Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Tell My Sister I Suspect Her Husband Cheated On Her Years Ago?”

Six years ago I saw my brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) holding hands with another woman. My memory is he walked out of the bar with her, and his friend (a male) following behind. I was absolutely shocked, to say the least. A few days later I had a conversation with him about what we did on the weekend and I mentioned that I was at that same bar. He flinched. It’s as if his body language said “Shit, I hope he didn’t see me.” A few weeks later I confronted him and asked him about it. His response was that I was “reading too much into it” and that it was a “moment of madness.” He said that the woman was drunk and that, after dancing with her, his friend put her in a taxi and sent her home. He said he didn’t have sex with her.

I didn’t tell my sister because she would’ve been devastated. My BIL is 49 years of age and he, and my sister have been married for twenty-five years and have two children. They currently seem happy. Six years later I still feel anger towards my brother-in-law. We’re civil when we’re together, but I have a lot of repressed anger. Should I have told my sister? Should I tell my sister now? How do I know he hasn’t been with other women? Can I trust him? Or should I forgive him and move on? It’s not the first time he has raised my eyebrows. At his 30th birthday, I was introduced to an attractive woman who was interested in me. Because he also thought she was attractive, he jokingly said, “Can I leave your sister?” Please offer any advice you have. — Repressed in Anger

Your sister has been, from what you can tell, happily married for twenty-five years, and you are seriously considering potentially ruining her marriage, her relationship with you, and your relationship with her kids, because you think you remember seeing her husband walk a drunk woman to a taxi one night six years ago and because of an inappropriate joke your BIL told over nineteen years ago? Really?! Unless you have other evidence than what you mentioned, I cannot begin to understand why you are plagued with worry about your sister’s well-being, or why you think it’s your job to know whether your BIL has been with other women, whether you can trust him, and whether you should forgive him. Forgive him for what? You literally have nothing on him!

Do you have a relationship of your own? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? Do you have a social life? I ask because rather than sound like someone who is concerned for his sister — you gave literally ZERO reasons for questioning her happiness and in fact you said she seems perfectly happy — you sound like someone who doesn’t have a life of his own and is trying to butt into other people’s lives. Please, mind your own business! Even IF — and it’s a big, Trump-level conspiracy-theory unsubstantiated IF — your BIL has slept with other women, your sister may very well be aware. For all you know, they’ve had an open relationship in the past, or have an open relationship now, or maybe he flat-out cheated and she found out and they worked through it and have moved on, in which case your bringing up your suspicions years and years after they first were raised would only serve to open a can of worms that has been shut and put away. Even if your BIL cheated and your sister never found out about it, the fact that they seem happy and you have no other reason to suspect he has ever cheated again means that your speaking up about something you think you saw years ago would do nothing but make you look bad and would beg some uncomfortable questions: WHY are you bringing this up now? Why didn’t you say something before? What is your end-goal here? Are you trying to break up their marriage and their family? Get back at your BIL for stepping on your chance with an attractive woman at a birthday party nineteen years ago? Open your sister’s eyes to behavior she may be ignoring or has never been aware of?

It would be one thing if you had reason to believe your sister was unhappy or that their marriage was unstable or that there was any indication your teeny shred of evidence of questionable behavior might shine a light on a broader issue and provide one more clue in a case that’s been open and wreaking havoc for a while. But you have no such indication at all. Your sharing this story about what you think you saw six years ago would likely do nothing but make YOU look a little unhinged, which, frankly, you might be. And I say this with as much kindness as I can: Maybe you are the one who needs some help and saving. With all this “repressed anger,” you sound like you would benefit from speaking to someone who can help you figure out its origin and how best to deal with it, move on, and create a life that brings you comfort and a feeling of wholeness, so that you are no longer tempted to damage the life of someone you say seems happy and whom you love, for no apparent reason at all.


