Family Matters

Family Matters

Family Matters

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 3 1999 3:30 AM

Family Matters

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

How does one "get over" a spouse's affair? How long does it take for the hurt to lessen?

--Susan From Bethlehem

Dear Sus,

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As with bleeding, healing takes different amounts of time for different people. Alas, some people bleed to death. Prudie wishes you peace of mind, wherever you may find it. Give yourself some time to see how things play out and see how you're feeling about things ... well, about him. If you can't get over it, get out of it.

--Prudie, understandingly

Dear Prudence,

I am having an ongoing ordeal over whether my 12-year-old daughter should refer to her stepfather as "Dad," "Stepdad," or by his first name. I've been remarried for six years to my present husband, and he insists that my daughter should refer to him as either "Dad" or "Mr. Giles" when addressing him. My daughter calls my husband by his first name, which infuriates him because he believes it is disrespectful. My daughter insists he doesn't deserve to be called "Dad" and now only makes reference to "him" when mentioning her stepfather to friends or relatives. Please advise about what would be the most appropriate way to handle the situation.

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--Mrs. Giles

Dear Mrs,

"Mr. Giles" sounds like a real beaut. The form of address, you understand, is merely the battleground for the simmering war between them. Your daughter won't call him "Dad," which he wants; and he won't permit a first-name address (which is perfectly acceptable), which is what she wants. And for whatever it's worth, Prudie has never heard of anyone saying, "Stepdad, please pass the salt," so forget that one. Someone, maybe a family counselor, needs to deal with the alienation the youngster feels and the hostility harbored by your husband. If you can find a way to deal with and improve their relationship, what she calls him will become a moot point. Reading between the lines, it may be that the child's biological father and your husband's own offspring-situation are part of the equation.

--Prudie, worriedly

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Dear P.,

Tell me if I'm overreacting. I was having lunch with Danielle, who works in hospital billings, in the cafeteria. Just in passing, I mentioned that I never received a thank-you note for my (small) wedding gift. Danielle insisted I was wrong and to prove it took me to her office where she pulled out this "book of friends." In it she had a page for each of her friends, and on my page was listed what I gave her and the date she wrote a thank-you note! What was troubling was not so much that, but the other entries--including, "how friend responded to death of (her) father," i.e., flowers, card, etc.

I think her accountant's mind has gone too far. I mean, you can't measure everything, and keeping a ledger on your friends is odd. I told her this, and she said that in the Jewish tradition they believe "all your actions are inscribed in the book," and she is doing just that. What do you think?

--Unsure

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Dear Un,

Prudie thinks this woman is one sandwich shy of a picnic. What she is referring to is God's accounting, not hers. The poor dear must have been reading Marvel comics in school when they talked about this. It is true that the humanistic Jewish view holds that the substance of one's life is created by good deeds, but a ledger toting up flowers and cards does not figure in. Her misunderstanding reminds Prudie of the policeman who asked a driver what gear she was in at the moment her car hit another. "Gucci sweats and Reeboks," she said.

--Prudie, rationally

Prudence,

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I am a 20-year-old female, and I have been married for six years and have a 5-year-old son with my husband. He works a lot, and our marriage hasn't been on track for about 5 months now, and we seem to be more like roommates than a married couple. I don't know if he's cheating on me, but he has been acting strangely. He's been coming home at 6 a.m. when he gets out of work at 1:30 in the morning. He tells me it's because he goes to have coffee with his boss after they close the store where he works. I don't know whether my marriage is over and whether to talk to him about all this and ask if we can work things out. One thing I do know is that if my husband is cheating, I wouldn't be able to stay with him.

--Confused

Dear Con,

My dear, if your husband really is drinking coffee from 1:30 to 6 a.m. he would need to wear Depends. If you suspect he is taking an after-work breather with someone other than his employer, you could call the man and ask. He may, however, not level with you. In any case, girlfriend or pool parlor, you must get the problem out in the open.

When you state your age, and the age of your child, it sounds like you are in Romeo and Juliet territory. If this is not a typo, you are far too young to be dealing with all the factors you mention. Confront your husband with both your suspicions and your awareness that things have gone off track. See where the conversation goes. If he has a million complaints, consider counseling (if he's willing) or separate maintenance. You cannot live like this and needn't tolerate his in-your-face behavior.

--Prudie, proactively