My brother had sex with my wife before we dated.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 4 2010 7:05 AM

Brother Bedded My Bride

They slept together before we dated. How can I forgive them?

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Dear Prudence,
After an argument with my wife, she revealed that she'd had a one-night stand with my older brother several years before we started dating. They both kept this from me; it wasn't revealed until I asked my wife point blank. They both feel horrible about it and claim that it was a drunken evening without feelings. However, knowing this information back then would likely have kept me from getting intimate with my wife and ultimately getting married. I feel completely deceived and betrayed by them both and have been contemplating divorce. The problem is, we have three young children, and the last thing I want to do is negatively impact their lives. I just can't fathom forgiving them for this egregious act. My older brother has always cast a bit of a shadow over me. He manipulated many women into bed, and I did not respect them (or him) for this. I felt like the one thing that was not part of his manipulative ways was my wife. Now I know that was a sham. What should I do?

—Deeply Hurt and Confused

Dear Deeply,
That must have been a doozy of a fight, and it's a good reminder that no matter how angry you get, keep alert that rational part of your mind that says, "This fight will end, so don't say anything that will end this marriage." I'm wondering what it was that made you press your wife for her confession. When she and your brother are together at family functions, does he say things like, "Sandy, no more screwdrivers for you. You know where your panties end up when you have too much to drink!" Let's assume they haven't had some strangely flirtatious relationship, and you've had no sense that anything untoward was happening between them. Then even if you had suspicions about the past, you should have long ago consigned those to the memory hole. What you should do now is apologize to your wife for forcing her confession and work on accepting that this information is meaningless to your relationship. If you still feel a need to one-up your brother, do it by holding onto the truth that you and your wife came together in a loving, mutually respectful way and that you two have created a beautiful young family. When thoughts of this stupid one-time event plague you, get down on the floor and start playing with your kids, or do Sudoku, or find some other distraction. If that doesn't help, try some therapy. Not so you and your wife can endlessly rehash the one-night stand, but to establish rules for how to constructively engage when—as does every couple—you fight. Don't let thoughts of your manipulative brother manipulate you into shattering your family over an event that took place before you and your wife were even an item.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I've been married to my husband for a few years, and we lived together before that. Early in our relationship, I went to happy hour with some co-workers and due to too much alcohol, I had an indiscretion with a co-worker. (We did not consummate the act.) Afterward, I quit my job so that I would not have to deal with the fallout. I never told my then-boyfriend, now-husband, because he always said that cheating would mean he would break up with me on the spot. We are happily married and have a wonderful child; life is good. But I still feel tremendous guilt, not just over my indiscretion, but because I wonder if I "tricked" him into marrying me. Had I been honest, he might not have married me, which would make our entire marriage a sham to him. Should I tell him now so that he knows I am 100 percent honest with him? Or should I keep it to myself because it would just create jealousy and mistrust where none should exist?

—Truth Shall Set You Free?

Dear Truth,
For your answer, see the first letter. As with that letter, an indiscretion prior to a marriage does not reduce a happy, fecund union to a sham. There is no purpose in your telling your husband that years ago you and a co-worker once groped each other. Your husband might even wonder if this confession is actually a prelude to a desire for more groping or a trial balloon for bigger confessions. You made a minor mistake and never repeated it, so please, stop letting your happiness be shadowed by useless, perpetual guilt.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence:
My husband had a stroke 18 months ago. At first he was unable to speak and his right side was paralyzed. He regained his speech and, with a lot of work, got full use of his arm and leg. But the stroke made it impossible for him to practice his profession, and he continues to have short-term memory problems. He's home on extended leave. My problem is that he is obsessed with what he has lost and how bad things are. When I come home from work—I have to keep us fed and housed—all I hear about is what a terrible state he's in. I've tried various things: We've gone to a counselor, his doctor has given him anti-depressants, I've encouraged him to go back to his hobbies. I try to plan things that will be enjoyable for him. Nothing is working. He won't take up his hobbies or socialize, and he dwells so completely on the negative that even his closest friends are getting weary. It seems to me that he should be grateful he survived and regained so much. I am so exhausted by his negativity that sometimes I just wish I could leave him, but I would never do that. Is this the way it's going to be forever?

—Tired Wife

Dear Tired,
I talked to my sister, Elizabeth, who had a stroke at age 30 and had to learn to walk again, about your case. After her recovery, she worked with stroke survivors, and she said one of the things that drove people crazy was constantly being told how grateful they should be. It's true your husband didn't physically die, but his old life did die with the stroke—he lost his profession!—and that is a grievous blow that needs to be acknowledged. No, you don't have to dwell on his losses forever, but maybe it would help both of you to have a therapist who specializes in disability who can guide your husband, and you, in airing your grief. The way things are now is not the way things always have to be. But to change is going to take effort, time, and money—all of which I know are precious commodities. In one way, the medical system worked: It got your husband walking and talking again. But the husband who came home with you is very different from your husband prior to the stroke. He may always have a significant disability. But you shouldn't accept that his rehabilitation is done. It's possible that with intensive work he could regain much cognitive function. Locating the right program is another burden that's going to fall on you. But if every day he felt he was working toward a goal, and seeing progress, think what it might do for his motivation. He also might be willing to try new hobbies (his old ones may be too frustrating right now) if he's doing them in the context of furthering his recovery, instead of just passing time. Contact the National Stroke Association for leads on getting post-stroke medical help and also finding crucial support groups for both you and your husband. None of this is going to work if you break down. Being a caretaker is a grueling job, and you need your own support network of fellow caregivers, good friends, and, if possible, a therapist. You also need respite care, either informal or professional, so you can recharge by taking regular breaks. For encouragement that things can be different, take a look at My Stroke of Insight, scientist Jill Bolte Taylor's book about her long, successful recovery from a devastating stroke.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband is an automotive technician and recently started a new job with a repair chain. His problem is that his boss is always giving the technicians' labor away as a form of Christian charity. It seems that every customer has some sob story—a death in the family, divorce, unemployment, a fixed income—that prompts the store manager to give that customer free parts and/or labor. Though my husband works hard all day, some days he is only paid for two hours of work. He has protested to his manager, but all he gets are sermons. The district manager is a great fan of my husband, but my husband is afraid if he complains to the D.M., he'll get the store manager fired because the D.M. would be eager to find out why that store earns so little profit while processing so many cars. Should my husband speak up about his good Samaritan boss?

—The Reluctant Philanthropist's Wife

Dear Reluctant,
Your husband's manager should open his own shop; maybe he could call it Take Me For a Ride Car Repair. There are many people in need, and it is a worthy goal to fix cars for those who truly can't afford it. So the boss should do this on his own time, possibly through his church. What this Samaritan is now doing is stealing from his employers. If he keeps this up, he will only add to the unemployment rolls when the district manager catches on and fires everybody who has been giving away valuable parts and labor. Your husband should tell the D.M. what's going on, and if the manager won't stop, he should be bounced. As 1 Peter 4:8 says, charity may cover a multitude of sins, but in this case it shouldn't cover a new transmission.

—Prudie