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28 comments… add one
  • Hannanas March 7, 2017, 10:39 am

    LW – you made the right decision not to tell her then, so stick with it. The only one who’ll be relieved when you tell her is YOU. So let it go, enjoy your life, and your sister’s apparent happiness.

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    Juliecatharine March 7, 2017, 11:16 am

    WWS x 1000. Dude, you should keep your mouth shut and seriously examine why you would be dwelling on this stuff years later. A joke he made twenty years ago?? Really??

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  • Ron March 7, 2017, 11:22 am

    Frankly, you sound like a bitter guy who is mad at his sister for some unstated reason and wants to knock her down a peg. Why else would you be considering ruining her happiness and breaking up her family over something which may or may not have happened 20 years ago. Your interpretation of ‘must be romantically holding hands’ could in actuality be leading and semi-supporting a drunk. Even if he considered a one night stand with this woman, your letter suggests that it is very possible nothing happened and you certainly don’t know what happened. So… you have a burning desire to impart an ancient and very malicious ‘truth?’ to your sister. Why? I can’t imagine that you believe anything good could come of this, so I can only surmise that you have some reason for wishing to harm your sister, which you have failed to disclose.

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  • dinoceros March 7, 2017, 11:24 am

    What Wendy said. Of all the questions you asked, only two were actually your business. Whether you should have told and whether you should tell now. The other stuff — about whether you should forgive him or wonder if he’s been with other women — you’re not his wife, so it’s not your place to speculate about any previous affairs or to forgive or not forgive him.

    If you were going to tell, the time would have been years ago. At this point, you’d get the worst of both worlds, in that you’d simultaneously be seen as vengeful and as hiding the truth/lying. The statute of limitations, IMO, for telling someone about something suspicious, but not actual proof, has definitely passed. If he’s been cheating for the past six years or more, then there’d be some sort of effect to the marriage. And if he hasn’t been, then I’m not sure what the purpose would be of bringing it up.

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    • Vathena March 7, 2017, 12:04 pm

      This exactly. If my brother told me that he saw my husband holding another woman’s hand six years ago, I’d think my brother was being weird at best. If he seemed angry about it and tried to insist that my husband must be cheating, I’d probably distance myself from him. LW, if you want to continue to have a relationship with your sister and her children, you REALLY need to let this go.

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    bagge72 March 7, 2017, 12:22 pm

    You sound more like an angry ex than her brother. You sound like you are hoping to break them up so you have a chance. Honestly, is it so hard to think that a hammered girl was being helped out of a bar, and she probably grabbed his hand because she is unstable, and doesn’t care whose hand she holds? Happened to me all the time when I was a bouncer, you would help a drunk women out the door, and she holds your like you are her boyfriend and tells you she loves you as she blows her puke breath in your face. And that joke! I mean he probably thought he was friends with you, and you would understand he was just kidding.

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    • SpaceySteph March 7, 2017, 12:53 pm

      Agree this is a weird level of fixation for a brother to have on his sister’s marriage. You’ve been holding onto one dumb, off-color joke for 19 years? Back off, dude.

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      • dinoceros March 7, 2017, 3:29 pm

        How did he even remember it for that long? I for sure can’t recall individual jokes that people have told 20 years ago. Must have been harboring major dislike for this guy.

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        Cleopatra Jones March 7, 2017, 5:10 pm

        I think the off color joke just compounded his dislike for the BIL. It probably wasn’t the only thing but a series of shit that made his dislike the guy.
        This guy definitely is at Bitch-eating-crackers stage with his BIL.

  • ele4phant March 7, 2017, 12:58 pm

    How do you know he didn’t, sometime in the last six years, tell her he was cheating, and they worked through it together?

    How do you know *she* didn’t find out he was cheating sometime in the past 6 years (or 25 years), and they worked it out?

    How do you know that they don’t have an agreement and are open in some capacity but didn’t want to tell their families, because you know, judgement.

