“My Husband Has Another Family”

From the forums:

troubled woman

My husband, who is an absolutely amazing man, and I have been married for six years and have known each other for eight. Initially, we both wanted to have kids, he more than I. However, I wanted to finish up my education first. Towards the end of my senior year, I found out that I was infertile.

I told my husband (then boyfriend) that I won’t be able to have kids and he was distraught, to say the least, but he told me he still loved me and would stick by me. We eventually got married and have had a great marriage.In the beginning, I’d say we had sex about 10 times a week, and weekends were our special days. But about three years into our marriage I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and, soon after, all the medication I had to take made sex unbearable. My husband and I would still try certain things, but I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. I felt like the most selfish wife ever — I had robbed my husband of having a family, and now I was having him stay with me in a sexless marriage.

I couldn’t keep living with the guilt, so I told him that it was if he slept with other women. I told him not to tell me about it but to just do it behind my back. We had arguments about this, but I remained firm. Not too long after, the husband of our mutual friend, “Lisa,” passed away. In all honesty, we weren’t a big fan of her husband. He and Lisa weren’t on good terms, and, although technically they were still married when he died, they lived in separate homes and her husband would rarely visit her and their daughter (“Dani”). Dani was 5 years old at the time of her father’s death.

Lisa needed a lot of help, and my husband and I volunteered to assist with things such as picking up Dani from daycare, spending some time with her, and doing house work. I noticed that my husband connected with Dani right away, and he started spending more and more time with them. Initially when Lisa needed help, I’d be out and about, but then my RA really limited me. By the time I’d come back from work I’d be exhausted and couldn’t really be that active.

I noticed that Lisa would frequently upload photos of my husband, herself, and Dani together on Facebook. I didn’t think too much of it at first until someone commented on a photo, saying: “You guys look like such a happy family.” I had a sinking feeling in my heart. I started noticing that my husband would come home from their house happier than normal. We still spent a lot of time together, but it wasn’t the same. The highlight of his week would be spending time with Dani and Lisa.

My husband and I were invited to Dani’s birthday party, and I noticed that she pretty much described my husband as “her dad” to her friends. I also noticed how Lisa would stand around my husband as if he were her husband. I didn’t really know what to do at this point; I just wanted to vanish. My husband made plenty of attempts to make sure I was not out of place at the party, but it almost seemed like he and Lisa were the ones that were the family and I was the guest.

Since then, I have tried to make an effort to connect with him more. We still spend a lot of time cuddled up in bed together. I tried to be physically intimate with him as well, but even after trying a bunch of different things, it was still extremely painful and it didn’t look like my husband was having any fun either.

I feel like I failed as a woman. I can’t give my husband anything. I fear my husband’s attachment to Lisa as well and think there might be things going on between them. I did tell him he is free to sleep with other women, so I can’t even hold it against him if I’m right about a relationship with Lisa. And I don’t think it would be fair to stop him. I’m not really sure about what to do. Dani is really attached to my husband and I’d feel terrible taking him away from her. I don’t know if I should ask my husband if he and Lisa are doing anything because I told him earlier that I didn’t want to know if he was intimate with someone else. What should I do? — Third Wheel Wife

More than anything else, you need to remember that you are your husband’s wife. You are his family — not Lisa and not Dani. YOU are. And I don’t care that Lisa is a widow or that Dani is a young child who has lost her father. That’s certainly sad, but it’s not your husband’s job to fill the vacant roles. Not only is it not his job, it’s highly inappropriate. It’s inappropriate because caring for another woman and another woman’s daughter is an intimate act and you are uncomfortable with him being intimate with another woman. And you need to admit that to yourself. You are uncomfortable with it. It’s why, despite giving your husband permission to sleep with other women, you told him to do it behind your back. Because thinking about it, let alone knowing any details, is upsetting and uncomfortable. So, rescind your permission and ask your husband to stop spending time with Lisa and Dani.

You know what will happen? Lisa and Dani will be fine. They were fine before the husband, who resided somewhere else and hardly ever visited them, passed away, and they will be fine now. Take your husband back and focus on getting your marriage on track. Go to therapy together. Find a doctor who can help you treat your pain with as minimal side effects as possible. Find ways to be intimate with your husband and to give him physical pleasure that won’t cause you pain. Communicate your needs to him. Communicate your fears. Express the guilt you’ve been holding on to.

