-- Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers of Slate.com. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.--
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Good morning or afternoon depending on where you are and welcome to this week’s chat. Let’s get started.
Q. Runner-up: My husband recently said something that I am finding difficult to process. We were out one night and chatting (he had also had a bit to drink), and he blurted out “the love of my life is married to someone else.” He was married prior to me, for nine years, and we have been married now for a year, together for seven. Is this something I should look past? I feel like he may still be pining away for his previous wife (who has since remarried, to her high school sweetheart), and I feel like I am second-best, a consolation prize, and that he has settled for me but still has not gotten over her. I would like to think I’m with someone who looks at me as their number one. I’m not sure if I should talk to him about it.
A: I wonder, is this statement confirmation of what you’ve long been suspecting based on the way he treats you, or did it truly come out of nowhere? That makes a big difference. If you’ve been feeling day to day like he’s settling for you and treating you as second-best, that’s a problem that you would have wanted to talk to him about and deal with even if you’d never had the confirmation of this drunken outburst. So you should definitely have a conversation now.
On the other hand, if his statement completely shocked you and is incongruent with a great relationship in which he’s made you feel loved and adored, the situation is harder. To decide whether to talk to him about this, I would ask you to try to predict your feelings in different outcomes to see which ones might be workable to you and which you’d absolutely want to avoid. For example, I can think of a few possible scenarios:
1) You decide not to bring this up. Can you convince yourself that it was a drunken comment that was meaningless—or at least not connected to your day-to-day reality? Or will what he said haunt you until you know more?
2) You bring it up and:
• He explains it away, for example, by saying, “What I think I was feeling was that I still feel guilty about not being able to make my first marriage work. I don’t love her anymore, but she was the love of my life and knowing someone else could make her happy when I couldn’t is a blow to my ego. I don’t think about it a lot, but I guess I got drunk and started thinking about my failures in life.” Would you believe it and be at peace? Or would you still think “No, I’m second-best. You admitted it and there’s nothing you can do to take it back” and remain stressed and unhappy?
• He admits that yes, he does consider his ex the love of his life but says he loves the relationship you two have and wouldn’t change anything about it. Would you feel comforted by that or would it be a crisis?
• He admits that he’s still pining for your ex and not happy in your marriage. If this is what he says, are you prepared to end things—or have him admit that he wants to?
Check in with yourself by imagining scenarios under No. 2. Would you feel devastated by this information or empowered by it? Could you handle it? If you didn’t believe him, would you leave or would you stay and be miserable? And if you chose scenario No. 1, could you go on like nothing happened? Or would you be tortured? Really imagine being in these situations and make notes to yourself. Does your whole body feel tense? Does your internal lie detector go off?
Take stock of what you think would cause you the least distress long term and use that information to decide whether to sit him down for a talk.