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New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), do a search in the search bar, or submit a question for advice at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.
My older daughter married at eighteen and moved to California with her Marine husband. They needed money and my daughter posed for some nude pictures…like in Playboy. Those pictures are on the internet.
I was very disappointed with my daughter. I raised her with Christian values and thought I had instilled in her strong morals. Her husband was raised differently and was not a good person. She has divorced him and has returned to her Christian values.
I recently lost both my parents. My mom died in September and my dad died last month. During my mom’s illness I noticed some nude pictures of my daughter had been saved to my desktop computer. It was basically my husband’s computer; I have a laptop.
My daughter comes over and uses the computer sometimes, so I thought perhaps she had saved the photos for some reason. But something kept telling me not to approach her about it. I was too busy and mentally drained anyway from dealing with my parents’ illnesses, deaths, funeral plans, etc.
The very same day that my dad died I confronted my husband and asked him if he had downloaded the pictures of my daughter. He confessed and told me that he had searched the internet to see if she had any bad pictures of herself. He told me that he felt relieved that I had found out.
My husband is 67 years old, so he should know better. He has started counseling, but I can’t forgive him. My daughter should have been safe in her childhood home. Other men have exploited her, but her step-father should have loved and protected her. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of him looking at my daughter sexually. Last year he told her that “she had a nice ass.” When she told me that, I told her that he was just being stupid and didn’t mean anything by it. Of course, now I know he was looking at and fantasizing over her photos. I also found out that he has been watching porn videos on the internet.
My whole family loves him and thinks that he’s a good man. I had always thought that he was a strong Christian man who would never cheat, etc. Now I look at him as a creep and a terrible man who has violated my trust and exploited my daughter for his pleasure.
I no longer work due to several failed back surgeries that rendered me disabled, and I can’t support myself financially. I also feel that I have so much vested in my 24-year marriage. Please help. What do I do? — Brokenhearted in Texas
First, I’m sorry for the recent loss of both your parents. My own father-in-law passed away recently after a brief but intense illness, just three months after my husband and I welcomed a baby daughter, so I have an idea of the mental and physical drain you felt and likely still feel. That kind of exhaustion can certainly color your perspective and make everyday tasks, to say nothing of true challenges, seem almost insurmountable. But what you have described, as troubling as it sounds and must feel, is not insurmountable. You and your family CAN get past this.
You need to remember that people are human and capable of extraordinary feats as well as devastating disappointments. We make mistakes. Being Christian, having “values” — and by the way, plenty of people who don’t call themselves Christians have the strongest of values while lots of people who are Christian hold shaky values at best — doesn’t exclude one from making mistakes. (Also, not every decision a person makes that is different from what you would choose is a mistake either.) Holding one’s self to a rock-solid code of morals doesn’t make one perfect. People are flawed. People give in to temptation. People don’t always know the best path even if they have the best intentions to take it. Isn’t one of the biggest tenets of Christianity forgiveness for precisely this reason? We are expected to sin. And we hope that the people we love and the God we worship, if we are religious, forgive us.
But, in the case of your husband, you aren’t even clear what the sin is. You say he’s been sexually fantasizing about your daughter, but you don’t really know that. You say he’s been exploiting her, but what is that based on? All you know is that he downloaded nude photos of your daughter, after “searching the internet to see if she had any bad pictures of herself.” Is it possible that his initial intention at least was to simply check on her and try to protect and guide her? I’m not implying that his intention remained that — that he wasn’t tempted to sexualize your daughter (and past comments about her ass would indicate that he already has crossed that line), but I am implying that this may not be as black and white as you think it appears.
People are complicated. But you have twenty-four years with this man and, by your accounts, he has been a good husband and a good father. Yes, he may have behaved like a creep at some point. Maybe he’s even done a terrible thing or two (or simply made decisions you don’t approve of). But downloading some photos that your grown daughter posed for for a publication is not the same thing as, say, a man taking photos of his new teenage stepdaughter in the shower. Your husband may have made your daughter feel uncomfortable — if not with the downloading of her photos since she might not be aware of that, then with his lame comment about her ass — but he hasn’t jeopardized her safety. He hasn’t exploited her. There’s a difference.
I do think you would benefit from therapy to help you work through your anger and confusion and trust issues over your husband’s behavior, as well as the grief (and maybe shock?) of losing your parents back-to-back. You are under a lot of stress and it’s understandable if you don’t feel as clear-headed as usual. Don’t let that drive you to making decisions that irrevocably change the course of your life. This is not the time to make life-changing decisions. This is the time to seek counseling, work through your grief, try to see your issues from different angles and in different light, and give time and distance — and forgiveness — the chance to pull you forward. This is the time to let your husband do the work to earn back your trust. A twenty-four-year investment is worth that much.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.