Dear Prudence

Help! My Wife Is Leaving Me for Our Sperm Donor.

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

Blonde woman looking off to the right where sperm are floating toward a heart.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by LuckyTD/iStock/Getty Images Plus and  PeopleImages/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: Hey everyone! What’s keeping you up at night? Who is making you want to scratch your eyes out? Let’s chat.

Q. You Can Have the Trophy Wife: I’m a married lesbian with children—two boys aged 9 and 11. I’ve been with my wife for 17 years. The first five years of our marriage were based purely on chemistry. Best sex of our lives. We found a man who would become our sperm donor, and he eventually became part of the family. He is wealthy, kind, cultured, generous, well-educated, and well-traveled. He loves us and our children. I’ve always sung his praises to everyone—I can’t think of a finer example of a man for my boys to have as a father and role model. Since the kids were born, it became apparent that my beautiful sexy wife was not really into sharing the daily grind of raising small children and keeping a household. She would let me do all the mornings with crying kids (while she slept in every day), all the shopping, cooking, and most other household work—plus, I’m the breadwinner (she doesn’t work). She is a loving mother, I’ll not take that away from her. But I realize now that I married a trophy wife.

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The last five years we’ve really struggled—I’ve been very angry and resentful, which has killed off almost all chemistry. Plus, she has insisted on trying to have a third child, which I strongly opposed. I caved, and we agreed to try for two years until I turned 50. That came around, and she insisted it continue, despite my withdrawal of support. She eventually gave up after two miscarriages. For the last two years, we’ve been on and off separated in the same house. My anger and resentment grew, but I wanted her to change so we could be happy again! I really wanted her to come to realize that she needs to step up to repair our relationship and keep from breaking our boys’ hearts by divorcing. She recently went through a period of being very affectionate, helpful, and contrite—and I was hopeful that she wanted to reconcile and start over. However, she later told me that we need to tell our boys that we are not a couple. And the kicker is that she revealed that she and our kids’ dad have started a relationship.

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While I realize that we’ve been on the edge of divorce for quite some time, and he knows we’ve been struggling, his choice to say yes to her emotional neediness feels like the worst part of that betrayal. My image of him is completely blown, and I find it such an ethically reprehensible thing for him to do. I think that she imagines us continuing to be an intact family, for the sake of our kids, just with a swapped pair. I’m so disgusted I can’t see straight. Am I wrong to feel so wronged? In addition to (further) crushing my heart, their choice really damages a lot of our social and family relationships, because I think many people are going to find this behavior abhorrent. She thinks it can all remain a secret. How can I navigate this with my kids? They love all three of us! How to navigate with friends? We both agreed to try to have an amicable and “nesting” style divorce if it ever came to that, but I really feel like I never want to see them again.

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A: You’re absolutely correct to feel wronged. But as complicated, unusual, and uniquely painful as this situation is, you will have to navigate it just like any typical couple who didn’t use a sperm donor would. You tell everyone that you’ve decided to split up and are still committed to being the best possible parents for your kids. You try to be as civil as possible when you interact. You stop yourself from telling the children about all the awful things your ex did. You reassure them a million times that the divorce is not their fault, and that all three of you love them very much. You get them into therapy to help them navigate this transition, if needed. And maybe even if you don’t think it’s needed.

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I’m going to guess that your wife is someone who has pretty much gotten away with doing whatever she wants for her whole life because she is beautiful and sexy. That’s frustrating and unfair. And it might seem like she’s winning yet again now, starting a new relationship with your kids’ dad. The sad truth is, she may continue to be selfish without suffering any consequences, and you’ll have to live with that. But what you need to do now is stand up for yourself. You can renege on the nesting partner agreement. You can tell your friends the truth about what happened (which I’m sure they’ll find out anyway given that she and the kids’ dad will be living together!). You can be in contact only as much as amicable co-parenting requires. And you can decide that your next partner will be someone who brings more than chemistry to the table from the start.

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Q. I Know How This One Ends: My brother is dating a classic malignant narcissist who makes him feel absolutely awful about himself, his income, his friends, etc. at least once per week when they have a blowout fight. I have explained the cycle of abuse and listened patiently each time he rehashes the fight itself, and later, the make-up conversation. I love him and support him no matter what but, as a survivor of an abusive (emotional, not physical) relationship, this is starting to greatly affect my mental health.

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How can I support my brother without further harming my own mental health? How can I tactfully explain that, while I love him and will always be there for him, I don’t want “his person” to be a part of my life? We have no parents, so I am one of his only outlets for this situation.

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A: “I love you and support you no matter what, but I can’t continue to talk about Classic Malignant Narcissist Girlfriend because it’s just so upsetting to hear about how she’s treating you and my mental health is taking a hit. I still want to talk just as much, including about how you can feel better about your life, but let’s please leave her name out of it.”

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Q. I Know I’m Lucky: I have a non-problem, so I understand if this question is too boring to answer. I’m wondering what sorts of conversations I should be having, or what potential pitfalls I should be considering, as my husband (an only child) and I prepare to welcome his recently widowed mother into our household.

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Our plan is to renovate our home to create an ADA-accessible studio, and we are currently working with our city regarding zoning, etc. for the project. The plan is for her to age in place and for us to provide care as she ages. She is in good health now and excited to be able to help out with our young children, so this seems like a win-win for everyone. We’ve talked about financial aspects of the arrangement (roughly half and half for the renovation costs, and we’ll continue to pay the mortgage), we’ve talked about differing religious persuasions (we’re fine if she wants to take our kids to church if they are curious), we’ve talked about different food preferences (she’ll eat more vegetables; I’ll incorporate more Midwestern fare), and we’ve talked about how she might explore her interests and cultivate community, as she’ll be moving from out of state. We’ve talked about the fact that our family likes to engage in outdoor pursuits she doesn’t find enjoyable, and she’s fine skipping those activities. One of our kiddos in particular can be a handful, but we already talk pretty frankly with her about what techniques we’re trying, etc., and welcome her opinions. We visit for two weeks at a time, so we are used to being around one another for decent stretches, although I realize this is different than living together. What else should we be thinking about? What other conversations should we be having?

