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I just discovered my husband secretly mailed my mother-in-…


Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

My husband comes from a long history of neglect and abandonment from his childhood. His father was physically and emotionally abusive, neglectful, and absent. His mother, gathering the courage to leave the marriage, took her daughter but left her son. My husband, defying all the odds, is a successful and loving man. He is a wonderful father, and a loving husband, and inexplicably, he remains a devoted son to his mother.

His father and sister both passed away due to health issues relating to substance abuse. In all of the 19 years I have known and loved him, my husband has been the perpetual Fixer Of All. Whether it’s money, a place to stay, or emotional support…he is always there for his family. To be clear, he seems to need this relationship dynamic. He has this desire to do all and be all, it’s how he defines himself. The problem is, though, that there is never anything in return.

My mother-in-law rarely returns a call or a text. Recently, when we visited her area (from 800 miles away), my MIL told us “It wasn’t a good time” for a long-planned visit. Not having seen her two young grandchildren or her only son for 15 months, I was taken aback. At the end of the weekend, she reluctantly consented to let us stop by for 15 minutes on the way out of town. My husband was hurt, I was furious. And so here we are…my true problem. I recently learned that my MIL asked my husband to buy a handful of opioid pills and mail them to her. True to form, he happily did so. I am incandescent with rage. My husband is primarily at fault…to take such a stupid and dangerous risk, putting himself at risk is unfathomable. But my rage stretches to my MIL as well. This level of selfishness and manipulation is beyond the pale in my opinion. At the moment, I have no desire to have any contact with her whatsoever. She texted on Mother’s Day and I didn’t respond. My husband and I have much, much work to do on our relationship and this issue is characteristic of a much larger problem. We are in regular marriage and family therapy and I’m sure this situation will feature prominently in future sessions. But my question for you is this…what to do with my MIL? Am I wrong to refuse to have anything to do with her moving forward, which will inevitably mean very little contact with my children?

—Can She Be Dead to Me?

Dear Dead to Me,

What a mess! How did he buy opioid pills without a prescription? I don’t think I want to know. Your husband didn’t just put himself at risk, he also put your family at risk indirectly, as any legal issues he ran into would have become a crisis for the entire household. That’s what I want you to focus on here: Not your husband’s troubled relationship with his mom, but the parts of that relationship that have the potential to affect you and your kids. So obviously, you won’t be participating in the underground drug trade. But also, you should refuse to drive 800 miles to see her again, now that she’s demonstrated that she’s unlikely to make much time for you, and definitely push back on sending her money. After all, those funds come from your household and could be used for your children.

Go ahead and respond to her harmless texts—it takes three seconds and keeps her from having any legitimate ammunition against you. Just draw the line at things that actually impact your life. Since you and your husband are at odds over a lot of things at the moment, you aren’t the right person to coach him into a better relationship with her—at least not now. Just kindly but firmly refuse to be a part of the dysfunctional one that currently exists.

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Dear Prudence,

What is my responsibility here? My ex-girlfriend Ellie lied about me (and about other people to me) to everyone we knew. Her lies ranged from the pointless (embarrassing stories that never actually happened) to the profoundly messed up (that I had cancer or that I was a drunk who abused her). This all came to light when she went too far in one of her lies and her brother and his friends beat me up.

That was months ago now. I’m doing better. I’ve distanced myself from everyone involved both socially and geographically and have started therapy. It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but the fact that a lot of people believed I was a monster hurt me deeply. The broken nose was no fun either. The question that I can’t let go of now is whether I owe it to my old friends—and even Ellie in a way—to confront the fact that Ellie lies. I don’t want to cause her any harm, but the things she tells people could cause much bigger problems than they did for me. Part of me thinks I owe it to them to prove to them that at least some of her stories were lies (mostly the medical ones) so they’re aware if it happens again. Another part thinks that they could have looked at the inconsistent, over-dramatic scenarios that happened with such regularity and put the pieces together themselves.

—Do I Owe Them the Truth?

Dear the Truth,

You don’t owe it to them. You owe it to yourself! You have every right in the world to correct lies that could hurt your reputation. Send a mass text! Call people individually! Put together a slide deck with the receipts and send it out! Hold a press conference on Zoom! Whatever you need to do. And if what you’re really asking is, “Would it be wrong or petty of me to reveal how awful Ellie is in the process of correcting the record, especially if I derive some joy from exposing her?” the answer is no. Go for it.

