Carolyn Hax: Advice

There’s no easy answer to dilemma you created

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax is on leave. This column originally ran on Sept. 16, 2012.

Dear Carolyn: Long story short: Lost my partner to pulmonary embolism soon after a married friend lost his adult daughter to sudden death. We bonded through grief, engaged in an affair (on and off) across five years during which he initiated divorce proceedings twice.

The third time he followed through and we are now married (nine years after the deaths). His family disapproves and they have been rude during family gatherings. My husband says give them time. I would prefer to opt out of his family gatherings and have no interest in hosting his family at our home either. Thoughts?

Mistress Becomes Wife

What exactly did you expect?

Forgiveness is something to hope for, especially given the way grief can compromise judgment, though you don’t seem to be asking for it. Or expressing anything that resembles remorse, for that matter.

Maybe you don’t think you need to — it was your now-husband who took the vows he broke, after all — but he did break them with your witting and willing assistance.

So consider what this family has had to process. The adult daughter was their loved one, too — and while they were grieving her loss, one bereaved parent was cheating on the other. Surely you can imagine the anger they felt toward your now-husband when all of this came to light? For kicking his then-wife while she was down? For forcing them to deal with this, of all things — and then, of all times?

Now imagine how they felt when they risked losing another loved one — your husband — by unleashing their anger and dismay and (presumably) protectiveness of his ex-wife.

Maybe they said their piece anyway, but their antipathy to you suggests they used a tempting loophole: directing most of their anger where it involved less emotional risk. At you.

When a loved one does something bad, it’s easier to rationalize the bad thing away than it is to shun the person. When a stranger does something bad, it’s easier to shun the person than it is to rationalize the bad thing away.

If all this sounds about right, then you know what you are to them: scapegoat; awkward presence; painful reminder x2.

You’re also their rock and hard place, since embracing you will likely feel like abetting the infidelity, even this long after the fact. In embracing your husband, at least they have an ethical fig leaf in family.

Is this fair? Not entirely. But it’s real, and it’s what you’re up against.

With that in mind, your preference to avoid his family can be called reasonable, as long as you’re honest and clear on what you hope to accomplish: “Declare my penance over,” for example, “even if it puts Husband in a difficult spot.” Yet you can’t deny the cowardice of this choice.

You can instead set a loftier goal: not to make any more divisive choices. That means donning your finest hair shirt, showing up, and, most important, forgiving his family for their unwillingness to forgive you. If you haven’t tried this in earnest, then don’t kid yourself — the family sees your lack of effort. Make that effort now, before you retreat into that hard refusal to give them any more time.

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