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A couple arguing, a church, and a woman rolling her eyes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by gorodenkoff/iStock/Getty Images Plus, filistimlyanin/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Olga Prokopeva/iStock/Getty Image Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Too judgmental: I just found out that my best friend has been going through an issue surrounding her husband’s infidelity. He did something he didn’t consider cheating and she did.

This happened several months ago and she is just now telling me. I understand it takes people a while to process, but the reason she didn’t tell me was because they went to their priest and he told them not to tell their friends. He said it can sour a friend’s attitude toward the spouse and lead to problems.

I am livid at this priest’s response. I feel like telling them not to tell friends is a manipulative tactic that only serves to keep them in line with Catholic Church ideologies and separating her from her support network. I like her husband, and also don’t think what he did was cheating (although I would never tell my friend that; it doesn’t matter what I think), but he is much more conservatively religious than she is. I’m sure he is the one that suggested they go to the priest.

My friend had to relive some of the cheating recently, so she reluctantly came to me. I’ve tried to help her as much as I can, but I think I’ve reached the limits of my abilities in this area. She’s mentioned talking to a priest again, but what I think she needs is a marriage counselor. They haven’t gone to one. I want to tell her that she might need to see one, maybe alone at first, but I’m worried that it’s going to come off as judgmental. Is there a nonjudgmental way to tell her that what I think her priest did was horrible and that I think she should see a proper therapist? Are there non-church-affiliated, religious-focused marriage counselors that might work? Should I even say anything, or just let her complain and talk through things?

A: I would suggest using the old trusty “Do you just want to vent, or do you want my advice?” line. If she just wants to vent, you know what to do: listen. But feel free to let her know if you need to place limits around how much you can engage.

If she wants advice, you can just say, “I’m kind of worried that the priest’s advice not to talk to friends might have been more geared toward maintaining church ideologies and preventing divorce than figuring out how you can be supported and happy. Would you consider seeing a therapist who’s not a priest? This is such a hard time for you, and as your friend, I just want you to talk to someone who makes your well-being—rather than the church’s values—their first priority. I can help, and in the meantime I’m here to listen.”

A part of maintaining this friendship might be recognizing that you have different values and keeping your expectations in check. Your friend is a person who married someone who’s more conservative and religious than she is, took her husband’s lead on whom to talk to after he did something she considered out of bounds, and initially took the priest’s advice to keep it all private, only reluctantly opening up to you. So there’s a decent chance that she’s also someone who is going to continue to prioritize her marriage and her husband’s wishes over her own. That might mean she’ll be both unhappy for a long time and unwilling to do a lot to change things. If that’s the case, you’ll have to decide how much listening and supporting you can do before it becomes too frustrating for you. You said in your letter, “I think I’ve reached the limits of my abilities in this area,” and that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to tell your friend if it comes to that.

Classic Prudie

I dated my wife for three years before we married. We were both in our 30s and had had all of the important discussions before we decided to marry (kids, religion, etc.). At the time, she told me she was agnostic, and not really into “the whole religion thing.” Now, less than six months into our marriage, she tells me she’s joined a church and expects me to join her for Sunday services. It’s only now that I learn that she has extremely right-wing, religious views. After talking with some of her friends, they couldn’t believe I didn’t know this about her. I asked them why they wouldn’t have mentioned this when they found out we weren’t having a church wedding and they told me that was probably done for my benefit. Now, instead of our not wanting any kids, she wants at least five and maybe more. Instead of no religion, she wants strict adherence to her religion. I feel I’ve been duped and that she’s lied to me about herself. Is there any way out of this short of divorce?