Maybe your husband doesn’t want to be married to you anymore and, if that’s the case, you should go your separate ways. But there’s a much bigger chance that your husband absolutely does want to be married to you and misses who you were before you got lost in the murk of guilt and depression.

You need to make your marriage a priority. Instead of giving your husband permission to seek satisfaction elsewhere, you have to figure out how to satisfy each other — and not just sexually, but emotionally and intellectually, too. Turning away from your husband because you feel so guilty about what you can’t give him is the worst thing you can do. Instead, focus on what you CAN give him and then give it to him. And tell him what he can give you.

And if having a family is something your husband really wants, have some discussions about whether that is something you are interested in too and if there’s any way you can make that happen. What about adoption? What about foster care? What about surrogacy? What about just getting a puppy?

It’s clear your husband relishes the caregiver role, so, instead of sitting around at home, too exhausted to go out, while he cares for another woman and another woman’s daughter, tell him how he can care for YOU. You deserve care, too. You certainly deserve the care and love of your husband more than any other woman does. And right now you’re hurting — emotionally and physically. So tell your husband that you need help. And your marriage needs help. It’s nice that he has devoted so much time and energy into caring for this widow friend of yours, but the immediate needs have been met and it’s time for him to come back home, metaphorically-speaking, to you. And if he isn’t able to do that, you deserve to know so that you can move on and quit feeling like you’re imposing on someone else’s life and happiness.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Wendy’s advice here is really good. I have to say though that I really think the husband is having a full blown affair with Lisa. I agree that she should be honest and admit to the husband that she does not want him to sleep with other women. It is really tough under the best of circumstances to deal with RA, but the LW needs to see her rheumatologist (or get a new one) and have her medications adjusted. I have a form of autoimmune arthritis similar to RA, and there are different treatments out there that could possibly manage her disease without having sexual side effects. She also sounds (understandably) depressed, which goes hand in hand with chronic illness and/or pain. Medications and therapy would hopefully help with that. Couples counseling would be a good idea here too.

  2. kerrycontrary says:

    I think Wendy’s advice is really good, and I’m sorry that the LW is suffering from health issues such as infertility and RA. I think that when the LW gave her husband permission to have sex with other women, she was only thinking about the physical act, and not the emotional intimacy that he could possible share with another woman. Even if he’s not sleeping with Lisa, it seems like he is emotionally intimate with her and her daughter, which is detracting from his marriage with the LW. The LW needs to put a stop to this and they both need to find ways to work on their emotional and physical intimacy in the relationship.

  3. lets_be_honest says:

    Saddest letter ever. Great job by Wendy.

    1. Agreed. LW, you get to be taken care of too! Talk to your husband about all this.

  4. I felt so bad for the LW when this popped up on the forums. I love how Wendy addressed it.

    Here’s a thought: LW, once you and your husband figure things out and get on the same page, you might want to invest in something together. Maybe that means a pet for your family or a new hobby for the two of you. Invest in something together so that you can grow together. It sounds like your husband is a great guy and you want him to be happy and he wants you to be happy. Though it may not be your original plan of having kids, I think this would help you to get closer to each other again.

    One of my best friends experienced a really bad miscarriage on Labor Day and her and her husband really struggled through it. She has to have blood work done weekly for the next year to make sure she’s not in danger, and it may be difficult for her to try having a child again. They really struggled with this news, but they invested in each other and have grown closer together because of it. They got another dog, both now take a bible study class, and they re-committed to each other.

