Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I hope everyone’s 2015 is off to a good start.
Q. Uncomfortable Around Sister-in-Law: My wife’s younger sister has at times flirted with me, which my wife has laughed off, even when her sister said something about wanting to have my baby. Well, this sister just got kicked out by their parents, and at the moment is living with us. I’ve never cheated, but I’m not sure I can trust myself here. I am, after all, a guy. How can I tactfully express to my wife that we need to figure out something else ASAP?
A: You are “a guy,” which apparently means to you that even when your sister-in-law makes grossly inappropriate moves on you, you are somehow unable to take responsibility for your own behavior. You sound like quite a prize, and maybe you and sister-in-law deserve each other because you seem to equally lack a sense of self-restraint or personal responsibility. You have told your wife about her sister’s behavior, and your wife is so confident she’s laughed it off. You need to tell her this is no laughing matter. Explain that to you it’s not a joke when her sister says she wants you to impregnate her. Do leave out the part about how if sis comes on to you again, you’re just going to have to go to bed with her (you’re “a guy,” after all). Say her behavior makes you uncomfortable, but it’s frankly intolerable under your own roof. (It sounds as if your sister-in-law specializes in intolerable behavior.) Tell your wife there has to be a strict deadline for sister’s stay, and the sooner she goes, the better.
Q. Engineer Boyfriend’s Sexual Problems: My boyfriend and I have been together several years, and we have a good sex life, but he is starting to drive me crazy because he is constantly asking me to “tell him what I want.” The problem is that I don’t like having to give step-by-step directions during sex. He is a great lover, considerate and patient, and always makes sure I’m satisfied. What I would really like is for him to be more confident during sex and to quit asking me to tell him what to do. It’s like he thinks I have some advanced sexual technique in mind that would blow my mind but I am selfishly refusing to tell him about it. For me, a great sexual experience isn’t just technique, it’s about the passion and emotion. I just want us to feel connected and for the sex to feel natural and unscripted. He is a software engineer and he thinks that there is some sexual code he can hack that will give me 10 orgasms a night. When I try to explain about the emotional part, he says that’s just “emotional stuff” that doesn’t give him with anything to work with. Please give me some advice about how to talk to him about this so he will relax.
A: You want your software engineer to just concentrate on the hardware. However, if he does break that 10 orgasms a night code, he should write a book, and then he can retire from being an engineer altogether. First of all, it’s much better to have conversations about what goes on in the bedroom outside of the bedroom. So the next day, if he got you out of the mood by badgering you about what gets you in the mood, have a talk. Tell him what you told me: He is a great lover and you are always satisfied. Then explain that one difference between sex and software is that sometimes there isn’t a solution that involves how Part A fits with Part B. The paradox of getting what you want in bed is that for you it’s much sexier if he just acts and doesn’t ask. Say what you love about making love to him is that it takes you out of the rational, verbal world into one of feeling and spontaneity and that you aren’t withholding any secrets from him about what you want. It could be that after several years of good sex, he’s worried you two have fallen into a rut, and he himself would like to do something more experimental but wants this to come from you. So tell him you’d like to explore. Look at some erotica (or instruction manuals, or pornography) together for inspiration. Reassure him that he’s free to try whatever, and if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll let him know. Say that otherwise, one of the secrets for you of letting go is not having to say anything at all.
Q. Bedroom Bully?: My husband and I have been married for nearly a decade. Ever since we first became intimate, he has been insatiable and rough. At first I figured it was due to “new relationship” frequency but now even after nine years, he pouts and “punishes me” by turning away and refusing to interact with me or leaving our bed if I’m not in the mood at least four to five times a week. He has no problem having sex with me if I’m not into it. I’ve even been unable to hold back tears while we have sex and he did not allow that to stop him “midway.” For the record, I used to enjoy sex much more and used to be much happier doing lots of fun things in the bedroom. But now, the thought of being intimate makes me want to run for the hills.
