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By Amalah

Dearest Amy,

Jesus Lordy. I have an issue that isn’t really a problem and yet I’m obsessing and would like to be prepared should it become a problem, as it has potential to become one.

I met my husband six months after his parents passed away as the result of a car accident. His father lived and worked overseas while his mother kept the family home in their hometown and traveled frequently to his father’s apartment overseas. When my husband and his two sisters cleaned out the overseas apartment, they packed everything in boxes with the intent of going through them later. The boxes ended up at our house after we were married so hubby and I went through the boxes, I more than he.

My father-in-law kept everything. Everything including a copy of a very personal letter he wrote to a much younger woman he worked with and apparently had a more intimate relationship with. Hubby and his sisters met the woman but thought she was their father’s protege. This woman, ‘O’ has kept in touch with hubby’s oldest sister and my sister-in-law sees O occasionally as her job involves traveling overseas often. Including this week. Sis-in-law always returns from these trips reporting how much she loves seeing O and how O would really like to come visit my husband and I as we still live in the town he and his sisters grew up in. Sis-in-law is excited about this as she sees O as one of her last links to her father and is becoming more insistent on this happening. Who knows what O’s intentions are in saying she wants to visit. I know she must need closure and is still mourning my father-in-law, but she did have an inappropriate (in my eyes) relationship with him and to involve his kids in all this seems certifiable.

I found the letter and while my husband knows “something” happened between his father and O, he has never read the letter which I have kept all these years for reasons unbeknownst to even myself. (I blame the Erica Kane school of intrigue I encountered watching All My Children with my mother in my formative years) I’m assuming my sisters-in-law are in the dark as the younger one frequently laments how she can never hear a certain song without thinking of her father; the same song my father-in-law references in the letter as a song he can’t hear without thinking of O. And they all joke how crazy it is that my mother-in-law never liked O.

I feel like I’m covering for my father-in-law. Although this is a small part of his otherwise wonderful and full life, I can’t help but internally roll my eyes whenever someone mentions how great and upstanding he was. A huge part of me thinks a visit will never happen because it has been many years since my in-laws passed and there simply is no point, really. I think O is a bit mental and perpetuates this visiting charade in order to keep in contact with the family. I want to scream every time sis-in-law returns from seeing O going on and on about how wonderful O is and how their father was instrumental in O becoming successful. If I have to hear about one more plan for O to come visit us, I may very well scream. How do I continue to keep this to myself when all I want to do is throw the letter in their faces and be done with it?
Seriously. WTF.

OMG. I’m just going to go ahead and quote you: Jesus Lordy. What a soap opera. Funny how they get so significantly less fun in real life.
I’m generally from the “don’t speak ill of the dead” camp — i.e., if you find a mildly unsavory letter where all the cast members have passed on, you destroy it and generally allow people to go on thinking nice things about their loved ones. There are exceptions, of course, like finding out that there’s an illegitimate sibling out there, or that some long-ago relative was totally Jack the Ripper or something and HERE IS THE PROOF, but for your more garden-variety sins…eh. I think people who aren’t around to explain or defend themselves should get the occasional free pass.

HOWEVER. Your situation veers away from my camp for two reasons: 1) it involves deceiving your husband, and 2) the continued existence and presence of one pesky cast member, O.
I COMPLETELY agree with you: It is downright inappropriate for this woman to be clinging to her dead lover’s family. Though maybe also a little understandable, like you said. She’s still grieving him. Maybe he was the one great love of her life. Maybe she pictured becoming a stepmother to his children or even secretly considered herself one. I don’t know, but I know I would also be pretty wigged out by the idea of her coming to my house and putting on some happy family friend face when the truth is a bit more inappropriate.