  5. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think disrupting the relationship that the husband has with Lisa (whatever it may be exactly) and Dani shouldn’t be the first step here. The first step, IMO, is for LW to ask herself what she really wants. Does she want to continue this marriage? If yes, under which terms? What sort of relationship with Lisa would be a deal breaker to her? Then she should ask her husband what HE wants. Does he want out of the marriage? Does he want a parallel relationship with Lisa? Is he ready to give it up if this is a deal breaker for LW? Then it will follow what has to be done. I’m saying this because I think starting the conversation with “stop seeing Lisa and Dani” might just destroy any basis for communication with the husband from the get-go. I

    1. I also think we shouldn’t just presume that LW wants to get a sexual relationship with her husband going again, and that she would definitely suffer if he slept with other women. It would be understandable if sex just weren’t a priority for LW under the circumstances she’s in. I’m also not getting the vibe that she is necessarily uncomfortable with the husband sleeping with other women, it’s more that she didn’t intend for him to have an emotional affair.

    2. Something Random says:

      I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I think you make a really good point about demands and tunnel vision being communication killers. But I think this letter writer needs to feel permission to advocate for herself. I think Wendy is right that she is trying to manage out of a place of guilt, depression, and fear because she loves her husband and feels she is defective and unworthy of a life with him. That is the first thing she needs to reconcile. Instead of presuming her husband is going to sacrifice himself on the alter for her by depriving himself of his needs she should let him communicate what he wants. If that means monogamy for him, then she should be willing to accept that at face value. I would hate it if I was trying to tell my partner about my limits and they kept telling me I was wrong. I do think the letter writer should insist that he ends the emotional connection to this other family because clearly she needs that. Of course he is probably filling emotional need for connection because he doesn’t have the outlet at home. So they both have a lot of work to do. But she should definitely advocate for herself. And she should trust him to be able to advocate for himself. IMO that’s the way to build an authentic relationship.

  6. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    Aw, this letter broke my heart. LW, listen to Wendy – she’s on fire with her advice lately.

  7. I hope some time in the near future we get a positive update on this. LW, I am sending good thoughts your way and am really pulling for you and your husband!

  8. brendapie says:

    I saw this on Reddit a few days ago and the LW left a few responses to some of the comments there.

    1. Oh man, I really hope she decides to respond here. Not that the responses on Reddit are too bad—better than I expected, honestly—but she just sounds so down on herself.

      1. Yeah, after reading the reddit thread it seems pretty clear that she’s depressed. She should seek help for that before doing anything else. It’s really sad to read how guilty she feels.

    2. brendapie says:

      She posted an update on Reddit!

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        YES! I’m so happy for her.

      2. Ugh, he must cut ties with Lisa if she’s trying to convince him to marry her.

      3. lets_be_honest says:

        I hate Lisa.

      4. Yeah, I gotta say, after this update, Lisa sounds terrible (assuming the husband is being truthful obviously).

      5. yeah, I dunno, that part sounds SUPER weird to me, honestly.


      7. Hoist the fraudster bat-alert flag. Here is the final shark-jump by the poster who has been stringing everyone along. Couldn’t have sex — at all. Now they talked and she’s doing it 3-4 times a day. But — that’s alright, it hurts so the martyr shield is in place. How could anyone doubt her husband’s fidelity. He spurned this other woman! Oh, that’s right, it was the LW who repeatedly said she ‘just knew’ that her husband was cheating on her. So… once again, LW superfabulousness comes through and saves the day… her husband wants nobody but her… she trusts him to go over to this woman’s house, knowing he’ll be with just her child. What a breakthrough for fabulousness.

      8. Bittergaymark says:

        Eh, yeah, this letter just seemed a bit off to me as well.

      9. Yeah, her comments are getting more out there. She’s totally fine if he had a mistress and was sleeping with Lisa because she knows he loves her. And it’s okay for him to spend his time there taking care of Dani/Lisa because they had one talk. The comments just don’t resonate as authentic with me. Literally nothing has changed, but the tone has done a 180.

  9. Sunshine Brite says:

    Please get some counseling, both individual and marriage. Between this letter and the replies on Reddit, it’s clear that your self-image and ideas about guilt/lack of deserving based on situations that are out of your control (RA/infertility). Please get help to start living again and re-building your relationship with your husband since that is what you want to do.

  10. I haven’t read all the responses yet, but I want to address the issue of rheumatoid arthritis. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis before by 2nd birthday, and I’ve lived with it now for 30 years. The pain can be horrific, and I also experience guilt that I’m not always able to do the things in bed with my fiance that I’d like to. But if you are consistently unable to have/enjoy sex, then you absolutely need to speak with your doctor about different treatment options.

