Help! I Killed a Man in Self-Defense Years Ago, but My Wife’s Family Won’t Leave Me Alone About It.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 25 2013 6:15 AM

Grave Secret

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose in-laws have discovered he once killed a man in self-defense.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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 prudence@slate.com.)

Q. A History of Violence: Some three decades ago, I killed a man. He had broken into my home, armed; we struggled, he died. It was clearly self-defense and, frankly, I have no regrets or remorse. A few months ago, my wife's brother did an idle Google search and discovered a report on the incident, which he's shared widely in the family. He's also taken to calling me "Killer." Normally, I'd be amused but some friends and family have reacted quite negatively, with one breaking all ties, another telling my wife that they'd rather not have me around their children, and a couple seemingly eager to either psychoanalyze me or get the gruesome details. How do I get people to understand that I am not interested in dredging up the past and that something that happened long ago has very little bearing on who I am today? I'd happily write off the rude and the stupid but these people are important to my wife.

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A: Apparently these friends and family would prefer that you had been killed by the intruder, so they could then honor your memory as a tragic victim. I understand our country is divided over many issues, guns particularly among them, but surely even the most ardent gun-control activist can recognize that when an armed intruder is in your house, Robert's Rules of Order do not apply. Since this nonsense appears to be going on in your wife's family, I think the first line of defense should be that she step up and defend you—unarmed, preferably. She should say to her brother, and the others who are now giving you the cold shoulder, how disturbed she is at this dredging up of a terrible encounter from years ago and the blatant misunderstanding of what happened. She can briefly explain you encountered a gunman in your own home, defended yourself, and of course no charges were brought. She should say she hopes everyone can be grateful you're alive and that neither of you want to discuss this incident further. When you encounter the psychoanalytic couple, just say it was a terrifying event you have no desire to relive. If after this the shunning continues, then you're well rid of these insanely judgmental people.

Dear Prudence: Errant Dildo

Q. I'm Not a Hoarder!: Several times in the last month, my husband has gone through my closet (we each have our own) and made comments about the amount of stuff I have. He doesn't understand that many women, myself included, like to accessorize, and use different purses or shoes to match our outfit. Once, he even started putting things aside to donate! Purses are the main "problem" in his opinion, but I really don't have that many, and they are organized to my satisfaction. At least I could understand if I was taking up his space, but this is my space. He has been on an organizing binge lately, and I think my closet is in his crosshairs again. Before he gets in there again, I'd like to have a couple of ideas as to how to divert him. Even with this very annoying quirk, I love him, but this is driving me crazy. The real problem for me is the lack of respect for my space. Suggestions?

A: I have an idea: You could install Ssscat, a cat deterrent device, in your closet so that your husband gets the message to stay out of your space. Of course, you'd have to remove the items you want access to during this training period. I'm finding it hard to believe this is a singular, new obsession of your husband's. It's pretty weird for a guy to start prowling his wife's closet all of a sudden and culling her accessories. You say he's been on an "organizing binge." So I'm wondering if this is a clue that your husband possibly has some OCD-ish issues in general. Whatever the case you need to explain to him that even when two people live together, they need to respect each other's space, objects, and privacy, and unfortunately he is not welcome in your closet because he has violated the sanctity of your lair. If this continues, get thee to a marriage counselor because maybe it would help him to hear from a neutral professional that it's not OK to give away your wife's purses.

Q. Sexuality After Childbirth: Since giving birth to my first child six months ago, I've become very uncomfortable with my sexuality. I have a wonderful partner and there is no tension in the relationship, but I now have an aversion to the idea of having sex. Besides being afraid of the physical act after the usual childbirth injuries, I keep thinking about all the sexual violence I've read or heard about in the news. If I think about sex, I want to put it out of my mind and gather up my baby and protect her. What should I do to get back to normal?

A: Please contact your gynecologist right away and describe what's going on with you. This sounds like it could be a postpartum depression and you want to attend to this immediately. Sometimes this disorder manifests as terror of bad things happening to your child and dwelling on all that's terrible in the world. You also need a thorough physical checkup and advice on postpartum sexuality and recovery from any birth trauma. Please do this today. There is help available for you, and you should be enjoying this sweet and tender time of life, not living in dread.

Q. Parents and Finances: My parents have frequently made bad financial decisions and they fell on bad times about a decade ago. This was around the same time when I had graduated college and got my first job and I have been supporting them ever since. I pay for their mortgage and bills and also send them extra money for expenses. I recently found out that the property my parents own in our country of origin is worth quite a bit of money. I've encouraged my parents to sell it so they can live more comfortably, but my father is emotionally attached to the house and doesn't want to sell it. Meanwhile, I am expecting my first child soon and the upcoming expenses will make it very difficult for me to continue supporting my parents. I have tried hinting this to them but they have taken no action to sell the other property or to address my concerns about future money. I am willing to continue paying for their mortgage and bills, but I want to stop sending them anything extra. Is that reasonable of me or should I be expected to continue sending them money because I have set a pattern and enabled them to depend on me?

A: Enclose a note with your next payment that this is the final one. You really don't owe these bloodsuckers an explanation, but you can say that with a child—their grandchild!—on the way you must now look out for your own family's finances. You can tell your parents it puts your mind at ease to know they have a valuable property that they can sell to help support them. A decade of financial blackmail is long enough and you have to start thinking long-term about putting money away for your child's college education, and your own eventual retirement so you never become this kind of vampire.