    How do you know he didn’t face crippling grief that’s he’s been carrying around for the past 6 years, being absolutely regretful and the best, most faithful husband to your sister? How do you know that up ending her marriage wouldn’t be completely devastating for your sister, when in the here and now she has a happy marriage?

    How are you so sure that his story was 100% bullshit? Maybe it’s true.

    Anyways, there is a whole lot of speculation on your part, and not really any proof on yours. Plus time, it’s been six years since you had any suspicions, otherwise they seem happy yes? I’d let it go.

    If she asks you, directly, I suppose you share, but you caveat it by the fact that you don’t really fully know what happened.

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  • SpaceySteph March 7, 2017, 1:08 pm

    Do you honestly think if your BIL wanted to cheat on or leave your sister that he would a) fix you up with the girl he wanted to cheat on her with or b) tell you that’s what he wanted to do?

    It was so obviously a joke. And yeah, in the moment (19 years ago) you would not have been out of line to tell him it wasn’t cool to joke about that. I fully support calling people on their “locker room talk.” But the window for righteous indignation has definitely passed.

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    Copa March 7, 2017, 1:33 pm

    As a general rule of thumb, you should only tell someone they’re being cheated on when you KNOW they’re being cheated on. The time to speak up about a suspected affair would’ve been six years ago, but you didn’t then or now know what your BIL was up to. You asked him directly six years ago — which, as others have pointed out, was the correct time to bring this up — he gave you an answer. You have only ever had your suspicions, so mind your own business!

    You should spend less time worrying about your sister’s seemingly-happy marriage, and more time figuring out why you’re still so upset with your BIL six years after a non-event and decades after he made a dumb joke.

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  • LisforLeslie March 7, 2017, 2:20 pm

    What would be the benefit to your sister in telling her what you saw 6 years ago framed as a possible affair with absolutely no evidence of said affair. To get your BIL in trouble? To make your sister upset?

    Seriously – what is your ideal outcome here? That your sister leaves her husband, has to deal with the emotional, social and financial impact of a divorce so that she isn’t married to someone you don’t really like but has done nothing to harm you? That your BIL comes clean about his supposed affair and your sister stays with him but you’re now persona non grata? That everyone apologizes to you for every stupid thing they may have said? That your sister says “Hmmm, he’s been acting suspiciously for the past 6 years – now it makes sense, thanks for telling me now because 6 years ago I wouldn’t have believed it!”

    What would saying something serve?

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    Diablo March 7, 2017, 2:53 pm

    WTF? JFC! I am opening up a giant 48 oz can of SHEESH! Don’t you have anything better to do? The fact that you are even considering this question without any definitive evidence whatsoever makes you pretty suspect. If you were going to say something, you should have said it a long time ago. You didn’t, because you knew it was none of your business, so just leave it. And put away your petty grudge.

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    Firestar March 7, 2017, 9:45 pm

    I can understand you being protective of your sister. But you chose not to tell what you saw right after it happened. That was your choice. It’s too late to say anything now because anything you say sounds suspect. If it mattered so much you should have said at the time and if it didn’t matter enough then… It can’t matter enough now. Which means you have another agenda. But you cannot punish your BIL without hurting your sister. Is it worth it for some 6 year old hand holding? Your BIL might very well be shady. Or maybe he got caught up in that night pretending he was single. Or he’s a louse cheating at every turn. You don’t know. You won’t ever know because it’s not your relationship. You can keep him at arms length but telling now helps no one. Least of all you. The statute of limitations has run out on this one. Let go of the guilt of not telling. Truthfully there wasn’t much to tell in the first place.

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  • LisforLeslie March 8, 2017, 7:13 am

    Same letter made it in to AskAmy yesterday – pretty much the same response:

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  • SpaceySteph March 8, 2017, 9:56 am

    Now I have 2 theories…
    1) LW is not a brother but in fact a friend with a secret crush. He wants to tell but thought he’d get more sympathy/support if he was a brother than a prospective lover.
    2) LW already told and is looking for an advice columnist to support that stupid decision.

