Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Husband Wants an Open Marriage: A few months ago, my husband uncovered an affair I was having with an old flame. He moved out and initiated divorce proceedings, but in the time since, I was able to convince him that I am truly repentant and to give our marriage another chance for the sake of our children. The problem I have now is that he says that if we are to stay married, he wants it to be an open marriage. I've tried to tell him that I've gotten that out of my system and I don't want to be with anybody other than him, but he says there just isn't any way he can ever trust me again, he doesn't feel an obligation to be faithful to me anymore, and at least this way we're being honest about it. Prudie, it makes me ill to think about him being with another woman. I just want things to go back to how they used to be. How can I convince him that we need to be completely committed to each other in order for this to work?
A: I assume you were the little girl who wouldn't let anyone else play with your toys, but you insisted on hogging everyone else's. I agree that couples can have various understandings about fidelity, but the key is being in agreement. It's perfectly understandable that the betrayed partner in a formerly monogamous relationship might want to step out him or herself. But this kind of score-settling is unlikely to heal the breach. But you have some nerve demanding that "things go back to how they used to be." You strayed and only found religion upon being discovered. It sounds as if without the affair being revealed you would have been perfectly happy with a seemingly placid marriage and a reignited flame on the side. Whatever happens, things will never be just as they used to be, and that is the first lesson you need to truly absorb. Especially when there are children involved, I don't think the dissolution of a marriage should be the natural consequence of a single instance of infidelity. But you seem to want no consequences for your actions. It could be that you and your husband should simply be separated for a while—without the threat of divorce hanging over your heads—to see how each of you feel about this new status. While you do that, I will naturally recommend couples counseling. It sounds as if you both need a third party to help you communicate and to hold a mirror up to the consequences of each of your actions.
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Q. Genealogy: My mother had a brief relationship with my biological father; they were never romantically involved after my birth. When I was about 6 months old, my father was incarcerated for life due to a violent crime. My mother explained this to me with varying degrees of detail throughout my childhood. Although it sounds like the beginning of my life was rocky, my mother provided my with a wonderful childhood and eventually remarried when I was 12. I have a fantastic relationship with my stepfather (who adopted me at age 15). However, this is a detail of my life that I do not wish to be common knowledge. My fiancé is aware of this element of my past, but we have not told the rest of his family. His aunt loves genealogy and has pressed me for more details of my origin. I gave her my stepfather, but she asked me point blank for my bio fathers information. My fiancé sent an email to his aunt, explaining that I never knew my bio father and am very close to my stepfather. However, I suspect she is the type of person who will take it upon herself to find this information on her own. I also suspect she will let his whole family know about this, something that I do not particularly want and I know my mother does not want. Should we tell his parents the truth and ask them to keep this as quiet as can be? Or should we just keep quiet and deal with this if it becomes an issue?
A: I am really sick of the blood lust that animates some people's sense of family. Your stepfather adopted you, so he is your father, period. If your fiancé's nosy aunt wants to look up his ancestry, she has his name and is free to click away. You do not need to provide her with any information about your "real" father. It doesn't sound as if your fiancé's parents have inquired as to the whereabouts of your bio dad, so it's just fine that you don't bring this up. If auntie keeps pushing, just tell her it's wonderful she has such an engaging hobby, but it's not yours and you can't help her. I understand that you do not want to share the details of your biological father's life, but I hope you don't carry this as your own burden of shame.
Q. A Father’s Heartbreak: I am 76 years old, retired, and living in a resort community along the southern coast. I have one son who lives about 10 hours away by car. I have made the trip several times each year over the nine years of my retirement. Over the past three years, I have learned that my son is an alcoholic. I have personally had to call 911 twice after finding him in a dangerous stupor in his home. I have seen him through two DUI trials and helped him get to outpatient rehab stints. After a recent crisis, I strongly encouraged him to enter a 30-day inpatient program. His response was to cut off all communication with me. Is there anything I can do to reconnect with the son I love?
A: Tragically, as I learn over and over again, some people cannot be helped or saved. Once their loved ones have tried everything possible then it's time to accept this painful truth. Your son obviously needs more than outpatient care, so if there are other family members available, perhaps all of you can do an intervention with the purpose of getting him into an inpatient treatment program. Perhaps, too, there are other friends or family members nearer by who can check in on your son. After two DUI trials, I'm concerned that he might still be on the road. If these others find he's drinking and driving, the prosecutor's office should be contacted to tell them your son is violating the terms of his probation (which I hope he's on). At least some jail time would require him to sober up and minimize the danger he presents to innocent people.
Q. Re: Genealogy: This can't be a legit question. Didn't Hax get the same question from the standpoint of the fiancé's aunt?
A: I am a Carolyn Hax fan and reader, but somehow I missed that she got this exact same question from the supposed aunt's perspective. In Carolyn's version the aunt had already uncovered the incarceration and wanted to know if she should tell others. (Carolyn slapped down the aunt for pressing on this and told her to keep quiet—I agree.) So either someone is seeing if they can get both of us to bite, or two people on opposite sides of an issue have written to separate advice columnists.
Q. Blended Families: Over the weekend my wife suffered a miscarriage. She started miscarrying while we were eating dinner with my children from my first marriage, who live with us every weekend. My kids, 9 and 12, did not know about the pregnancy, but did see their stepmother hunched over and in pain. They know she's sick, and after I dropped them off at their mom's house, I've only called them once and sent them a few emails (all to let them know my wife will be physically OK). My ex-wife has been texting me all weekend about what is up and what she should tell the kids. Earlier this morning she texted to ask if my wife suffered a miscarriage. I appreciate my ex-wife's concern but am currently very shaken and heartbroken. We need some space from her, and we don't think we have to tell her if my wife had a miscarriage. Is there a polite way to ask for some space? My wife and I are also unsure if we should tell the kids about the miscarriage, but whether we do or not, we don't think my ex-wife should be a part of that conversation.
A: Your children were present for something disturbing and they are entitled to a simple and direct explanation of what happened. Not explaining is only going to feed their worry. You should either see your kids, or at the least get them both on the phone, then explain what a miscarriage is, say that their stepmother is fine. You can say you know it was upsetting for them to go through this and say that you and their stepmother are both sad right now. You may not want your ex-wife to be part of any conversation about this, but you are sharing the raising of two children, so treating this news straightforwardly will benefit all of you.