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Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Hurt and betrayed: I recently found out my husband of seven years has been on adult dating sites and OnlyFans. I found multiple purchases from these sites over a year-and-a-half span and had no idea about it. He doesn’t think he cheated since he didn’t physically ever meet these women; I guess he only bought videos or pictures. I am still unsure what exactly transpired.
Of course, I handled it wrong and blew up on him and made some threats, which made matters worse. He has yet to apologize and is contemplating divorce, all because of the way I reacted and handled it. I am so hurt and betrayed and feel like I deserve an explanation and apology. I don’t want my family broken apart, but I also feel he’s sweeping this under the rug.
A: I am really sorry to hear this and, without knowing every detail of your relationship, I have a theory that might be upsetting to hear: I think your husband is completely checked out of the marriage. Cheating is one thing—being unapologetic about cheating is another thing altogether. Reacting to the revelation about cheating by contemplating divorce is really bad news. You ABSOLUTELY deserve an explanation and an apology, but your husband has recently shown you that he is not interested in being a person who gives you things you need—he’s given up on his end of the relationship. You should emotionally, legally, and financially begin to prepare yourself for the possibility that this relationship is going to come to an end. This starts with looking elsewhere for the support that he cannot or will not offer. I’m not saying there’s no hope at all. There’s always counseling, and he might come to his senses if he realizes you’re truly prepared to leave. But begging him to be a better person with more integrity is not going to fix this marriage.
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Q. Not in with the family: My boyfriend and I have been together for four years and are planning a future together. We have had ongoing conversations about him including me in his family’s life, as he’s very much involved in mine. He has gotten to know my sisters, parents, and extended family. We spend time with them regularly and he has personal relationships with a few of them. On the other hand, I’ve only met his family three times. I’ve expressed my desire to get to know them more as I might be their future sister/daughter in-law, but understand families have different timelines and dynamics.
Recently his mom was hospitalized and his family doesn’t have much time left with her. I have offered to be helpful in any way that I can to make his and his family’s life easier during this time—I asked if I can babysit his nephews and nieces, contribute financially, or really anything. However, my boyfriend repeatedly refuses my offers to help and even my request to visit his mom with him. When I push back, he says it’s either unnecessary or his mom is not quite herself, tired, or on meds. Even during his brother’s passing from COVID (only eight months ago), my family and I offered to help practically and financially and he refused.
I don’t want to go behind his back, but I’ve thought about directly messaging his sister to offer my help. My boyfriend and I live together and almost all of our lives are integrated except for this, and it feels icky to not help when I can. Is this a situation where I should learn that families are different (my family are African immigrants and he’s Black American) and let it go? Or is this as weird as I feel, and maybe a deal breaker?
A: “Different families have different timelines and dynamics” is very insightful. Although many of us check off a similar set of life events—marriage, children, deaths of parents, etc.—everyone reacts to them very differently and has different expectations for how others will support them. It sounds like your boyfriend’s family is close-knit and private. Maybe there are even feelings of shame about needing help at play. Possibly they really don’t need help but just want to get through this difficult time, and no practical or financial support can make it any easier.
If you and his sister have your own, independent friendship (do you stay in touch with each other beyond small talk and social media comments and open up to each other?), you can feel free to offer to support her during this hard time, but I would stop short of using her to get to her mom. Either way, focus more on offering support to your boyfriend. How can you be there for him in ways that don’t involve direct contact with his family?
Thinking about the bigger picture here, this is an opportunity to ask some questions about your relationship. Is this the kind of family you feel comfortable marrying into, or are the emotional and cultural differences too extreme? Another question might be: Is your boyfriend not quite as sure about your future together as you are? Does he not yet see you as his actual life partner, but more as the person he’s dating right now? I don’t suggest having these hard conversations during his mom’s last days, but they’re questions to consider in the future.
Q. Heart needs to grow three sizes this season: I need to learn how to feel happy for my husband’s brother (“Jack”) and his wife (“Rachel”). For context, I have some legacy insecurities about my mother-in-law liking Rachel a lot more than me (pretty obviously) for the first few years of my relationship with my husband (she started dating Jack at the same time as we started dating). Since then, my relationship with my MIL is really great, but Jack and Rachel have “achieved” all of the typical life milestones (engagement/wedding/house-buying) before my husband and I, and those events have all happened around Christmas, when we all get together, so the past three Christmases have been very them-centric.