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    ginger March 8, 2017, 10:07 am

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    Dear Wendy March 9, 2017, 8:19 am

    From the LW:

    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for your quick reply.

    You didn’t read my letter properly. I didn’t use the word “think” in my letter.

    For example:
    “Your sister has been, from what you can tell, happily married for twenty-five years, and you are seriously considering potentially ruining her marriage, her relationship with you, and your relationship with her kids, because you think you remember seeing her husband walk a drunk woman to a taxi one night six years ago”
    CORRECTION: he (BIL) didn’t walk the drunk woman to her car, his friend did. (Probably to avoid it going further).

    “Even if your BIL cheated and your sister never found out about it, the fact that they seem happy and you have no other reason to suspect he has ever cheated again means that your speaking up about something you think you saw years ago would do nothing but make you look bad.”

    “Your sharing this story about what you think you saw six years ago would likely do nothing but make YOU look a little unhinged.”

    I didn’t THINK anything. I actually SAW my BIL holding hands with another woman in front of my eyes.

    Then you write:
    “Forgive him for what? You literally have nothing on him!”

    I have nothing on him? I saw him holding hands with another woman in a bar and the only reason he didn’t cheat is because his friend put her in a taxi. He was out to cheat. He even flinched when I told him I was at the same bar. I am absolutely certain he was out to cheat. He even admitted it was a moment of madness. Admission of guilt?

    Also, I’m not unhinged. I have a social life, career and I’m dating someone. Many people look back on their past and review things. I don’t think it’s unusual at all. My parents were disappointed when I told them. In fact, my father occasionally criticizes my BIL behind his back because of this incident. My BIL is a quiet guy. It’s the quiet ones you have to watch.

    But what surprises me the most is that you don’t have anything harsh to say about him. None at all. It’s as if he’s done nothing wrong. He betrayed my sister but it’s none of my business?.
    You offer no advice on how i should view my relationship with my BIL. Perhaps it’s because you THINK I saw. If you read my letter, I didn’t THINK anything. I’m certain what I saw.

    In summary, I don’t want to ruin my sister’s marriage. I didn’t and wouldn’t say anything to her but I don’t trust my BIL. How could you trust someone like that?

    What did I write to you? I was just curious to see what you have to say. I wanted to know if I did the right thing by not telling my sister and from your advice, I did.

    My questions to you are:

    How would you feel if you saw your BIL holdings hands with another woman?
    Would you have told your sister immediately?
    How would you treat your relationship with your BIL? You wouldn’t be angry at him???
    Wouldn’t it be awkward during Thanksgiving and Christmas pretending it’s none of your business and pretending that everything is fine and pretending not to be angry?


    PS I love reading your blog

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      Dear Wendy March 9, 2017, 8:32 am

      Well, now you’re asking a whole new set of questions. You want to know what I would do in your situation? Ok, let’s say six years ago I saw my sister’s husband holding hands with another woman at a bar I was at. You know what I would have done? I would have approached him at the bar and been like, “Dude, what’s up?” And would have tried to get clarification on the issue. If in the moment, I didn’t do that, I would then in the next couple of days assess the entire situation, to the best of my knowledge, including the apparent state of my sister’s marriage, whether they seemed happy and stable, whether they had kids, whether there had been any previous incident that gave me reason to doubt about my BIL’s commitment to my sister, before deciding whether to tell her that I saw her husband holding hands with another woman in a bar. And if I decided not to tell her, I sure as shit wouldn’t run off and tell our parents, and I wouldn’t decide, six fucking years later and with zero other reason to doubt BIL’s commitment and no reason to suspect unhappiness or instability in their marriage, to drop this news!!