Q. Mitigating the Damage: I just ended a yearlong, long-distance affair. In the course of discussing our long-standing marriage problems, I told my husband about it so that we could go into marriage counseling and start from a place of honesty. Except I haven't been completely honest about the details of the affair because I don't want to hurt him further. For example, I was intimate with the other guy on nine occasions, but I told my husband there were just two. And I minimized the emotional connection and I had with the other guy and made it sound like it was meaningless, when I pretty much fell for him, in reality. I am only offering information when he asks me questions. Am I doing the right thing or should I just come completely clean?

A: Go to the therapist and while there come clean. It will be easier to do in a place where you are supposed to air your most difficult problems and where you have someone there to mediate for both of you. It may be that that "place of honesty" ends your marriage. That's a possible consequence of falling in love with someone else. Enumerating the exact amount of intercourse with the other party is not necessary—it's bad enough that you know the precise number because obviously each time was so meaningful. But you can't tell your husband this was a brief and meaningless fling when he's entitled to know it was a long and meaningful one.

Q. Re: Sexuality after childbirth: It is not unusual to have an aversion to sex after childbirth, especially while you are breast-feeding. The sex hormones have not yet kicked back in. See your doctor of course, to rule out other problems, but this may resolve itself when you stop nursing.

A: It's true that one's hormones have a lot to do with this, but what this mother describes is way beyond a lack of lust. She's repelled by the idea of sex and is dwelling on how to protect her infant from future sexual assault. That state of mind needs addressing.

Q. Verbal Child Abuse: My fiancé and I have been renting our current house for about six months. We have taken to opening our windows now that the weather has gotten warmer. There is a multi-generational family that lives next door, which includes a 1-year-old baby, and we can basically hear everything that goes on in their home through our windows. The problem is that we hear the caretaker, which could be the young mother or maybe another family member, constantly being cruel to the baby. She tells the baby to "shut up," calls it a crybaby and stupid, and mocks its crying. Obviously, this makes the baby cry more and it happens very frequently. I never hear any slaps or sounds of physical abuse, so I'm not sure if this would warrant a call to child protective services. We have never spoken one word to the family and they don't seem very friendly, not to mention the constant fighting that we hear among the adult family members, so I am not very comfortable bringing the issue up with them. Is there anything that I can do in this situation? It's awful to listen to and I really feel bad for the baby.

A: Please call the Child Help hotline, 800-4ACHILD, to get some advice as to how to proceed. This whole family sounds toxic, and how heartbreaking to know that a baby is being raised in such a cruel, dismissive way. The people at the hotline should be able to give you advice on what social service agencies in your area could possibly intervene and how you go about reporting this. But sadly, I'm not too optimistic that in the absence of clear physical abuse there's going to be much that will be done to break this chain.

Q. Re: "Killer": It makes me wonder if the people who cut off ties with the poster who used deadly force in self-defense also don't associate with police officers and soldiers. You'd think at a minimum they'd ask for details before cutting off contact!

A: Good point! If any of them are ever confronted with an armed intruder, to avoid hypocrisy they shouldn't call the police, but a therapist and a mediator.

Q. Cheating Brother-in-Law: My sister got married last year, and shortly after the marriage, she divulged to me that her husband has a sex addiction that he's been hiding for years. And he had cheated on her before and after the marriage. After a few months of counseling, she told me that she was leaving him. He refused to get more counseling and didn't seem to see how his addiction was a problem for her. But then she never left. And now she's inviting me to visit for a long weekend. Prudie, I feel uncomfortable visiting without knowing what went down. Is that selfish of me? Staying with them in their house just feels ... awkward.

A: She confided in you, so now it's fair for you to be honest with her. You can say you aren't asking to pry into the intimacies of their marriage, but given what you were told, you're having a hard time imagining hanging out with her husband and pretending he's a good guy. Then see what she says. It could be that what your sister really needs is for you to be supportive and as nonjudgmental as possible. That will also allow you to retain your ability to try to get through to her and explain that staying in this marriage is likely to bring only misery.

Q. Evil Sister-in-Law: My brother has a partner that everyone thinks is this amazing person. She is kind, selfless, and willing to take care of anyone. And I hate her! There is something about her that I just do not like. My sister feels the same way and I don't think it has to do with anything she has done, really, but there is just something about her that rubs us the wrong way, something we can't quite put our finger on. I want to keep the peace between the family and not let this unknown poison seep into anything, but I have a hard time censoring myself sometimes and find myself making a hasty retreat when she says or does something that just makes me want to explode. Any advice on diffusing this situation? Signed, One Sister Too Many.

A: "She is kind, selfless, and willing to take care of anyone." I've heard about a lot of despicable in-laws—the mother-in-law who was poisoning her daughter-in-law, the father-in-law who sniffed the panties of his daughter-in-law, the sister who ran off with her brother-in-law—but the woman you describe here sounds like the worst of all. Think of the evil embodied by her every kind act! OK, you may be right that this seemingly lovely woman is one of those people who draws attention to her Florence Nightingale moves and her self-sacrifice is really a form of narcissistic self-tribute. Alternatively, it could be that you and your sister are just nasty. You make a stronger argument for the latter with your feeling that you will explode in her presence, your description of her as "evil," and your signoff that indicates you want her out of the family. My suggestion is that since you can't even articulate why you don't like your brother's girlfriend, you just act like an adult and keep you nasty feeling to yourself. Oh, and you and your sister need to agree that you've both have got to put a lid on what must be obvious as your evident distaste.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I'll talk to you next week.

Our commenting guidelines can be found here.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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