    I don’t want to say I’ve tried EVERY medicine there is, but I could probably name at least 20 different medicines of all types that I have tried over the years — pills, ointments, injections, infusions, etc. Not to mention 2 life-changing surgeries that I had as a child. If the medicine you’re taking now has you in this much pain, you MUST talk to your rheumatologist about what else you can try. I currently get monthly infusions of a medication called Actemra, and I’m able to be more active than I’ve ever been in my life.

    A lot of the issues you have are obviously between you and your husband; but I think first and foremost you need to take care of your own health. Arthritis is an awful disease and the pain can be just terrible; but with all the different medical options available today, there’s no reason to be suffering ALL the time. We all have good days and bad days, but you need to keep trying different treatments until your good days far outnumber your bad days.

    1. I love this response. LW, there is hope!

  11. This is sad, but an awful lot of the problem is of LW’s own making. Counseling, counseling, counseling, probably even a real psychiatrist. Really, this is sickness beyond the RA. She says she is healthy enough to work outside the house 8 hours a day. Other RA patients cope with worse. She is literally driving her husband away. They fought because she thought she couldn’t stay with him if he didn’t have sex with other women and he didn’t want to. She decided on her own what was fair to him, that she was worthless, that she didn’t deserve to keep him, that he couldn’t possibly want to stay with her as she is. She now ‘feels’ that he is having sex with another woman. She doesn’t know. She won’t ask, because she doesn’t think she deserves to. No evidence at all. He clearly likes helping the kid. He did not start that on his own, by the way. They did that together, until she thought she wasn’t physically up to the effort. She probably encouraged helping the friend. Probably thought husband would like associating with the kid. And he does. What a horrible guy that makes him. It sounds from the reddit that he spends perhaps 2 hours twice a week, with this other family and all the rest of his time working or with his wife. She won’t do anything on her own, because she doesn’t deserve to have a night out with her gfs. Get the picture here. We are dealing with LWs psychological issues, not any bad behavior by husband. Husband has stuck by her, willingly does all he can to help her, never said she wasn’t enough, never said he needed sex with another woman. This is all her deciding what he needs and then worrying that he needs even more and that there is no place left for her. There is nothing that husband can ever do to assuage LW’s insecurities and self-loathing. She needs professional work on that. This guy seems like a saint, but even a saint can be driven away if you work hard enough at it. She has an illness, but the guy seems to be coping with that just fine. She is going out of her way to project enough attitude to make her eventually totally unlovable. Take a deep breath, recognize that your husband loves you, recognize how much you have been pushing him away, recognize that 99% of your problem is your own self-loathing and then get with a professional to fix your outlook.

  12. Avatar photo meadowphoenix says:

    This is going to be a little harsh. Don’t Walter White your condition, LW.

    Now, I’m not saying you’re going to start making meth. What I mean is don’t remove your husband from the way in which you decide to manage your relationship in an effort to spare him the pain of dealing with your condition. Because the thing about feeling down or depressed is that people tend to get quite controlling when they feel this way. They tend to make more unilateral decisions about the way the relationship will operate. I see a lot of that happening with you LW.

    You told your husband that you were going to open the marriage for him. You didn’t discuss it with him, and anytime he rejected that proposition you “remained firm.” Why? Why didn’t you believe him? More importantly, why did you get to unilaterally decide how your husband will carry out his own desires? Your husband is a full person with autonomy and is perfectly capable of making reasoned decisions. Why does what you feel he should or might feel override what he actually feels? That’s what’s not fair to him, not your condition! That you’ve decided that how he wants to live his life, with you, taking care of you, with no family, simply isn’t what’s going to make him happy. You don’t get to decide that. You don’t get to decide that he’s dumb or stupid or doesn’t know what he wants for staying with you (because when you say you don’t “deserve” him or you don’t know why he’s still with you, that’s what you’re saying). He knows all the pratfalls and issues here and he’s decided it’s worth it to stay and he wants to care for you and he shows you. You can ask him if that changes. But you don’t get to decide for him whether it’s worth it.

