Democracy Dies in Darkness

Style | Perspective

Her husband’s having an emotional affair. Her sister wants to help her.

September 10, 2018 at 11:59 PM

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I just got off the phone with my sister, who is married and has a 9-year-old daughter. Her husband has been having an emotional affair with his high school sweetheart. My sister knows because she has been going through his phone; apparently, he sends the sweetheart text messages and emails with lots of heart and flower emojis and has said that she (the sweetheart) is his "queen." Ick.

My sister has a high-pressure job. She makes more money than her husband and is fiercely independent. She has always made work a priority, sometimes at the expense of her family. She realizes this and has started to try to be more present when she's at home, realizing that her husband is probably feeling emasculated and in need of attention. She has a session scheduled with a counselor. Any other steps you can advise?

— Sib

Sib: For her, no (except to get out of his phone). She’s apparently doing the hard work she thinks she needs to do. I expect that will eventually have to include her telling him what she knows, but this is her trail to blaze, not mine.

If it were: I’d take exception to the “emasculated” line of reasoning. Money earned is (literally?) a paper-thin way to define masculinity. And everyone, not just the representatives of one gender, craves relevance, which comes in as many forms as there are people.

Plus, she is who she is. Playing a role to flatter his ego is not anyone’s long-term solution. I hope.

The part about attention, though, is as valid as it gets. Not being present in a relationship is lethal to it, no matter where it is you’ve misplaced your attention — be it on a high-powered career or baking bread from scratch all weekend for the 12 children you home-school during the week.

Or did you mean any other steps for you? Not much there, either. Just listen to her and encourage her to be true to herself, no matter how she chooses to approach this. That’s the only way it’ll work.

Dear Carolyn: I have some new friends with two young children, both of whom I like a lot and who are always excited to see my husband and me when we get together with their family. We don't have kids. Their mom, who is lovely, is from the South, as am I, and she always insists the kids call us "Miss and Mister [First name]." This is a convention of child-adult interaction that I'm very familiar with, but it's one my parents always disliked and never enforced. I also dislike this convention and so I try to interact with the kids just using my first name, but their mom inevitably corrects them.

I know it's up to parents to guide how their kids interact with adults, but is it reasonable for me to say to the parents, "Hey, I'd love for the kids to just call me by my first name," or would I be overstepping?

— First name

First name: That’s okay, but present it as a question: “Would that be okay with you?” And take no for an answer. When the kids are 18, you can ask them directly to call you what you like.

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Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis — Carolyn's ex-husband — and appears in over 200 newspapers.

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