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About five years ago, I lost my wife after a lengthy illness. The first year was hard, but I got through it thanks to my in-laws, who never stopped letting me know that I would always be part of their family. (My parents are no longer with us.) Six months ago, I met a wonderful woman I love and want to marry. My problem is that she is very twitchy about my relationship with my in-laws. We call each other frequently and I visit them, and their extended family, a few times a year, including holidays. But any time I mention them or my former wife—such as saying something she enjoyed doing—my girlfriend gets angry or very upset. She accuses me of still being in love with my late wife and not letting go of the past. I've tried to reassure her, but I feel that I have to constantly censor myself to avoid setting her off. I don't want to cut my late wife's family out of my life, and they are very happy I've found someone, but I fear an ultimatum is coming. What should I do?
—Found Love Again
You’ve been alone a long time, and I’m sure your girlfriend has many wonderful qualities. But the portrait you paint is of someone who is jealous, insecure, and mean. You say nothing to indicate that your emotional life revolves around your late wife or that your home is a shrine to her. Nor are you trying to remake your girlfriend, Vertigo-like, into your lost love. But she can’t stand it when you mention your late wife in the most natural way. And you feel you have to hide your relationship with your former in-laws; how ironic that they are thrilled you have found someone. I married a widower about five years after he nursed his young wife through a long illness. One of the things that drew me to him was how he had stood by her and that he continued to honor her memory. My husband remains in touch with his late wife’s sister, and it was moving for me to be included at the celebration of her daughter’s bat mitzvah. I wish your girlfriend understood that the love you will always have for your late wife, and the affection with which you hold your former in-laws, does not subtract from her portion.
You haven’t known your girlfriend very long, but if you’re going to know her better, tell her you need to clarify a few things. Say her accusation that you are dwelling on the past drew you up short and made you really examine whether that’s true. Tell her that in all honesty you’re convinced it’s not the case. Both of you are adults with pasts, and neither of you should feel a need to hide that. If Italy comes up, and she remembers something about a trip to Venice with her ex, then she should tell that story. Similarly, you are not going to edit your late wife out of conversation completely. Explain that while you and your former in-laws are bound together by your mutual loss, that is not all that is connecting you. They are simply wonderful people you are close to and you intend have them in your life. If that makes her uncomfortable, then you are sorry to hear that, but you are not going to sever the relationship. Maybe your girlfriend will have the capacity to reassess her behavior and make some changes. But if she can’t, take comfort that you have found you can love again. Then find someone who can open her heart to all of you.
Dear Prudence: Excessive Family PDA
I don't like my breasts touched, and it’s affecting the enjoyment my husband and I have with our sex life. Usually a deliberate touch will make me want to hit the person touching them, doctors included. Once, while we were dating, my husband massaged them and I loved it. I was enjoying it so much that I didn't notice how he was doing it, and he's never been able to repeat the motions. My husband loves touching my breasts, so during sex I try to wait patiently for him to get his fill, and he thanks me before we move on to stuff both of us like. This doesn't leave either of us satisfied though, as he wants me to enjoy having my breasts touched and I just want it to stop. I've tried telling myself things like, “This wonderful man is touching you to show you how much he cherishes you.” But I've been unable to trick myself. Is there a way for me to condition myself to liking my breasts being touched?
Oh, if only you and your husband could strap yourselves into a time machine and go back to that wonderful moment when your husband was caressing your breasts with an arousing, never-to-be-repeated stroke. Was it light tickling, circles with the palms, a fingertip outlining your aureole? The poor guy has been rubbing you the wrong way ever since while trying to recreate that magic touch. You have hypersensitive breasts, and the two of you (by this I mean you and your husband) are going to have to live with that. Still it’s not nothing that you’re able to let him get in some patty-cake time and endure it until he pushes on to something more satisfying for you. So explain to him that it’s enough for you that he enjoys it; asking you to like it, too, just adds unnecessary pressure. Emphasize to him it’s not his fault; it’s simply the way you’re wired. I do have a couple of suggestions. Maybe you’d be willing to put some towels under you and have your husband run an ice cube over your breasts. It could be erotic in a chilly sort of way, and as long as hypothermia doesn’t set in, a few minutes of numbness might allow you enjoy his fondling. If you watch the HBO show Girls, except for the bold Lena Dunham, one would get the idea that young women have sex with their bras on. So try having sex with your bra on. Get a nipple bra, or a water bra, or a combo. This could allow you to let your husband caress the burbling brooks of Frederick’s of Hollywood without you wanting to haul off and punch him in the nuts.
