My father is having an affair!

August 21st, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

On a day in March, 2018, I found out that my father was having an affair. The identity of the woman at the time was unknown to myself, although I did suspect it was my aunt. It took me several months of fighting myself on what to do with the information, as I did not want to harm my mother emotionally with it. But after much thought I did disclose my findings to her. However, I did not tell her I suspected the woman was her own sister. My mother had her doubts about the whole thing and I know she was in denial in order to protect herself from the hurt.

Today my sister and I after some further investigation found out that the woman is indeed my mother’s own sister. I am in anguish and torment because of the findings and do not know what to do.

This goes against every teaching we were brought up with. I’m disappointed and feel pain and sorrow. Should we keep this secret to ourselves or should we tell my mom? I thought about speaking to my father about it, but he gets aggressive and tells me to stay out of his marriage because he doesn’t involve himself in mine. Please help!

Kayla

Dear Kayla,

You and your sister are in tremendous pain. The structure on which your lives were built, including values and trust in your parents has been shaken. You are angry, hurt, disappointed, betrayed, confused and if we may say so, probably a little vengeful. That is all natural. But natural is not necessarily right.

Our first suggestion is that you and your sister each find someone who can help you work through your feelings and move forward with your lives. What you have endured  is a big deal and you need to regain your equilibrium and make sure that you don’t allow this to poison your own lives.

Having said that, ancient Jewish wisdom is quite adamant on children never interfering in their parents’ marital relationship. Had you asked us earlier, we would have firmly advised you to tell your mother nothing at all. At this point, we urge you to say nothing further. We also strongly discourage you from any more detective work; seek out no more information. Everything about the marital bond between your parents is exactly that – between your parents. The commandment to honor your mother and father is not abrogated by bad behavior by either of them. This means you have to stay completely out of this.

We realize that this isn’t what your heart is telling you to do. You might want to listen to this podcast episode that discusses making significant decisions on the basis of head not heart.

Meanwhile, you need to figure out how to manage practically with family gatherings. There might well be awkward moments but nonetheless the right thing is to remove yourself from the midst of this sad situation.  You and your sister cannot be the avenging judges punishing your father and forcing your mother to acknowledge what she may not even want to see.

Once again, we aren’t minimizing your suffering and we encourage you to seek help in dealing with it. It would be wonderful if our parents never severely disappointed us, but sadly some do. We are still their children and the Fifth Commandment still applies.

Wishing you healing,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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26 comments

mary says:

Wow, I was shocked by your reply. I would have thought it honoring to advise and support the mother regarding this affair. I have prayed for God’s wisdom all my life and read his word. In my fifties I realize more and more how little I know. So very glad to have some of your books and these learning tools. Thanks

Susan Lapin says:

Mary, when there is a divorce, noble parents make sure not to defame the other parent to the children. It is a terrible situation for a child to have to side with one parent over the other. Scripture says to honor father and mother, not father or mother. Our human natural tendency is to pick winners and losers, but we can’t do that with our parents.

James says:

What an emotional minefield to navigate! I can empathize. I lost my mother to cancer in the late 1970’s. My father married again some four years later, this time to a vain and selfish woman. But we did not interfere. Seeking emotional solace, I consulted an aunt, my mother’s sister, and told her the woman my father married in no way could hold a candle to my departed mother. My aunt did not allow me to finish the sentence. She went ballistic, accusing me of interfering with my father’s new marriage, and bade me hold my tongue! And confessing one’s private feelings in confidence is not interfering. Oft one cannot trust even one’s own relatives in such matters, even your mother’s own sister, when negotiating such a minefield. Why are families so toxic? I have never seen anything like it. One expects better from one’s own family. And I feel for the family in question. My own experience makes me understand your reply, best not to get involved.

Jack Russell says:

Your gossip was NOT honoring to your father and your mother’s sister had absolute zero need to know that information. You mentioned not being able to trust one’s own relatives in such matters when you had already defined yourself as being the one who could not be trusted with the information. Sad.

Susan Lapin says:

Jack, I’m sure you didn’t intend your words to sound as harsh as they do. There was no betrayal of confidential information here, only a desire for understanding.

Elizabeth K says:

Hi Susan, speaking of the above, I wanted to ask, what is the difference between gossiping about your parents and going to an older friend or relative for counsel? This confuses me a bit because you can speak about your parents in a respectful way but there’s no way to receive advice without explaining the situation.

Susan Lapin says:

Hi Elizabeth, I was responding to what I had read. The aunt obviously knew that the her brother-in-law had remarried and according to James, he said that his stepmother couldn’t “hold a candle to his mother.” That seems to me to be an innocuous statement that expresses what most children’s feelings would be. His aunt could have acknowledged how painful it can be to see you father remarry and that there is no point in comparing a new wife to one’s mother. A separate conversation (in that or another case) might be how to deal with a difficult step-parent. Then you do have to explain what you find difficult and it isn’t gossip because you are making clear that you are looking for advice and not posing this question to dozens of people to get it off your chest, but asking one or two people you respect so that you can get guidance. I hope that helps clear up my answer.

Al Hoffman says:

Rabbi
BERSHeT 9:
Noah was covered by two sons discreetly when he was found not appareled properly. The tact seen is valuable, as the vocal son had not been as sharp, and his broadcast seems by implication to be more than thoughtlessness.
The event is recorded, so not swept under the rug, and still makes news, so to speak.
The caring matters

Elizabeth K says:

Hi Susan,

Thank you, your answer gave me some clarification because over the past few years I’ve been trying very hard not to practice the sin of gossip, but I have concerns about a family member that at times are confusing to get through without going to another person for guidance. Thanks again!