    I think you’re desperately trying not to get hurt here. I think by opening the marriage you were trying to stave off the hurt if he decided to cheat. Because as much as you think he’s being generous and you think you don’t deserve him, I bet you would still be hurt and you know it. And you’re trying to stave that off by making it a non-issue. But hurt’s a part of life, LW, as you well know. Talk to him about what he wants and needs from the relationship and believe him. Talk about what you want and need so that he knows exactly how you see things. Together make a plan about how to achieve both your needs/wants.

    Get a counselor. Get a counselor so that you can talk about the annoying things your husband does without feeling like your throwing his generosity in his face. Get a counselor so that you can talk about your fears to someone who will give personalized feedback without feeling like your guilting him into anything. Get a counselor because what strikes me the most about you is how your condition has made you feel about yourself and maybe they can tell you why that’s not necessarily true.

    I’m really sorry this happened to you and I hope you find all the happiness you deserve, which is just as much as everyone else.

    1. This is also really insulting to the husband. She just assumes that he can and should divorce sex from intimacy. Some guys can, some guys can’t. I think he knows which kind he is. But… LW has her preconceived notion of what men are: what they want, what they need, how loyal they are, what is the minimum to satisfy them. She doesn’t seem to care to listen to what he thinks he needs. She’s already decided that for him. She knows if he gets two orgasms a month he’s a happy puppy. She knows he will enjoy, indeed he craves, meaningless sex with a hooker. Why? That is her dismal opinion of all men.

      A lot of the problem here is depression and self-loathing. Depression can actually cause physical pain and make existing illnesses worse. I’ve seen very depressed women in constant severe pain from fibro-myalgia or carpal tunnel and then seen it go away when they found a new guy and felt good about themselves. Not that fibro-myalgia and carpal tunnel aren’t very real, but depression can masquerade as this. Fix the mind and spirit, fix the body in some cases. Not that she won’t still have RA, but she may well find it far more manageable. LW really seems determined to keep on a good wallow in martyrdom and self-loathing. What good can possibly come from that?

  13. WWS! “You need to make your marriage a priority.” is sooo very true. You are worth it! You deserve it!

  14. TheOtherOtherMe says:

    I have a friend who’s had severe rheumatoid arthritis since she was 2 years old, and she is now in her 30s. She can barely dress herself, walk, or cook and is in more or less constant pain (sometimes mild, sometimes severe). She has also tried every drug imaginable. But she has always managed to have a healthy sex life. Not necessarily an easy sex life, but a satisfying one. I’m not sure if the LW has the same level of disease as my friend, but if she can have good sex, I’m pretty sure the LW can too. Perhaps LW needs to get her meds adjusted, or try different positions? Or maybe her problems with sex are more psychological? Feeling unattractive and burdensome on someone can take away feelings of desire and make sex painful. I think a counselor is definitely in order here.

  15. My fiancé has a rare blood disorder and his muscle and joint pain is very similar to RA, and similar to the LW, no medication will work for the muscle and joint pain directly. He has struggled with depression and guilt as a result. Early on, there were times he refused to have PIV sex because he assumed the pain would be too much after a few minutes on a bad day. So he gave up, felt guilty, and then I was really unhappy. He made it clear he would only ever want a monogamous relationship so he worked through his guilt and depression in therapy and it made a huge difference. Things are so much better, but it’s still something we’re always communicating about and working on. And we still don’t have PIV sex that often, but our sex life is really great.

    It’s even more important to be taking care of yourself and your needs when you have medical issues and to keep yourself in check with the irrational side of “no one will ever love me this way.” Because that’s not true. Maybe you said vows relating to health and illness, but not everyone takes them seriously. You both need to ask yourselves what your limits in the relationship are and what you can and cannot handle, and compromise accordingly. Maybe you won’t end up staying together, but neither of you knows that answer until you communicate. Also, if your husband is in a caregiver role, it’s really important he has outside emotional support from appropriate sources (like therapy, or family/friends).