Get Even More Advice From the Dear Prudence Podcast

Dear Prudence,

My daughter is 6 months old. My mother-in-law’s partner, “Bob,” is not allowed to hold her. The reason is that Bob makes me very uncomfortable. He uses racial slurs and makes racist comments. One time my husband was late for dinner (he was several hours late and failed to communicate properly) and Bob yelled at him and made him feel so horrible that I had to calm him down from a several-hour-long panic attack afterward. On Mother’s Day, my MIL asked me if Bob could hold her and I said no. This led to a long argument where I tried and failed to explain my reasoning. In the end, my MIL resorted to threatening that Bob may never see us again or possibly even leave her. I am holding firm on my boundary. My husband accepts it but doesn’t fully understand. Is there any way we can get along with my in-laws?

—Bundle of Joy

Dear Bundle of Joy,

You are 100 percent within your rights to keep a creepy, angry racist from holding your child. You are also one hundred percent within your rights to tell him exactly why. But you can’t realistically expect to tell Bob, “Let me explain: The reason I won’t let you hold my child is that you’re a creepy, angry racist” and also expect to get along with him and his wife. Honesty and having a harmonious relationship are incompatible here. If you wanted to remain on good terms, the right move would have been a (giant, repeated) white lie. Something like, “I don’t let anyone hold her. Nothing personal, I just have a lot of anxiety as a new mom!” or “She’s a Velcro baby. She’ll just start crying and won’t recover and the night will be ruined” or better yet: “She’s sick yet again! Kids are such germ factories! We can’t make it this time.”

That ship has sailed but you still have an opportunity to evaluate, along with your husband, what you want your relationship with Bob to look like. The panic attack incident makes me think your husband may be at least open to decreased contact. I know I personally wouldn’t be thrilled about seeing someone who had recently screamed at and traumatized me. He might actually appreciate it if you said, “Can we not see that guy anymore?” If he’s not prepared to pull back fully, perhaps you could cycle through visits as follows to avoid the baby-holding battle entirely: 1) You, your husband, and mother-in-law meet up 2) Your husband meets MIL and Bob alone 3) You and your husband see them in a group setting (maybe a family dinner or a wedding) while the baby is with a caretaker. It’s going to be tough but I think you have to choose your tough: awkwardness with the in-laws or putting your child in a situation with an explosive, inappropriate person who’s fixated on touching her. You have already made the healthy decision to follow your instincts and protect your daughter, so I think you know what to do. And if your decision to keep the baby away from this guy makes him leave your MIL, it sounds like everyone might be better off.

Dear Prudence,

I have known “Marlie” since she could crawl. She is the daughter of one of my oldest friends. After her divorce, she and my son started seeing each other, but it fizzled out within a year. All of this was several years ago. My son is currently engaged to “Darla.” Darla is very dramatic and thin-skinned. She will get a notion in her head and never let go. For example, they were visiting and I forgot to get the coffee creamer that Darla likes or I suggested a seafood place for dinner but Darla hates shrimp. Then it was seen as a deliberate slight against Darla. I’m always walking on eggshells with Darla.

In a conversation with my son, I mentioned I had lunch with Marlie and her mother. My son asked what Marlie was up to. I told him she was actually looking to buy a house in our neighborhood and I hoped she joined our walking group. It would be nice to have some young blood. Again, my son asked about Marlie. But to Darla, I was going out of my way to undermine her relationship with my son by bringing up his ex and worse, being friends with her! So they are canceling their visit. My son was apologetic but I was very upset. I told him that I found this emotionally manipulative to the extreme. Darla doesn’t get to dictate my friendships. I wasn’t plotting anything more than maybe seeing Marlie at the church potluck. My son told me he loved Darla and needed to support her. I don’t know what to do with her. I am afraid of losing my son. My other children think Darla is looking for any excuse to isolate my son. Please help!

—Marlie and Me

Dear Marlie and Me,

People who are in love can be totally unreasonable. They can also be manipulated. They can also be abused. And the tragedy is, there’s not a lot you can do to make them see it. You and your kids need to have a unified message to your son: “We love you and we’re worried that Darla is isolating you but we’re always here for you.” Forget all the details about Marlie and your bullet points about why it’s reasonable for you to spend time with her. That’s not what this is about. If it wasn’t Marlie, it would be something else inspiring Darla’s jealousy and controlling behavior. You won’t be able to stop your son from spending his life with her, so your best plan is for your family to be a consistent, nonjudgmental place for him to land if he decides he doesn’t want to be manipulated anymore.

More Advice From Slate

I’m a single mom to a 13-year-old son, “Tony,” and a younger daughter. I share custody of the kids with their other mom following a very difficult breakup a few years ago. While we have our issues, we generally co-parent well and try to maintain regular communication about the kids. Over the last year, Tony has become obsessed with my (currently nonexistent) love life.

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