Susan Lapin says:

James, I am sorry that you didn’t receive empathy from your aunt. She was right in saying that you shouldn’t speak against your father’s wife, but she could have helped you understand that in a more sympathetic way. Maybe she was struggling with her own loss of a sister and your words cut too close to her own thoughts. Or there was something else working in her life. Either way, you were looking for support and guidance and didn’t get it, even if her advice was correct. How we say things is as important as what we say.

James says:

An early death is a tough nut to crack for everybody. But I delivered a glowing compliment to my aunt about her own blood sister, my mother whom nobody could replace. ‘Gossip?” I said about the new wife ONLY that she could not compare with my mother. That is what the ‘holding a candle’ idiom means, Jack Russell. I described my experience some 35 years ago, when I was much-much younger, to support the reply of the Rabbi and Susan, to confirm the hazards of even tangentially stepping into such an emotional minefield. Thanks, Ms. Susan, for your support.

Lisa says:

Very wise advice given. Everyone mentioned in this scenario are fully grown adults responsible for their own actions and will each be accountable for any consequences.

My heart goes out to the siblings, especially trying to protect their mother. Sounds like Rueben trying to protect his mother Leah against his father Jacob favoring Rachel. Did not Rueben lose his firstborn blessing because he interfered?

Susan Lapin says:

Lisa, you are correct that while Reuben did not commit adultery as the surface reading of the Bible suggests, he did interfere in his father’s marital life with tragic consequences for himself of losing first-born status in important ways.

Cheryl Busch says:

Adultery always comes down to forgiveness. What a wife or husband may suspect and continually forgive is much easier than forgiving what they know. God doesn’t need our detective help! He said: Be sure your sins will find you out.” We do well to stay out of the timing of these things—premature knowing can destroy any of us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and just as importantly—financially, in a moment’s time. Prayerful humility (“there but for the GRACE of God go I”) is our only hope of avoiding bitterness and turmoil in our own soul and speaking forgiveness to those who despitefully use us—and our beloved family members.

Susan Lapin says:

What an excellent point, Cheryl. Not sharing information is sometimes (not always) one of the best things one can do.

Jennifer B.Dollinger says:

What about if it was the other way around?…your “child’s” marriage. Sincerely, Jenny

Susan Lapin says:

There isn’t an issue of “honoring a child,” in that case, Jenny, but there is still the question of doing more harm than good. Friends, parents and others need to think very, very, very carefully before intruding on a marriage, and probably should never do so without respected advice.

Camas Ncanywa says:

I have divorced parents and they divorced when I was six years old (I’m 24). I remember the horrid marriage, I only found out from a neighbour’s relative that my parents were married. Honestly, I thought they were not married. Don’t you think that when your marital problems is known by neighbours instead of the children or their secrets are a pin drop away from older adults spilling the beans that the parents are creating a generational curse for the kids’ marriage. My sister and I never had a good relationship with any man.

Susan Lapin says:

Camas, it sounds like your parents handled their situation poorly in regards to giving information to you and your sister. That must have made things much harder on you.

Luda R. says:

Not knowing is a blessing, I think, for all parties involved. We all make mistakes – small and big ones – and having people close to us know about them, sometimes prevents us from correcting them. It’s all in the open, now everyone is against me – I have to be defensive and sort of insist on the “wrong” being “right”, even if deep inside I know that I am wrong… Shame leads to anger, and anger is never a good company.
Personal growth is just that – personal. You can’t rely on others to fix you, definitely not when they are sticking nose in your most personal affairs…

Megan says:

Dear Rabbi Lapin,

This sparked much debate amongst a group of our friends. Is your answers limited to adultery and interference in your parents marriage only ? What is their is life-threatening physical abuse by your father of your mother? Or he has committed some form of other crime that should be reported to the police? Many thanks for your insights.

Susan Lapin says:

This is a huge question, Megan, or perhaps it is many questions. This is one of the many good reasons to have a spiritual advisor you trust.

Lonely Mom says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan, I only wish I would have had this wisdom when my daughter informed me of my husband’s affair. She said she was tired of her father’s behavior toward other women, that I was in denial and she was angry with me for not divorcing him because she had to live in misery. We divorced, he remarried and now she hasn’t spoken to me in years but will not say why. I am suffering for the loss of my husband and the friendship of my daughter not to mention my two sons have accepted her philosophy that I am not worth honoring even though I was a faithful wife and mother for 35 years. I am alone and hurting as I age without my family.
Ancient Jewish Wisdom would have been a great help to me. I do counsel and take my days one at a time and have a very lovely granddaughter who shows me much grace.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Lonely Mom–
Delight in your granddaughter-I am so pleased you have her in your life. The one phrase I hear more often than any other from people with whom I interact in the context of teaching ancient Jewish wisdom is “Where were you when I was making mistakes 20/30/(insert your number) years ago?” It can be painful. May I suggest you explore finding someone who might play the role of mediator between you and your three children? It’s time already to come together.
With hope it happens,
RDL

Janice says:

A few people alluded to this question but I don’t think I have a clear answer. If you can see an affair, or know of abuse in a friend or relative’s marriage, is it “okay” to speak to either of these partners in a loving manner? I’ve had quite a bit of discussion about this and I’m of the opinion your answer is directly/ exclusively speaking to the parent/child relationship but it is being suggest that your principle applies to ALL marriage relationships. Please help me understand. Thank you.

Susan Lapin says:

Janice, you are absolutely correct that we were specifically referring to the child/parent relationship. Maybe we will have an Ask the Rabbi submitted that is more broad.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

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