  16. Going just based on what’s in this letter: LW, you need counseling, both alone and with your husband. I know you’re sick and in pain, but that doesn’t excuse you from communicating effectively with your husband and taking responsibility for maintaining your marriage. I don’t necessarily disagree with what Wendy said, but your friend and her child are a sideshow here, not the main event.

  17. If you read the reddit thread, with all of the LWs responses, this post is a fraud. On reddit, we seem to have a LW getting off on scamming the commenters. No answer is right. It’s just a long ‘how long can a string the fools along for’ session. We had one like that a few weeks back — the LW who couldn’t trust her cheating husband at the reunion, except when she started replying, there was no trust problem, she had the awesomest, most handsome husband in the world and she was just the fabulous woman to tame that bad boy. She just demanded all his passwords to make that bad boy behave. Those past reasons for no trust — nothing of consequence, I tell ya. He and I — awesome, beyond awesome, beyond anything that you wallflowers can possibly imagine. New rule of thumb — when LWs respond that frequently, and no advice is right or sufficiently respectful — we’re dealing with a fraud getting his or her rocks off. This could be the same poster, taking a different tack for amusement, and at least being smart enough to know she’s supposed to be so sad and depressed, that it would be unwise to end every other sentence with LOL.

    1. Or the thread about the guy taking care of his girlfriend’s cousin’s child (the mirror image of this post) and reassuring everyone that NOTHING was going on, only to post an update that he broke up with his girlfriend, is marrying the cousin and adopting the daughter.

      I do think the way it played out is unbelievable. First she’s miserable, feels like she isn’t worth anything and is a terrible wife and she feels as if she can’t ask him to leave Dani/Lisa. Update: Her medical problems are ‘fixed’/workable, she doesn’t want to talk about their ‘you can stray if you need to’ agreement – even though it would be a perfect time to discuss it, and her husband never pulled away from Lisa before, although she had been pressuring him to leave the LW. The LW and her husband are going to continue to keep a relationship with Lisa and the LW is totally okay with that. And also, even though Lisa felt crazy enough about the husband that she tried to pressure/woo him (and is still trying), the LW accepts with any reservation that the two never slept together and that it was desperation on Lisa’s part. Where before she seemed to think it was a foregone conclusion.

      Just doesn’t add up to me.

  18. Avatar photo fast eddie says:

    This is exactly why I remain faithful in my sexless marriage. Her cancer treatment is responsible that for the last 10 years. I wouldn’t fool around even IF she gave me a pass which she hasn’t. The end result would be that ALL parties would be hurt and nobody deserves that.

  19. This is awful advice. Yes this wife should work hard on her marriage and not feel guilty for things which are out of her control, but your advice likely just makes her feel worse! You totally aren’t respecting what she’s saying. She is saying that they CAN’T be intimate in ways which don’t HURT HER. Listen to her, don’t just discount what she says by telling her to figure it out! She CANNOT DO IT. It physically HURTS HER. Have some respect for her situation.

    Then have some respect for the man too! He’s allowed to want to have his own children and to pursue that goal. It’s a perfectly fine and good goal. AND he lives his wife, who can’t have children. Why should they choose to EITHER be together OR separate so he can father his own children? This is worshipping an abstract and in this case non-functional ideal of monogamy to a fault. Like a cult. What’s the point? She clearly was ok with him going elsewhere. He clearly has a big enough heart where he can love and care for both women. The other woman is clearly ok with it. So there will be natural links of jealousy here and there. So what? They can work it out.

    Make the marriage work AND allow them to pursue what they want out of life! This wife wants to not be pushed into dealing with physical pain in order to have sex with her husband, and he wants to have his own biological children. Polygamy has existed throughout all of world history for a reason. Sometimes it is the best, most loving, most compassionate route.

    You’re advising her to divorce him if she can’t find a way to please him, thus turning her into a divorced and childless infertile young woman with a crippling disease fending for herself in the world, is quite frankly disgusting. For what? Your own twisted fantasy ideal of monogamy. Forget about monogamy. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, great. All that is needed is honesty and respect.

    Have a heart for God sake.

    1. anonymousse says:

      Did you even read what Wendy’s advice was SEVEN years ago? WTF. Wendy didn’t tell her to just screw her husband even if it hurts.

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