Friend in Deed?

31 Jul

Dear LetterBalm: Five years ago, during a bad time in our marriage, I had an affair. It lasted only a few weeks – it’s the only time I’ve cheated on my wife. In a moment of weakness, I told her close friend, a guy she went to college with and somebody who had become my good friend, too. Over the years, he hasn’t told my wife about my cheating, but he’s dropped a few big hints when we’re all together. He’s always been in love with my wife, and he’s said some things that make me think he’s jealous of our marriage. During that rough time, my wife and I went to couples counseling, and we’ve been good ever since, but I didn’t disclose the affair. In hindsight, I should have because now I don’t know what to do. Tell her? Talk with her friend? Let things stay as they are?

–In a Tight Spot

You’re in a tight spot, all right. Any way you squirm out of it doesn’t leave you looking good. You have a man in longstanding love with your wife, jealous of your marriage, in possession of a secret that could wreck it – and, showing signs he will use the information in good time. He’s out of the running as an ally; you don’t dare approach him and expect any reasonableness. You know you should have owned up to your indiscretion during your therapy five years ago and thrown yourself on the mercy of your wife. If you confess now, she may feel doubly betrayed because you waited five years and because you told her friend. What to do, what to do? You can hunker down and live with it. Or, as Ms. L.B. believes, you can come clean and neutralize the situation, knowing you may jeopardize your marriage. Reflect long and hard on what you’ll say – and, you cannot demonize the friend, as much as he deserves it. (If your wife asks whether her friend knows, tell her but omit the gory details; she probably won’t believe them.) Practice in private, and when you are ready, take a deep breath and take your wife’s hands in yours. Remain calm and contrite because she doubtless will rage. Say something like this:

Jean, I have something to tell you, but before I do, I want you to believe that I love you now more than ever and I hope you can understand. This isn’t easy for me to say. Five years ago, when we were going through the rough time in our marriage, I had a short affair. The woman was someone I knew through a co-worker, and I ended it after five weeks. I’ve never seen her or spoken to her since, and I’ve never done anything like this again. I won’t insult you by making excuses. This has been eating at me for all this time, especially since I know I should have come clean during our therapy. But I was scared and stupid then. I am so, so sorry. You are my whole world, and you don’t deserve to be hurt and betrayed by someone who is supposed to love and protect you – especially since our relationship has been really good these past years. Can you believe me when I tell you that this is the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone, and nobody can possibly hate me as much as I do myself? This is a lot to take in, and I promise I’ll answer all your questions and never keep a secret from you again.

[If she asks whether her friend knows] You asked me if Iago knows. He does. I was feeling guilty and I confided in him at the time. I know I shouldn’t have told him because I betrayed you even more.

Under Pressure

30 Jul

Letterbalm Worried GirlDear LetterBalm: I’m 17 years old and going into my senior year of high school. I get really good grades – I’m on track with advanced placement courses, and everybody tells me I should get a scholarship to a decent school. I have an awesome family and good friends, but sometimes I just feel overwhelmed. I feel worthless if I don’t get 100% on a self-practice test, and I get really down if I think one of my classmates is doing better than I am. And, I’m obsessed with getting to be valedictorian and doing internships and volunteer work so my college application will be strong. Lately, I’ve been sad and crying by myself. I try to keep it inside. Nobody knows any of this, and I’m afraid to say anything because people will think I’m looking for attention or out of control.

–Bottled Up

Oh, my dear girl. You have set such big expectations for yourself, that it’s a wonder you can function at all. You feel that if you’re not perfect, you’re not performing according to strict standards you’ve set for yourself, that you’re not “good enough.” Ms. L.B. says you must take a step back and look at the impossible situation in which you’ve put yourself. If you don’t release some pressure and talk your feelings out with someone you trust, you’re going to explode, and the results won’t be psychologically pretty. You need counseling to establish balance and regain your faith in yourself this year – or your first year at college will be a washout. Can you talk with your parents (or a trusted relative who is more objective and can plead your case to your folks)? If they won’t listen, say something to your school counselor in September. But first, you might say this:

Mom and Dad, I really need your help. I know I come across as having everything together, but I’m a mess. I am sad and crying alone in my room. And, I’m terrified about my grades and getting into a good school. I’ve set such high expectations for myself that I think I’m worthless if I don’t do everything perfectly. I think I’m scared and depressed. Please, before school starts, can we talk with Dr. Smith about finding a therapist, a counselor I can talk to? I really, really need this, and I know I can trust you to help me.

Friend Upmanship

29 Jul

Dear LetterBalm: My 15-year-old son’s best friend attends his school and comes from a wealthy family. When he is with this boy, his friend’s parents take him for posh dinners and outings. Last month they took him on an oceangoing yacht for a weekend cruise. The month before that it was a full-blown wilderness experience. My wife and I can’t afford to treat them so lavishly. My son is beginning to act like he should have special treatment. He and his friend are good, grounded kids, and his friend doesn’t act entitled. I don’t want my son to become a selfish jerk. What can I say to him that will resonate?

–Concerned Dad

It’s good that you have a solid rapport with your son. Ms. L.B. wants you to cut your son some slack. He’s experiencing some heady times, and, well, his head is turned. You and your wife can be good role models by example in this situation – and, so can your son’s friend. Even though he’s rich, the young man is humble and worthy. Talk with your son about values and how money doesn’t equal merit. Tell him that your home is open to anyone of any financial background, as long as the individual is a solid human being:

Travis, you’ve been having some great times recently with Blake. His parents have been very generous, haven’t they? I’m glad you’re such good friends with Blake. I’ve known both of you since you were in kindergarten, and I see how you are good role models for each other. You’re a person with good work habits, and he’s a humble person who doesn’t act like his family has a lot of money. The last thing your mom and I would want is for you to feel entitled to special treatment or expensive things. Money doesn’t automatically equal merit. We didn’t raise you that way, and, in fact, we can’t compete with wealth. What we can give – and I hope you know how valuable this is – is a home and parents who are always open to your friends from all walks of life.

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