Dear Prudence: Should a dying husband confess infidelity?

Advice on manners and morals.
June 27 2011 3:35 PM

All Dogs Go to Heaven

Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.

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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. (Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Q. Affair: About six months ago my doctor gave me two more years to live. I started using that time to make peace with my family, especially my wife, as we've had a turbulent marriage. Things have been going well so far and our marriage is probably the best it's ever been. What I am wondering now is if I should tell my wife that I've had an affair for eight years with another woman. It ended a couple of years ago and we're not even in contact anymore. But there is always a chance that my wife will find out. I don't want her besieged with unanswered questions or anger she can't express after I'm gone. I am also worried that if she were to discover the affair after my demise, she will feel as though the last good years of our marriage were a sham. But on the other hand, I don't want to spend the last year or two we have together dealing with this revelation. What is your take on all this? And yes, I know I'm a total jerk, among other things you can't publish publicly. Please spare me the judgment and give me some advice here.

A: Since you say your marriage was turbulent perhaps your wife knows on some level that you weren't entirely faithful throughout the course of it. You have both received shocking and painful news and are now dedicated to making the best of what time you have left. I hope that will be some considerable amount, and since the affair is well and long over, I agree that in this delicate period of rapprochement, you don't want to spend it dealing with the fallout of a past affair.

This doesn't mean you never tell your wife, but it may be something you decide to do later. Perhaps there will be a time when you can say to her that rededicating yourself to your marriage has been the sweetest time of your life. That you want her to know what her love and support has meant to you, and that you are sorry you weren't always the husband you should have been. She might say, "It doesn't matter now, I don't even want to talk about the past." Or she might want to know what you mean, or you might feel the need to explain you feel guilty about the past and don't want it to shadow your present. But even if you tell her, being honest in this circumstance doesn't necessarily require you to reveal with whom or for how long. You can just explain you don't want her to ever think that there was dishonesty in your last years together, but that she should know this time together has been real and true.

Dear Prudence: Imaginary Romance

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Q. Right to Sleep in the Morning: I need advice on how to handle a problem that has been occurring throughout my 30-year marriage! Basically, my husband and I have very different sleeping habits. I go to bed, get 8 hours, and get up. My husband goes to bed, gets five-six hours and then catnaps throughout the day. The problem is that when he gets up at 5 or 6 a.m., he likes to return to bed with a cup of coffee, the dog, some reading material ... and I can't sleep through it. An electronic reader has been helpful and he does try to be quiet, but it ruins my last hours of sleep and I feel lousy for the day. He thinks I am the problem because I can't return to sleep. Today he did it again and then got really mad at me about it. He says he is exiled from his own bed. Who "gets the bed," the person who is trying to sleep or the person who wishes to lie down for coffee and a book? What is the solution, as there is no extra bedroom?

A: About 29 or so years ago I would have started thrashing around in my sleep, "accidentally" knocking the cup of coffee onto my husband's chest, and saying, "Oh, dear, I was having such a violent dream. I hope the coffee didn't burn you." If you two don't have one, invest in a wonderful invention called a "couch." While on it your husband can surround himself with newspapers, dog, and doze or read in perfect contentment. The bed is for sleeping.

Q. Teenage Daughter Dealing With Depression: I have a fantastic teenage daughter who is always cheerful and pleasant at home. The other day I got a phone call from her friend (who moved to another state last year) saying she was very worried about my daughter. It turns out that my daughter has no friends at school and has been feeling depressed. I had absolutely no idea because she looks so happy at home. The friend asked me not to say anything to my daughter because obviously she wasn't supposed to tell, but she felt I needed to know. I am grateful for this information but now have no idea how to approach it with my daughter. I tried to start a discussion about her school life and she brushed me off, obviously unwilling to talk. I don't want to force a conversation with her but I feel like I need to intervene somehow. I will appreciate your advice here because I'm at a loss as to what to do. Thank you.

A: Go back to your friend and say that obviously her news has shaken you and you must do something, but for the sake of honest discussion, you want to be able to tell your daughter why you are bringing up your concerns. Ask your friend to either release you from the confidence, or contact your daughter directly and tell her a mother has to know if a daughter is depressed. Then you should tell your daughter that you don't want her to feel she has to put on a happy face to reassure you if she is feeling miserable inside. Say part of being a teenager is believing no one has ever felt the way she feels and there's nothing to do done, but fortunately, that's not true. Tell her if she's feeling so terribly sad, you want to talk to her about this, and maybe you both will agree that she should find a professional to help her sort through her feelings, because she should never feel she is battling this alone.

Q. Commute Troubles: I ride the same bus to and from work every day. Lately, this older man has been overly friendly to me. I say hello and make pleasant small talk. One day, he sat next to me and was basically trying to sneak a feel while I was half-asleep. I didn't know what to do so I put my lunch box between us. Since then, he's been trying to touch me in passing—like touching my hand or arm when leaving the bus. He does it so quickly and when he gets off the bus so that I can't really say anything so far. It's gotten to the point where I am very grossed out and I feel violated. Help!

A: If he's on the bus every day, first of all tell the bus driver what's going on. There may be some protocol the driver needs to follow in cases like this. Then, the next time he comes to sit next to you, say in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, "Don't ever sit next to me again or I will call the police."

Q. Depressed Daughter: Or maybe the daughter wants to leave her school problems at school and enjoy a happy home life. I went through most of high school depressed and without many meaningful friendships. The only way it would have been worse is if I'd been forced to talk to my parents about it.

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