Dear Prudence

Help! I Refused to Help My Sister Catch Her Cheating Husband. She’s Furious.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

Woman standing in front of a house.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Happy Monday! Let’s get started…

Q. Dreading Thanksgiving: I’ve been struggling with my relationship with my sister for some time. Five years ago, she asked me to loan her $5,000. She believed her spouse was cheating on her, and I fully believe he was. When she confronted him, he refused to fess up. She had been breaking into his email and accounts to try to find evidence of his wrongdoing. She asked to borrow the money to install hidden surveillance in her home to gather evidence of his infidelity. I was in between jobs at the time and had not secured a new position. Meanwhile, I was also moving from one very expensive city to another and felt cash poor at the time. When I shared this, she told me I could just put the $5,000 on my credit card. I didn’t think this was wise on multiple fronts, I didn’t feel I was in a position to be loaning money when I was without a job. Plus, I also struggled with the idea of my sister invading her husband’s privacy in their home and the potential legalities of this, even if he’s up to no good. In the end, I spent all the cash in my accounts and maxed out my credit card before I received a paycheck so I felt I was justified in being cautious about loaning such a large sum when I was unemployed.

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Since that time, my sister has completely distanced herself from me. Each time I am around her, she does something cruel to me or humiliates me in front of others. I think she views this as justified since I didn’t help her in a time of need. While she’s been confronted after each instance, her behavior persists. She has invited my family to have Thanksgiving at her home. I have no desire to go and be treated poorly again. However, I realize my parents are quickly aging and my family hasn’t been all together in four years (all the family but her has spent time together many times but she’s chosen to spend her vacations and holidays with her husband’s family and friends).

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I feel like my family is pressuring me to go and it will cause a big upset not to, but feel like my family should also be protecting me given they’ve seen her behavior towards me. Am I wrong in declining to travel to her home for Thanksgiving or should I just buck up and be subjected to her poor treatment of me again for the sake of the family?

A: We have a little over a month before Thanksgiving, and, depending on where you each live, maybe a week or two before you need to book travel. Over the next few days, before you make your decision, do you feel up to having a talk with your sister? If so, give her a call or send a text or email.

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You can say something like this: “Hi Sister. Thanks for the invitation to Thanksgiving. I’m on the fence about coming because of the way you’ve treated me since I said no to loaning you $5,000. [Insert concrete examples]. My feelings have been really hurt and I’ve been humiliated in front of others. I want to know if we can clear the air between us before I come so that we don’t have these types of interactions. We don’t have to agree about the money, and if you are still disappointed in me over that I understand. If you think I wasn’t there for you, it makes sense to be hurt. But before agreeing to come I just want to be reassured that it won’t be a tense or painful situation. I would love to let mom and dad see the whole family together and I really appreciate you for hosting and inviting everyone. I want to make it work. What do you think?” Her response will tell you whether showing up is a good idea. And if it’s a no, you’ll know that you tried and will have a solid reason to give your parents: “She is still mad at me for not loaning her money and couldn’t agree to not yell at me in front of everyone so, I’m staying home this time.”

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Q. Is It Time to Take the Hint? After believing marriage and children weren’t for me, I’ve been married for almost four years to a man 11 years my senior with a 17-year-old child. We’ve had our ups and downs but about nine months ago decided to start trying for our own children. This has led me to realize I’m not terribly sexually attracted to him. I love him deeply but I’d almost rather have sex with someone else. The delay in conception is also starting to cause some pretty serious doubts about my ability to conceive (doctor’s appointment in a couple of weeks to find out,) and I’m finding myself doubting everything.

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My stepchild is on the autism spectrum and I find my ability to not be embarrassed by her public tics to be waning. It’s the looks of other people and my husband’s complete obliviousness/unwillingness to do anything about it even if I point out that she’s making someone visibly uncomfortable.

I worry that our child would be another copy of him and her (he’s on the spectrum as well) and I worry that as a bipolar woman who prefers social drinking and THC to heavy pharmaceuticals that perhaps I’ve been lying to myself this whole time in thinking that I can be a good parent. Love is supposed to be unconditional, or so I was raised but I find I love conditionally. I want to bring a life into the world so that I don’t always feel like the odd man out in my own house, I want to grow and nurture, to feel joy at their achievements. But am I deluding myself into thinking that I can do it? I was so sure, but now it’s like the universe is telling me I’m not worthy.

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A: Your stepchild deserves a stepmother who is not embarrassed by her. Any future child you may have deserves a mother who is properly medicated and who is prepared to accept him or her unconditionally. Your husband deserves a wife who is attracted to him. You deserve to stop feeling like the odd man out in your own home—but bringing a child into the world is not the way to do this. This marriage has been an experiment that did not work out. End it, put your plans for parenthood on the back burner, and take care of your own mental health.

Q. Brush Twice a Day (At Least): I have a close friend from college who I speak to and see pretty frequently. I have some issues with her and her personality that I’m trying to deal with. Unrelatedly, in all my years of knowing her, though we’ve stayed with each other many times, I’ve noticed that she doesn’t seem to brush her teeth at night. I finally couldn’t resist asking her about it recently, and she explained that she didn’t brush her teeth AT ALL until high school (her breath never smelled, allegedly), and now she only brushes in the morning and eats mint ice cream before bed to get the same fresh breath effect. I am REALLY into oral hygiene. Brushing, flossing, mouthwash, the whole nine yards. Even with how difficult she can be sometimes, this is somehow the thing that’s pushed me over the edge and has me disproportionately repulsed. I just can’t believe it! Should I just let it go? Should I say something? She doesn’t take criticism or suggestions or advice well at all, but it actually gives me hives to think about this.