Now here is where I project my relationship onto yours, in possibly an unfair manner: I would never, ever keep something like this from my husband. I would have handed that letter over immediately. I would have at least left the letter out where he would have found it. We have a few hard and fast rules that we hold each other to, and number one is Absolutely No Deceptions or Secret-Keeping. I do not doubt that your intentions in keeping the letter secret were ENTIRELY good — you weren’t trying to blackmail anyone here, you were honestly trying to preserve the reputation of your father-in-law. I so get that. However. Road. Hell. Good intentions as the asphalt and all that.

You’re now stuck in a situation where you know too much. Your sisters-in-law and O keep pushing while the little thermostat in your temper inches closer to the breaking point. It’s…probably doubtful that you’ll be able to keep this charade up for much longer, and even if O drops dead tomorrow you’ll have to sit through a funeral and listen to everybody mourn this kind of strange, insert-y woman who played a part in the betrayal of their own mother.

I see two options (though I welcome additional recommendations from anyone who is reading, particularly from anyone who has watched more soap operas than me, as I went cold turkey on Days of Our Lives my junior year of college and OH IT STILL HURTS A LITTLE BIT LIKE EVERY TIME I SEE SAMMIE ON BIGGEST LOSER).

 One: you come clean to your husband. You apologize for keeping the letter from him, you explain your good intentions and how you would never, ever want to speak ill of his parents blah blah blah, but here is why you are so resistant to the idea of spending time with O. Put the letter in his hands and let him decide whether to tell his sisters. If he decides not to, that’s his call and you go along with it, because it is his family. (Likewise, if he does decide to tell them, you should totally be all, LEAVE ME OUT OF THIS and ask him to please play down or erase your role in any of it.)

Two: You let the visit happen. You meet with O, privately. You hand her a copy of the letter. You wait for an explanation, an apology, anything. Maybe your father-in-law never sent her the letter, or any letter. Maybe it was all a big fantasy on his part for his promising young protege who actually looked to him like a father. Maybe not. I would probably only go with this option if you have any doubts about whether the relationship actually happened or not, and are willing to listen to O and her side of the story. If there was an affair, though, it’s still be doubtful that you’ll get a nice happy clump of closure tied up with a neat little bow (like O being able to “prove” that nothing sexual happened between them, or admitting the affair and immediately agreeing to stop with the weird relationshippy stalking of his children). You may very well end up back at option one, only with an added level of complicated because you’ve officially “interfered.”

Readers? What say you? Option one, two…or just burn the letter and pledge to resist the eye-rolling urge for the next couple decades?


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Muirnait

    February 1, 2010 at 1:46 am

    I think it would depend a lot on the children’s relationship with the dad . . . like, how much would finding this out rock them? It’s not an easy one, that’s for sure. I would probably end up telling – largely because I’m bad at keeping secrets and I’d rather reveal it in a controlled situation that I’d planned as opposed to blurting it out in an awkward moment at a family event!

  • brandi

    February 1, 2010 at 2:24 am

    I vote option one. It just seems like the right thing to do, and you need to get everything out on the table. I think a private meeting is just digging yourself further into the mess.
    Also, I wish the Erica Kane School of Intrigue was a real place. I would definitely apply.

  • Alison C

    February 1, 2010 at 5:47 am

    I would have to wonder why the letter was in the father’s belongings? Was it a copy? Was it not sent? Maybe O sent it back as inappropriate?
    I agree with Amy though, you need to speak to your husband and let him decide what he wants to do.

  • Rianne

    February 1, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Whoa. Who knows that Mom didn’t know about the affair, and give it her blessing somehow.
    Without any of the parties around except O, it’s all speculation. And NOBODY’s business.
    The sisters-in-law love O. Great. that’s their business. Don’t destroy the myth because you’ve got an issue with Daddy’s behavior.
    Just as children grow up and develop inner lives that are entirely independent of their parents, parents have complex lives that we often are not privy to. Leave this one where it belongs – in the past.

