Advice column: Cheating, wedding etiquette, racist children, and druggie relatives.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 18 2011 3:15 PM

Don't Cheat Yourself

Prudie chats live at Washingtonpost.com with a woman who dreads telling her husband she was unfaithful—and other advice seekers.

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Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.

Q. Cheated and Feeling So Guilty!: My husband and I were married for nearly a year. A past friend came into my life, and we went out for drinks. He and I ended up sleeping together that night. Ever since, I have been guilt-ridden. I will not ever let it happen again, I have not seen this friend again, and I even told him that I felt such guilt that I can't talk to him any longer. My husband is a wonderful man who is attentive, sweet, and an all around great person to be with. My motives for cheating? Frankly, there are none. There were times just before the "one night stand" took place where I did feel lonely. Not for lack of lovemaking, because we are pretty into being together. But we have children, children who, like any other, demand our time. My husband works more than one job and helps tend to the kids, and at times I am not only bored, and lonely, but I also feel like I don't have any personal time with him. Someone else spending personal time with me ... it made me feel wanted. I know this is wrong. Trust me, my guilt has me totally consumed. I plan on telling my husband the truth, because he deserves that. I'm hoping to save my marriage, because I know what a big mistake I have made, and I love my husband more than anything. My questions are: How do I bring it up? And how do I let him know that I am so sorry for what I have done. I feel like the worst person in the world.

A: Marriages require honesty, but after having gotten many letters about the fallout of a confession of a one-night stand, I've become somewhat skeptical about the usefulness of this revelation. I'm talking here about the situation in which one partner cheats one time, is consumed by guilt, and realizes this is something he or she never intends to do again. I'll also add the caveat that protection was used so there's minimal chance of passing on an STD to one's spouse. It's understandable the straying party wants the catharsis and absolution of confessing. And in the absence of owning up, there remains a chance that the cheated-upon partner could stumble on this information. But ultimately, as I've heard, the revelation can cause more pain to the spouse hearing the confession than it's worth. The entire foundation of the marriage ends up being shaken, and for what? An incident that was stupid and won't happen again.

You made a terrible mistake, so my advice is to do some deep soul-searching (as you are) and make sure you never get yourself in this situation again. Recommit to appreciating the loving, hard-working man you have.

Dear Prudence: Smothering Friend

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Q. I Don't Want To Talk About It: I am a suburban stay-at-home mom in my mid-30s. For the last year, I have been dealing with some medical issues that have severely affected my lifestyle. My doctor has sent me to specialist after specialist, and each has turned out to be a dead end. I have a loving community of friends who have been kind and helpful—watching my children while I go to appointments, bringing dinner when I'm too exhausted to cook, etc. I'm very blessed. The problem is, whenever I see my friends, all they want to talk about is my health. I don't want to lie to them, but it's very discouraging to rehash failure after failure in finding out what's wrong. I know they mean well, but I wish they would just drop the subject. Can you help me figure out a nice way to say, "When I know, you'll know?" Thanks.

A: My husband and I were just visiting a dear friend with a dreadful diagnosis. We asked after his health, he answered briefly, then asked what was up with us. We ended up spending 90 minutes talking about our kids, schools, Tiger Mothers, cyberwarfare, everything but his illness and prognosis because it was clear he wanted a break from dwelling on it.

There's nothing wrong with your friends asking after your health, and people worry they will seem selfish and insensitive by not focusing on you and your troubles. But you can lead the conversation by saying, "Thanks for asking, but I'm so sick of thinking about this illness. Tell me what's happening with you. Have you been reading all the commentary about that Tiger Mother book? Have you seen True Grit—do you recommend it?" People will be relieved to have permission from you to move on to other topics, and you will be relieved to enjoy your friends' company and forget about your own situation.

Q. Helping Raise Racist Children: I'm just the nanny but I've discovered that the children that I am taking care of are racist and they are being taught these values by their mother. In caring for a 7- and 9-year-old, I've been told, particularly by the younger child, how their mother will not let them watch the Princess and the Frog since the princess is African-American. I learned this during a conversation after I brought over the movie Hairspray. I was told by the kids that they aren't allowed to watch shows or movies with people of other races because of how they treat their mother. I was appalled by what came out of the children's mouths and shocked as they live in a very diverse setting. Prudie, the mother has not said anything to me about my values, but I'm sure that conversation is coming soon. I refuse to extend their mother's teachings to the children, yet as a nanny, am I in the position to say otherwise? Should I give her my two weeks' notice because I don't agree with her values?

A: You need to have a non-confrontational, but direct talk with the mother. Without making it sound as if the kids are tattling on her, say that you've heard some things from them that concern you. Specifically that they aren't allowed to watch movies which feature black characters. Then let her reply. It's possible these children are distorting what the mother said. But if what you hear from her makes you realize you are supposed to adhere to racist guidelines in helping to raise her kids, then yes, you need to tell her that you simply can't participate in such an endeavor, and it would be best if you found another employer.

Q. Panic Attacks: If you were starting the adoption process and started having killer panic attacks, and you never had panic attacks before in your life, would you take that as a sign that adoption is not for you? Until now I really thought I wanted this.

A: It's not some mystical sign from the beyond alerting you not to follow this path. It is a perfectly natural response to a stressful undertaking that requires a lifetime commitment. Fortunately, when you enter the adoption process, there should be plenty of support, from the social worker you hire, to the other parents who have worked with your agency. So use these resources to explore your anxiety. Sure, you might discover you don't actually want to proceed with the adoption. But you might also discover that many other happy adoptive parents have had feelings such as yours, and they can help you work through them.

Q. Adult Child Driving Her Parents Broke and Berserk: Our adult daughter has never found her niche in life, and now she wants us to be understanding and fiscally supportive while she realigns her life—again. We would like to get serious about retirement fund building and enjoy a little empty-nest peace. How do we set limits without severing ties?

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