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A: I get a lot of letters about poor oral hygiene but the mint ice cream thing is new, so thanks for that. You didn’t say your friend’s breath currently smells. She’s brushing in the morning before she goes out into the world and breathes on people, so her habits are not affecting you at all. Is it possible that you are really struggling with her personality and how difficult she can be, and are hoping, on some level, that a confrontation about oral hygiene will be what it takes to create some distance between the two of you? Either way, focus on the real issues in your friendship that would need to be addressed even if you were to successfully talk her into having a cleaner mouth.

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Q. Need Some Friends: My wife, Betty, has never had many girlfriends. She says that she’s always connected more with guys and doesn’t have anything in common with girls. Through the years, as our friends have gotten into serious relationships and gotten married, Betty hasn’t bonded or created a friendship with any of the women, even when it is evident that they have common interests. Betty and the wife of one of our friends both enjoy recreational running and read books by the same author. This wife once invited Betty to go to a reading and book signing by the author, which Betty declined.

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This is just one example of the many times the girlfriend or wife of a friend will try to find a common group with Betty and strike up a friendship and she will turn it down. This isn’t just with our friend group—Betty hasn’t become friendly with any female at her office, her brothers’ wives, or my sisters. It sometimes seems that Betty views every woman she encounters as either a threat or competition. When a new analyst was hired at her firm, she commented negatively about how the woman dressed a certain way to cover up that she wasn’t good at her job. When it turned out the woman was good at her job, Betty would try to downplay the woman’s talents. I’m not a therapist but I’ve wondered if Betty has some insecurities around other women. When I’ve gently mentioned this to her she has become angry and accused me of being jealous that she has male friends. I’m not at all jealous and don’t care who she is friends with.

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The thing is, Betty’s attitude towards the wives and girlfriends of our mutual friends, as well as the guys that only Betty is friendly with, have created a situation where we are not invited to events or activities as much anymore. In the past, Betty would say that every time her friends would get into a relationship, the new girlfriend would make them stop seeing her because they “were threatened by the friendship.” However, after running into an old friend he mentioned that he didn’t think that Betty liked his wife and it made him and his wife uncomfortable when we got together because Betty was so dismissive of her. I notice Betty is like this with a lot of women.

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How do I bring this up with her? I miss our once-booming social life. I would also like my wife to realize that women are not competition and to maybe start accepting their overtures of friendship. In the past, my encouragement of joining other females on outings they invited her to has always been met with “I don’t like hanging out with women—I have more in common with men.”

A: OK, I think there are a few problems you’re writing in about here:

1) Betty’s potential insecurity and how it affects her attitude toward other women
2) Betty not having many female friends
3) Betty’s actions toward the wives and girlfriends in your group, which have led to you two being shunned socially.

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I think only number three is really your business. You’re not her therapist, so it’s not your job to figure out why she is the way she is (although I do think you’re onto something!). And she doesn’t have to have women as friends because you think she should. Forget about getting her to “realize that women are not competition and to maybe start accepting their overtures of friendship.” You’ll just annoy her and come off as controlling if you try to change who she is.

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But when her behaviors toward the women you hang out with are so cold or hostile that people don’t want you to be around you two anymore, you have a right to speak up. Let her know what you’ve observed, how it has led to you being ostracized, and how that affects you. She doesn’t have to like women any more than she already does, but it’s fair to ask her to do what every adult in the world does from time to time and act a little more polite and friendly than she feels.

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Re: Q. Need Some Friends: OP doesn’t mention if kids are in the picture or if they plan to have kids in the future, but if kids are already here or part of the plan, this issue is about more than just your social life. How would Betty treat a daughter? How would Betty’s behavior toward other women impact your children’s (male and female) perception of female friendships and worth? The “I’m not like other girls,” “Other women just don’t like me,” or “I get along better with men” attitude is rooted in a lot of gender fundamentalism/essentialism that shouldn’t be in a home with children. It often rests on deeply misogynistic ideas that the feminine is inferior. Please don’t let this attitude go unchecked.

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A: I want to push back on the idea that someone who says “I get along better with men” shouldn’t have children! I mean, I get what you’re saying and agree that Betty’s attitude could be fueled by internalized misogyny but I don’t think it rises to “this person shouldn’t reproduce” levels.

Re: Q. Need Some Friends: I think it’s valid if Betty doesn’t want to bond with her husband’s friends’ wives and girlfriends. I’m cordial and polite with my spouse’s friends’ partners, but they’re not my friends. We’re friendly acquaintances. They’re lovely people, and I enjoy them well enough, but we’re not real friends. I don’t think Betty needs to go out with these women or forge separate relationships with them outside of the group. She just needs to be nice and polite when they’re all in company together. LW should limit his expectations to how Betty acts when the group is together.

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A: Absolutely. I wish we had more information about what Betty did to get them disinvited. Being pleasant should be enough.

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Classic Prudie

My husband has been texting his ex-wife rather extensively for some time and he has been hiding it from me. I would not be surprised if this has lasted our whole relationship. I accidentally found a text message to her very early on in our relationship when he asked me to read a text on his phone. I asked him about it right away and he said they were still friends and he didn’t want to stop talking to her…

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