  • cagey

    February 1, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Oof. The part that concerns me is that the letter was written by the father. There is no evidence that he actually sent it. The letter is one-sided and it could have even been a fantasy letter, a letter he hoped to send, but did not.
    I say, come clean now, sooner than later. Let them see the letter and interpret for themselves.
    Also, I was under the impression the reader had not met O. There seem to be a lot of assumptions going on over a person who not everyone has met.
    Regardless of what may or may not have happened, I say just hand the letter over, come clean, apologize profusely and hope for the best.

  • Jenny

    February 1, 2010 at 9:47 am

    What’s interesting is the author’s description of the family’s living arrangements: “His father lived and worked overseas while his mother kept the family home in their hometown and traveled frequently to his father’s apartment overseas.” Really? I don’t know what kind of occupation calls for such a situation, but is it possible that the wife knew about the husband’s “other life” when away from the family? Maybe the relationship with O will not come as such a shock to the kids, especially perhaps the older ones who may have been more aware of what was actually going on, and helped protect the younger ones from the truth.
    In any case, I’m with Amy — Hand the letters over to your husand, apologize for keeping them from him and tell him you don’t want to read too much into the situation, but you found some letters between his father and O that you think he should have, whether he chooses to read them or not. It’s his father, and his truth to seek or deny. Good luck!

  • Concerned

    February 1, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Never keep secrets from your spouse…ever. EVER!
    One secret will begin to erode the trust you and your husband should have between each other.
    Also, it is not your place to confront “O”, give the letter to your husband, let him decide. This is the only way to make it all work out correctly.

  • Ms. Krieger

    February 1, 2010 at 10:42 am

    I’m siding with Rianne – keep your mouth shut and let the children have their friendship with O. This is about preserving the reputation of the father-in-law as well as your relationship with your spouse.
    -a single letter is pretty flimsy evidence of anything.
    -Amalah and some other commentators seem to believe O is weirdly stalking the family. She’s not. She has a friendship with at least one of the sisters that has persisted for years. That qualifies as a full-fledged relationship on its own terms that should not be sabotaged by such flimsy evidence.
    -some couples have a no-secrets policy and that works for them — others do not, and with good reason. If you have kept this from your husband for this long, you probably have a gut feeling that this would upset him and he could (wrongly, but possibly) blame you for revealing it.
    Sum: your father-in-law is no longer alive and cannot defend himself. Do not impugn his character and taint a friendship between his protege and his daughter based on a single copy of a letter that may or may not have ever been sent. I strongly advise against it.

  • Jen

    February 1, 2010 at 11:24 am

    The letter exists, and while the parents aren’t around to justify or explain themselves, they also aren’t around to care what’s said about them anymore.
    Whatever “Seriously, WTF” decides to do, it should be done with complete consideration to how it may impact the living, who’ll actually have to deal with this situation.
    So that said, were it me I’d share the letter with my husband.


    February 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Tell your husband. OR, you could tell your husband, with the possibility of a third option: tell your husband.

  • CS

    February 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    If this were me, I’d have shared the letter a long time ago with my spouse. It was written by *his* father, after all, someone you never knew. At this point, I’d probably still share it, for the same reason–it’s not really your family secret to keep. And besides, what the letter may signify is troubling you–get it off your chest.

  • Cheryl S.

    February 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    What would come of telling? I think the person asking advice needs to REALLY think through what would happen if she revealed the letter now. The FIL is dead. Why would you ruin your DH’s and his siblings beliefs about their father? It would do no one any good and would only cause hurt.
    I say, do what you should have done years ago. Destroy the letter and move on.

  • pseudostoops

    February 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Show husband the letter, put ball in his court about how, if at all, he wants to address it with his sisters. I agree with Amy that it seems unlikely that the letter-writer would be able to keep up the charade if and when O makes good on her promise to visit. Given that, a “let sleeping dogs lie” option seems unviable at this point.

  • Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I’m with Rianne, these were not your parents and there’s no way for you to know all the details. You need to let this go and stop projecting your own judgments on them. Especially when the father is long dead.
    Besides which, having an affair does not make you “not an upstanding person” btw. My dad had an affair, and he’s still a very good man.
    Throw the letter away, this isn’t your business. You’re going to ruin the lives of people who have relationships with each other. This is in the past. Let is stay there. Maybe examine why it means so very much to you when you never knew these people?