My husband has a brother, "Tim," who has always hated my husband. I tried to make peace with Tim but concluded that he is twisted and miserable. For a long time, nothing made him happier than causing us pain or driving a wedge between us and the rest of the family. At my in-laws' request, we kept any good news—promotions, awards, vacations—secret from Tim because these would send him into a downward spiral. Still, his rages ruined most family events, and he made snide comments to me from across the dinner table. Then Tim met a woman. At age 40 he married and evened out emotionally. It has been several years since he threw a tantrum, and in front of his wife he is on best behavior. The family is overjoyed. I would be, too, if it weren't for a strange new development: Tim has taken an inordinate interest in my young daughter. He fawns over and dotes on her, and she adores him. The family thinks their closeness is wonderful and bridges the rift between brothers. To me it seems sinister. I recently learned that my mother-in-law has been taking my daughter to see Tim without my knowledge. She says it's his right to see his niece, but I don't think anyone who can barely speak to me should be hanging out with my child. Is this worth reigniting a family war over? Somehow I think that's exactly what he wants.
The kind of dramatic personality change you describe is unusual, so I was so excited to read that someone who had been so mired in hatred and jealousy could make such a startling mid-course correction. Then you threw in a spanner. I don’t think that every male adult who takes an interest in a child is up to no good. However, I agree with you that Tim’s focus on your daughter is likely not benign. Given the long, obsessive abhorrence Tim had for his brother and you, I would not be surprised if he was playing out some kind of sick, possibly sexual, long con with your child. Also disturbing is your in-laws’ history of toadying to Tim’s insanity, particularly as it involves your husband. Your mother-in-law has been keeping these visits secret because she knew you would rightly object. But she doesn’t want anyone to get in the way of making her little Timmy happy. You and your husband should immediately suspend any contact between your child and his family that is unsupervised by one of you. If this does result in a resumption of Tim’s hostilities, then it’s time for an break in those jolly family get-togethers.
My husband and I have friends out of town whom we stay with occasionally. My husband has a bad back and he wants to tell them "tactfully" that they need a better mattress in their guest bedroom. He says their other guests must feel the same way. I say there’s no way to say this tactfully and we should just stay in a hotel. Who’s right?
—Just Back Away
If your husband tells your hosts that their lousy bed cuts short his visit and those of their other guests, I’m sure they will murmur appropriate concern. Then when they’re alone they will high-five each other and vow never to replace that mattress.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“My Twin Sister Says I'm Fat: Prudie offers advice on twins entangled in family rifts, rows, and rivalries.” Posted Aug. 25, 2011.
“Give Grandpa a Kiss-Off?: A creeping suspicion tells me to keep my father-in-law away from my kids. Should I listen to it?” Posted Sept. 1, 2011.
“Longtime Companion: Is it OK to hide my gay affair since my wife doesn't want sex anymore?” Posted Sept. 8, 2011.
“Deadly Family Secret: My mother-in-law hid a life-threatening condition that could strike my child. How can I forgive her?” Posted Sept. 15, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Type "R" for Revenge: Dear Prudence advises a woman who got her cheating ex fired by sending a nasty email—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Aug. 29, 2011.
“The Nudist Next Door: Dear Prudence advises a reader whose new neighbor needs better curtains—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 6, 2011.
“Am I Dating a Swinger?: Dear Prudence advises a woman who craves a monogamous relationship but can't seem to find one—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 12, 2011.
“He'd Like a Virgin: Dear Prudence advises a woman who lied to her fiance about her sexual past—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 19, 2011.