Family Multiplied

4 May

Letterbalm Four RingsDear LetterBalm: I just found out my husband of 21 years has another family. He has another wife and two children in a city downstate, and this has been going on for at least 14 years of our marriage. As you can imagine, things are in an uproar. I’m an enraged, emotional wreck, and the children are confused and angry. How could I have been so stupid? I’ve hired a lawyer to get a divorce and see how I can sort this out for my sanity and the sake of the kids. The truth came out in a public way (his other family didn’t know, either), so everybody – my family, my in-laws, our community, the kids’ school – knows. It’s a huge scandal, and we’re getting all kinds of sympathy, unsolicited advice and intrusive questions. I’ve got to be the sane one for my family now. What can I tell my children to help them deal with all the nosy, hurtful and unhelpful people?

–The First Wife

This cataclysmic situation was never envisioned in your “for better or for worse” vows. Ms. L.B. extends her most sincere concern. Please don’t beat yourself up. Your husband is obviously an accomplished liar, who elegantly overcame the stress of maintaining two families for more than a decade. The damage he has inflicted on many people will catch up to him in some way. Please get you and your children into family counseling right away to help deal with all this, especially lingering trust issues. Meanwhile, remember a few things for now: You owe no one an explanation or a dissection of the situation. You and your kids are under no obligation to spend time with nosy or hurtful people – choose to be with those who aren’t judging you and who offer unconditional love and the opportunity to just hang out and be yourselves. These days, give different versions of this talk to your kids as needed, quietly and calmly:

Kids, things are crazy now, and we’re all going through a really rough time. I just want you to know that I’ll always be here for you. I’ll love you always. You know that we’re going to counseling tomorrow so we can begin to sort this out as a family. It’s O.K. to be angry and confused – this is a pretty big deal, and I don’t have all the answers. I want you to know that it’s also O.K. not to explain to your friends or not to say anything to anybody who mocks you or trashtalks your dad. You can simply say, “I won’t talk about it” and shut down. You can walk away. You can avoid people who are behaving in hurtful ways. You can choose to be with people who are kind and who don’t ask questions, who just let you hang out and be yourself. Please don’t keep everything inside. If we ever needed one another, this is the time to be together as a family. In time, I know we’ll understand what has happened to us and why and how we can deal with it.

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