  • Mary

    February 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    How many kinds of “something” can happen between a man living a semi-bachelor life and his much younger “protege”? I think WTF’s husband already connected the dots about what happened and is purposefully ignoring it. WTF should drop it and find something new to obsess about. I suggest LOST.

  • Brittany

    February 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    For the record, I am firmly in the camp of No Secrets in a Marriage. So: tell your husband.
    Something that I haven’t seen mentioned yet: IF there was marital infidelity, it happened for a reason. If there was NOT marital infidelity but such a relationship ‘tween O and deceased FIL is suspect, it is suspect for a reason. THERE IS A LESSON HERE. Take it and run with it – learn why infidelity happens (and may or may not have happened here), understand it, protect your own marriages.
    If there are coping mechanisms the FIL employed, or world views that he had, or any of a number of bad habits that could seem innocuous and/or been passed on to the kids….If there WAS infidelity, they should identify it and guard themselves against something similar happening to them.

  • Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    If I had a relationship with “that” woman and I didn’t know that my dad may have had an affair with her I would feel entirely sickened and betrayed.
    You need to tell your husband. It isn’t fair to you to carry this burden.

  • Rachel

    February 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I am with the “tell your husband” camp, hand him the letter, and let him deal with it as he sees fit. It doesn’t sound like you’re going to be able to hold the secret forever and better to tell the one you’re closest to so he can evaluate the situation and hope that it doesn’t blow up in everybody’s face. Since the letter was in your father’s belongings, who knows if it was ever sent or the feelings were mutual or what (although the contents of the letter could entirely prove the claim that they had a long affair).

  • ms martyr

    February 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Mother-in-law didn’t like O. Seems to me she probably had at least an inkling of what went on. Long distance relationships are a bitch.
    The sister-in-laws may not love O so much if they find out what may have happened. O is maintaining this relationship under false pretenses.
    Give the letter to your husband and let him decide what to do with it.

  • LauraM

    February 1, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Rianne is absolutely right. You want to reveal the letter to make YOU feel better. Not because it’s something your husband or any of his family needs to know. At the time you found it, I think you could have either put it quietly back in the box and moved on or showed it to your husband. But now? How will you answer when your husband asks you a) why didn’t you tell me earlier? and b) why are you telling me now? What good comes from telling him about the letter besides easing your own conscience? Does that outweigh the possible hurt you’re causing to your husband’s family?

  • Monica

    February 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Option 2.
    You’ve kept it secret this long for a reason. I would keep it. It’s the right thing to do for your husband and his siblings. They have a very high opinion of their father and there is no real reason that opinion MUST change.
    When I found out my dad cheated on my mom, I was devastated. I was 25 years old, an adult, but it shook me to the core. My entire image of my beloved father was shattered. It was horrible. I truly wish I never knew. The affair happened when I was 5. My mother told me about it when I was 25. She figured I was an adult and should know the truth. To be honest, I’m still a little bit mad at her for telling me. I truly don’t understand why I needed to know.
    Which is why I cannot understand why your husband NEEDS to know. I really can’t. Confront O privately, or burn the letter. Please, trust me, none of his kids want to know.

  • Amy-May

    February 2, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Okay, there are secrets and not secrets. This is probably not a secret and it’s none of your business. Put the letter in with whatever momentos of FIL were saved. Let your husband or his siblings find it themselves or not ever look in that pile again. Not your problem. Watch The Bridges of Madison County and consider how it messed with the adult children to realize their Mom was more “passionate” then they knew.
    I give this response from this perspective – my inlaws are not happily married, just STILL married. My MIL has been very upfront with me about how unhappy she is with FIL. After the first heart to heart with MIL, I felt uneasy that I now held a secret from my husband. I made several attempts to bring it up with him and was shut down every time. He did/does not see or want to discuss what he cannot handle admitting, that his Dad is mostly an a$$ as a husband. Forcing that into my husband’s face does no good for MY marriage. It’s not a secret, but it’s not open for conversation either. If your husband suspects “something” then I bet he already knows as much as he wants to know.