A: And here’s the man who’s the opposite of that sensitive software engineer. Your husband is a brute, one who only cares about his pleasure, and is abusing you in bed and out. It’s one thing to complain about a selfish lover, it’s another to have a lover who fails to notice you’re weeping during sex. You do not mention any other aspects of your relationship that are keeping you in this marriage. If you are free to run for the hills, then I think you should have run long ago. If you have children and aren’t ready to call it quits, you tell him that his behavior is destroying your marriage. Tell him you two need to see a therapist immediately, and if he won’t go with you, you’re going by yourself. In the meantime, let him know that your sex life is on hiatus because you will no longer allow him to force himself on you. Let’s hope he understands the meaning of “No,” for an answer.
Q. Re: Guy and Sister-in-Law: Cut the guy a break. He wants to do the right thing, has asked his wife for help, and she’s laughed at him. If someone asks a spouse for help resisting a temptation, be it food, alcohol, or sex, and the spouse belittles or demeans the person, the problem goes beyond the tempted person. So yeah, he should insist on getting the SIL out quickly. But he’s doing the right thing, and both you and his wife are busting his chops. What gives?
A: I just see a big distinction between, “Please stop buying potato chips, I can’t keep my hands off them” and “If you don’t kick out your sister, I’m going to have to have intercourse with her.” It would be one thing if he said the sister-in-law understandably made him uncomfortable with her gross boundary crossing and he didn’t want to have anything to do with her. It’s another to say, “Hey, if she flirts with me again, she and I are going to end up naked in the guest bedroom.”
Q. Should I Tell My Husband I’m Recovering From a Drinking Problem?: I am a happily married woman who was, until recently, a closet alcoholic. I hid my escalating drinking from my husband and family for over two years. Last month I hit a breaking point and decided to stop cold turkey. I went through the withdrawals, anger, and depression by myself because I was too embarrassed to tell my husband how dependent (and sneaky) I was. Now I am 34 days sober and I feel better than ever. My dilemma is whether to tell my husband about my issues with alcohol or just let it slide because I’m on the road to recovery. I was consumed by embarrassment over my dependency before, and now the thought of telling anyone about my recovery still consumes me with anxiety. I come from a family of strict teetotalers and my husband barely drinks at all so the question of why I’m not drinking will never come up.
A: Good for you for being sober for a month. But I don’t see how you maintain long-term sobriety, or come to terms with your addiction, unless you actually do come to terms with it and openly acknowledge your problem, at the very least with your husband. Your shame is a toxin that will continue to harm you until you address it. There are many different programs available, and you should find one that suits you. It sounds as if you also need individual care not just for your alcoholism but for your anxiety and shame. Your husband needs to know about all this because someone who loves you will want to be part of your recovery.
Q. Wife’s Pervy Boss: I want my wife, Penny, to quit her dream job because I think her older boss, Tate, is in love with her. He buys her ridiculously well-thought-out gifts for no real reason at all. He has told her she’s the most amazing person he has ever met. He has said, “Where were you when I was younger?” Penny loves her job and thinks Tate is brilliant, but she doesn’t seem to think his behavior indicates he loves her. I think Tate is an enemy of our marriage as well as a predator. I believe Penny would quit her job if I told her the depth of my concerns. But we would struggle until she found another job, and leaving her current one would be very difficult for her. What is the right thing to do?
A: What you say her boss is doing does sound like serious line-crossing, but this is for Penny to handle. It’s good she’s being open with you about what’s going on, even if she has a different take on his behavior. Instead of coming at this from the perspective that Tate is going to ruin your marriage, I think you should talk to your wife about the dangers he presents to her career. Surely, other people in the office notice his behavior around her. That makes for gossip and bad feelings. She needs to put the kibosh on the gifts and the inappropriate comments. What’s most important is that you don’t put your wife on the defensive about this but that you two continue to be able to discuss this without her feeling pressured on both sides by the men in her life. Your confident analysis should help her see that her boss is behaving unprofessionally and his doing so is not good for her personal or professional life.
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