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A: You don’t have a non-problem. You have a possible pre-problem. So, it’s great that you’re anticipating what could go wrong. You’ve covered all the individual possible conflicts you might have but what’s missing is talking about the bigger picture about how you’ll handle conflicts—and address them before they get out of control. Schedule a weekly or monthly household meeting in which you discuss what’s working, what’s not working, and anything else that needs to be aired out.

Q. It’s a Common Name, Anyway: My uncle died from COVID last year. We weren’t close, but his death really affected me. I’m pregnant (single mom) and recently learned that I am having a boy, so I decided that I am going to give my son my uncle’s name. My cousin (late uncle’s daughter) is getting married. I announced my name choice at her bridal shower (I am saving all of my cash for the baby so I didn’t have any money for a gift, so announcing that I was honoring her father was my gift to her). She acted strange for a minute and then the party went on.

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A few days later she called me, and she was furious that I was “stealing” the name. She said she wanted the name for her future child, it wasn’t fair that I was “stealing” her father’s name while I was pregnant after a “one night stand” (true) whereas she, his “actual daughter,” was doing things in the “right order.” She also said that she was frustrated with the number of “concessions” she had made for me in her wedding planning (being pregnant, I am very COVID conscious and she moved her ceremony outside and instituted a vaccine policy for the reception for me). She said that I “ruined” her shower and “stole” the name and that she wasn’t going to let me “wreck” her wedding, too. She told me to change the name or stay home from the wedding. What should I do? I’m leaning toward skipping the wedding (I was thinking of staying home anyway, depending on what COVID numbers are doing the week before). But the rest of the family wants me to change the name to “keep the peace.”

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A: I have a few thoughts here:

—Cousins (or second cousins or whatever the babies will be) can have the same name. It’s fine.—Nobody forced your cousin to make concessions for you. It’s her wedding, it was her choice, and she shouldn’t have done these things if she found them frustrating.
—She doesn’t like you very much right now and shouldn’t want you at her wedding. (The only part she’s right about is that your announcement was not an appropriate gift. Something homemade or a card or a service, like organizing a meal train, would have been more thoughtful and less self-absorbed. But that ship has sailed.)
—You don’t like her very much right now and shouldn’t want to be at her wedding.
—There is no peace to be kept here.

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So, use the name and skip the wedding.

Q. Re: It’s a Common Name, Anyway: Announcing the name of YOUR baby at HER Bridal shower was a very rude move. Couching it as a “gift” to her doesn’t change that. The name is more significant to her than it is to you, especially since you grant you and your uncle weren’t that close, and he was her father! She’s made concessions to you already it sounds like. She could have asked you nicer, but I’m thinking this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just pick a different name already. Not to keep the peace but because you are in the wrong.

A: Totally agree that the baby shower announcement was an incredibly tone-deaf and impolite move. But I maintain that cousins can have the same name! Especially cousins born to moms who aren’t particularly close—and I don’t think these two women are or will be in the future.

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Q. Re: It’s a Common Name, Anyway: If you want to keep the peace, it’s also worth taking a step back and realizing that while your actions and behaviors are not selfish, they are self-centered with little acknowledgment for what your cousin has experienced. Your cousin lost her father. You said that you weren’t close to him, but hit hard in your grief. Did you show up for your cousin when her father died? Did you mention when you were announcing the name that you are so sorry for your cousin losing her father?

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If I had to bet money, I would say that your cousin’s actions are less about the name and more about her own grief and your lack of sensitivity to it. And planning a wedding in the midst of grief, especially for an immediate family member, is no fun. Although not necessary, apologizing to your cousin for being less-than-gracious and sensitive to her grief could go a long way.

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A: Yes, this would absolutely be the right thing to do and I wish I’d mentioned it.

Q. Re: You Can Have the Trophy Wife: I don’t think her emotional needs are driving her relationship with the father of your kids, it’s financial needs. She has had a life of leisure, sees the gravy train with you is coming to an end, and is pivoting in the easiest way possible.

A: I hate to think that she’s this calculating, especially because the current gravy train involved having children. But maybe!

Q. Re: I Know I’m Lucky: It sounds like you’ve covered a lot! I would add a discussion about building in an expectation of alone time for each of you as well. It sounds like you are all looking forward to spending more time together, but everyone needs some time to themselves too, and it doesn’t mean they don’t love the people they are living with. It sounds like some time is built in already if she stays home while you all go out for outdoor activities. But establishing a “mom gets these couple hours a week alone and our family gets one dinner a week alone” for example up front, might avoid hurt feelings down the line if people start wearing on each other over time.

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A: Very, very smart. Much better to set the expectation now than to create a situation in which a dinner alone is perceived as rejection.

Discuss this column on our Facebook page!

Classic Prudie

I’ve had two specific fantasies since puberty. Now, many years later, I feel my sexuality drying up and blowing away, and I want to check off these two boxes first. Except I am married to a wonderful person, whom I adore! I’ve asked, but she is not interested in these things. I’m not after anything dark or obscure. I could solve this problem for a few hundred dollars while on a business trip and that would be that. I never have, though, as my wife would be crushed if she found out. Is this kind of thing ever OK?

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