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.
Back in January when I was 9 months pregnant, I confided in my mother that my OB advised me not to have sex because of some pregnancy complications. A few days later, my husband’s phone went off in the middle of the night, so I reached over to silence it and saw my mother’s name. I woke up my husband and asked him to please show me the message. He unlocked his phone and deleted the message and said, “You’re being ridiculous.” I started losing my cool. I walked swiftly across the house and into my mother’s room and confronted her, asking her if she had something going on with my husband. Her tears started and she began saying, “Nothing! Why would you think such of me?” My husband came in screaming, telling me to return to our bedroom because I’d lost my mind. We talked and I calmed down. The next afternoon, my mother suggested I see a therapist and maybe ask for an antidepressant after my pregnancy because I’m paranoid and anxious.
Six weeks after my pregnancy I did just that, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there had been something more to their messages. Then during the last week in March, my mother confided in me that she had HSV-2 (genital herpes) and had had it for 10 years. She explained that her current boyfriend was accusing her of passing on the disease and was threatening to take her to court because she had kept it hidden.
That night I told my husband about the disease and we never spoke about it again, until the last week of April. I was on the way home and received a call from my husband’s best friend and his wife concerned that there had been something extremely wrong with my husband when he stopped by a few minutes earlier. I called my husband and asked if parenting a toddler and a newborn had been too much. He began to cry. A loud, horrid sob. He said: “You’re going to leave me. Today is the day you leave me and take the kids. I have something, an STD.” I asked him who he had been with besides me; he said, “You already know who!” I hung up the phone in shock and called my mother who admitted it.
Turns out my mother spent the first week in January texting my husband inappropriate messages. One night after he and I had been at a friend’s house where he got belligerently drunk, and while I was asleep, he was rummaging in the kitchen looking for more whiskey and my mother beckoned him to come to her room. He, completely out of control, followed her inside where she took off her clothes and bent over the bed. Afterwards he cleaned up and sat in bed crying. I remember waking up to his tears, asking him what was wrong, and he just whispered that he loves me so. It never happened again, he completely ignored her, and three days later I accused them. (Quick note: He and I and our newborn have been tested for HSV-2 as well as other STDs and have tested negative).
I’ve now had my mother move out and have ceased all communication with her (even though I work with her) and I’m trying to move on, but I want to stay with my husband. I’ve spent a few weeks without him, focusing on the kids but also getting needed alone time to cry, grieve, and process. I absolutely am miserable without him. I know I don’t need him–I am positive I can raise and support my children on my own–but I’m truly in love with this man. I don’t want to stay with him because of the kids, I want to stay with him because of ME. He’s always been a GREAT husband, father, and best friend, and he says he will spend an eternity apologizing and making it right. Of the few times we’ve spent together alone in the last week or so, I feel great, safe, and confident. When I’m without him and alone, I become angry and begin to just break down under myself. How do I continue this healing process without being a woman scorned and without ruining my marriage? — Betrayed By Mom and Husband
One word: therapy. Get it. Get it regardless of whether you decide to give your marriage another chance. Get it because you have been betrayed in the most hurtful way by the two people you trusted most. In the meantime, you should distance yourself even further from your mother. She’s toxic and awful and, though you may never stop loving her, I would caution against ever having a relationship with her again. Since you work together, I’d start looking for a job elsewhere. I don’t know how you can fully process, grieve, and move on from what happened if you have to see this woman on a regular basis.
Now, onto your husband. I wouldn’t be so fast to discount his responsibility here. He had sex with your mother. Being drunk isn’t an excuse. Furthermore, what was he even doing being “belligerently drunk” when his wife was 9 months pregnant and could go into labor at any minute? Or, was getting you to the hospital safely another thing he didn’t have to be responsible for?
Also, you lied to your husband. You told him your mother living with you would be for a “short time,” but she she was still with you a year and a half later. Clearly, your marriage suffered a lack of communication and respect long before your husband had sex with your mother. I’ll repeat that again: YOUR HUSBAND HAD SEX WITH YOUR MOTHER.
Does that make you angry? It should! It should enrage you. You should be filled with so much fury that the thought of sharing space, let alone emotional and physical intimacy, with this man should be one of the last things on your mind. When you say you feel great, safe, and confident in his company and angry when you’re alone, you sound desperate to aim the fury anywhere other than where it belongs: directed at the two people who betrayed you (including your husband!).
You’ve had only a few weeks to start processing this. It’s going to take a long, long time to truly wrap your head around what’s happened. In the meantime, you have two children who need your attention. Look to them for the sense of security and confidence you’re craving. Find validation in being a good mother to them. And work with a therapist on figuring out your feelings toward your husband. Don’t rush back into his arms and don’t make the mistake of sweeping this under the rug and moving forward like nothing happened because you think that’s easier and less painful and will keep your family intact.
Living in denial won’t really keep your family intact. It won’t heal you. It won’t get rid of the rage inside you that needs some place to go. That rage and the hurt and confusion and all the other stuff you’re feeling will eat away at you until you’re empty, and then not only will you have nothing left to give your marriage, but you’ll have nothing for your children either. Please don’t let that happen. Please go to therapy and deal with this ugliness bravely. Face it head-on. And don’t make any decision about whether to stay with your husband or not until you’ve worked through the stages of grief, including getting angry at him. Really, really angry. Because there is no excuse for what he did. And until you accept that he is just as responsible for having sex with your mother as she is for having sex with him, you aren’t ready to move forward. And the feeling of security and confidence you think you have when you’re with your husband, weeks after learning he screwed your mom while you were asleep in the other room, nine months pregnant with his baby, is false. And that’s not something you can even begin to rebuild trust and a relationship on.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.