  • differentareacodes

    February 2, 2010 at 3:49 am

    Who says Mom didn’t know and condone this relationship (if it even existed) all along? Most people choose not to share all the details of their sex lives with their children (thank goodness) while they are alive. The reader found something the father had clearly not wanted to share with his children- I would respect his (implicit) wishes.

  • Emma B

    February 2, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I spent my father’s funeral wondering how many of the female mourners he’d slept with, so I’m coming from a place of experience when I say that this is Not Your Business, and nobody else wants to know.
    You are not personally invested in this in any way except for the secrecy, and there is nothing for anyone else to gain by a reveal. The affair is long finished, so it’s not like speaking up will help keep O from damaging the family any farther — that ship has sailed (and you know nothing about prior or subsequent ports of call). Your in-laws are dead, so your husband and his sisters won’t get a chance to work through it with them and move on. What do you really think they’d all say if they knew? “Gee, thanks for destroying friendships and tarnishing our parents’ memories, but hey, we’re all glad we know the REAL TRUTH?”
    Regarding your husband, I would tell him *if and only if* you are genuinely bothered by the fact of your deception itself (rather than being bothered that he doesn’t know the truth). Honestly, that’s not the sense I get from your letter, so I probably would just let that lie. Keep the letter, maybe put it back with your FIL’s things, and let your husband go finding out for himself if he really wants to know.
    Regarding your sisters-in-law and O, I recommend practicing the application of big girl panties. It’s not like the woman lives down the street and you’re forced to deal with it all every day. Be gracious for a week if she ever does come to visit, and bite your tongue when your SILs mention her every couple of months.

  • Rachel M.

    February 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I would be strongly inclined to pack the letter back in the box and never mention it to anyone. It seems pretty likely that a visit from O is never going to happen. Whatever the story is behind the letter (as others have pointed out, it may never have been sent and isn’t in itself evidence of an affair) the father-in-law certainly never intended for his children to read it.

  • College at Thirty

    February 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Am I the only one picturing a woman in another country, writing an “OMG, WTF?” letter to her favorite blogger, stating that she had an affair with a man who made her career and helped her along, but he died tragically, and now his eldest daughter seems intent on being her bestie, and as a placation keeps agreeing that yes, she should go to America and see her ex-boss’s family for a visit, but is inwardly criging because she’s pretty sure that everyone except this sister knows about the affair?
    I mean, there are at least three sides to this story, and I feel like I’m only getting half. By all means, if you want the people in your family to hate you, talk about it. Otherwise, either burn the letter, or leave it in a conveniently public place when your husband comes home one night, and if he asks, claim that the relationship with O seemed important to his sister, and you didn’t see any reason to ruin it for her. She lost her father, too, after all. Don’t make her lose him all over again.

  • kari Weber

    February 2, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Ditch the letter… burn it… bury it… put it back in the box. It is not your place to decide what gets found out by his children. I suspect since the letter was in FIL’s possession and not O’s that it wasn’t sent. That doesn’t mean that nothing happened, but if it did, what do you gain from outing it? Not only would they potentially lose the friendship with O, but now they will have a soiled memory of their father. Do you really think everyone would be better off then? I am naturally in the school of thought of No Secrets. But you have ALREADY kept this secret for years. And your reason for outing is more for your own feelings, rather than your in laws and husbands. I can’t even IMAGINE losing BOTH my parents to a car accident so suddenly. I don’t think I would want to know about something they did that was less than desirable. I would just want to keep whatever memories I had of them before they were so violently ripped out of my life.

  • Anonymous

    February 4, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I say stick it into one of the boxes and hope your husband finds it someday, and try to put it out of your mind until then.