      Would I be angry at BIL? Yeah, maybe. Would family holidays be awkward? Maybe. But so what? My feeling awkward is a whole hell of a lot better than ruining my sister’s family over something I saw six years earlier that may have well have been fairly innocuous (you swear this hand-holding was going to lead to cheating, but you literally have NO proof of that. None. This may sound really wild, but not every episode of holding hands is followed by sex. Sometimes hand-holding is even platonic, familial, and an expression of concern, like when a woman is really drunk and needs to be walked to a taxi).

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        Copa March 9, 2017, 9:44 am

        Agreed that the advice doesn’t change. You still have no proof of infidelity.

        Also, I’m not married so can’t speak about relationships with in-laws from experience, but it seems to me you don’t need to LIKE your BIL. Can’t you just, y’know, be polite/cordial when you have to be around him, and forget about him when you’re not? YOU don’t need to like or trust him. Your sister does.

        Also, why would you have to *pretend* it’s none of your business? It IS none of your business. There’s nothing to pretend about.

      • RedRoverRedRover March 9, 2017, 10:17 am

        Yeah, I hate my SIL. With a passion. And I’m not really the type to hate people, I generally get along with everyone. Her, I hate. She’s just an awful person in every way. But, I only have to see her a few times a year, so I suck it up and behave politely and count the minutes till I can get away from her. It’s just what you have to do sometimes.

    • MissDre March 9, 2017, 8:37 am

      Advice doesn’t change. Sorry dude. Yes, you saw your BIL holding another woman’s hand. 6 years ago. Yes, I can understand how that would make you feel suspicious and uncomfortable. But feeling suspicious because of one incident (6 years ago) that isn’t conclusive proof of cheating, it just isn’t enough of a reason to throw a wrench in your sister’s marriage.

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      • ktfran March 9, 2017, 9:12 am

        Agreed MissDre. At most, he was flirting with her and that’s why he flinched when you said something. You saw him walk her to a cab. You don’t know that he was going to get in. You still have proof of nothing.

        As for the “off color” remark he made ages ago, I don’t think that it was that bad. It’s actually something my family and I would make some kind of joke about and none of us are cheaters.

        I think you need to get over it. Especially if your sister is happy.

      • ktfran March 9, 2017, 9:15 am

        Also, what Wendy said about how to proceed the second you saw something.

    • dinoceros March 9, 2017, 10:07 am

      I guess I’m not understanding how you’re still that angry over it six years later, though. I mean, sure, I’d feel angry at my BIL at holidays and whenever I saw him, for a while. But after six years of nothing else happening, I’d probably stop thinking about it. I think that’s why people are calling you unhinged, because it seems a little odd to still be raging over this now. And it would be such a bizarre conversation now: “Your husband held hands with a woman six years ago?” “Um, what? Why didn’t you tell me then?” “I don’t know.” “OK, well, who is this woman?” “I don’t know.” “Did you talk to him about it?” “Yes.” “What did he say?” “He said nothing happened.”

      At this point, I get you’re curious, but I think it all comes down to the fact that in the future, if this happens, you should probably deal with it when it happens. And at this point, I do think it’s a little concerning that you’re THIS angry THIS much later still. Save yourself some stress and just focus on stuff that’s happening in the present.

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  • cdobbs March 9, 2017, 9:05 am

    LW I would tell your sister (blood is thicker than water)….then it is her decision on how to handle what happened….her husband didn’t deny holding hands with the woman, just said that nothing else happened which might be true(things happen, especially when alcohol is involved)….if it was my sister i would tell her, hell if it was a friend i would tell them…..then the decision is in their hands….i mean if i was married and my husband was holding hands with a woman out at a bar i would want someone to tell me

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    Bittergaymark March 9, 2017, 10:31 am

    Who knew holding hands was so scandalous?! I sigh now — looking back at all the hands I’ve held over the years that NEVER led to sex, somehow. Dammit… Fuck… Apparently, I really, really blew it…

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