They just announced they’re having a baby. I wish I could get in the mindset to feel genuine joy for them, but I can’t help but internally grumble that this Christmas will be about all of them yet again. I need a good book or a good mantra to not feel like such a brat and get in an abundance mindset; I know joy is limitless but knowing and feeling are different.
A: You know what? I don’t think you have to feel happy for them! You really don’t! I mean, don’t put coal in their stocking and don’t be cruel, of course. But as long as you’re somewhere on the spectrum between civilized and kind, it’s perfectly fine to be secretly bitter and resentful inside. And you don’t have to hold it in—maybe ranting about it a bit to a good friend or writing down your list of grievances will give you more relief than trying to suppress the way you feel. Life isn’t fair and you haven’t been treated particularly fairly, and it’s totally okay to notice that.
Q. Title-challenged: I’ve been married for six months and have known my husband and his family for 10 years. I get along well enough with his parents, but they are MUCH more formal than mine and still haven’t invited me to call them by their first names. Even when referring to each other in front of me, they might say, “Can you go and ask Mr. Smith if he would like some coffee?”
I’m a married woman in my thirties and a member of the family…it makes me feel infantilized and like an outsider to still be calling them Mr. and Mrs. At the same time, if I force the issue, I know I will make them equally uncomfortable. How do I navigate this?
A: Well, this does in fact sound incredibly stiff and awkward. I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable. But this situation seems like a symptom of their formality and not a reflection of their desire to keep you at arm’s length. I think the thing to do here is to file this request under “My in-laws are weird because they are weird, not because of anything to do with me,” and roll with it.
Q. Foster mom in the making: After several miscarriages, my husband and I have been feeling called down another path: adopting out of foster care. We have just recently started this process, and most people who we have told have been incredibly supportive. However, we have encountered a few people who have made comments such as, “Maybe you’ll finally have a baby after this!” (which angers me beyond belief because our goal in this is not to be “rewarded” with a biological child), and some people just like to give unsolicited advice or discouraging comments about how hard/heartbreaking the process can be. I know that this route won’t be easy, and I’m not living in denial of that, but it also feels super discouraging to hear comments like this, and I don’t want their advice if they aren’t experts or haven’t been through this process themself. I guess I just feel the need to surround myself with supportive people as we go through this process. Would I be wrong to shut down comments that are anything but supportive? And if so, how do I shut them down?
A: My blood is boiling just reading this. What is wrong with people? Anyway, no, you would not be wrong to shut down these rude comments. How you do so depends on your style, your personality, and how awkward you’re willing to make things, but here are some ideas inspired by what you’ve said about how you feel:
1) “Actually we’re excited about the child we’re going to adopt. We’re not looking to be ‘rewarded’ with a biological child.”
2) “That’s a strange reaction to our good news.”
3) “I don’t think that’s how this works.”
4) “I’ve heard that before and I’m sure people say it with the best intention but that’s not the way it’s received.”
Q. Re: Hurt and betrayed: Huh? He’s meeting other women on dating/porn sites and he thinks it’s your fault you got angry about it? I think you should contact a lawyer immediately; you say you don’t want your family broken apart, but I think your husband cut himself loose a year and a half ago.
A: “Your husband cut himself loose” is a perfect summary of this situation. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s completely beyond repair, but the change of heart and behavior would need to be on his end.
Q. Re: Not in with the family: You don’t know the family dynamics. I kept my now-husband away from my family for a long time because of my relationship with them and to protect him from their craziness and abusiveness.
Don’t make this about you right now. Make a casserole that can be easily frozen and reheated and send it with your boyfriend. Support him and his needs right now.
A: Yes, it’s totally possible that he’s trying to protect you from getting involved in craziness or abusiveness—or just the stress of this time when people probably aren’t at their best and can’t be “on” for someone who’s not quite a member of the family. And I completely agree that there are ways to support him without being directly involved with his mom’s care.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Thanks, everyone, for the questions and the replies. See you back here next week!
If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat—My Friends and Family Think My Fiancée Is Too Dumb for Me—click here to read it.
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From Care and Feeding
We moved to a new state and a new school this year, and I am not sure if I should do or say anything about my first grade daughter’s teacher. I’m about as liberal as you can be, and our first-grader’s teacher is … not. She has sent the kids home with lanyards that read “God is Great,” and it’s a public school. I’m not religious, and I am very uncomfortable with this kind of thing. The school is also hosting a Christmas pageant (where the songs will almost all be nonreligious, but still).
I don’t know what to do. At our old school, I would have no problem saying something because I knew the game and the players. But here, I’m friendless and unsure if rocking the boat on this issue is a good idea. Do I say something to the teacher?