The big question you have to ask is, what do you hope to achieve by telling them? There are other people you can talk to, says Annalisa Barbieri
After a long marriage, my husband passed away suddenly some time ago. What my children dont know is that, when they were growing up, a crisis occurred in our marriage following his disclosure that he was in a long-distance relationship with a woman he had met at a conference. This led to a long, difficult period in our lives as he could not make a decision to leave either relationship, saying that he cared for and loved two women and felt he needed both in his life. I could not extricate myself from the situation because I still loved my husband and feared the consequences for our children. A resolution came about some years later when the other relationship came to an end; after that, my husband and I worked on rebuilding things.
Recently, I came across a diary I had written during a particularly painful year, together with some letters from my husband. Reading these opened old wounds, which I am now having to deal with. My dilemma is, should I be open with my now-adult children and tell them about our marital crisis, or protect them, and their feelings for their late father, by destroying the diary and letters and taking my secret to the grave?
Im sorry your husband died. Although you asked me not to say when exactly, it was relatively recently and it wasnt expected, so it must have been a shock. Grief is a huge emotion which can present us with many layers to work through. And sometimes those layers reveal feelings we didnt expect not all of which can be benign.
The big question you have to ask yourself is: what do you hope to achieve by telling your children? When the first of two parents dies, unless that parent was really disliked, they can become a little beatified. One of my friends said, The parent who dies first has the PR all sorted and its true. Plus, the parent left behind has to deal not only with their own grief, but often everyone elses, too. Its a hard job. I wonder if reading the diaries tapped into how alone you felt back then, and how alone you feel now, and by bringing your children into it you hope that feeling may lessen? Maybe you also feel angry and want to show your children what you had to put up with, or how their father wasnt perfect?
Although I was pretty sure what you should do, I consulted Chris Mills, an experienced psychotherapist in matters relating to relationships. My feeling, Mills said, is that what happened between you and your husband isnt any of your childrens business, and if you are making it their business, you have to ask yourself why. Mills also recommended that you dont leave your diaries or letters for your children to find either now or at some point in the future.
What you did to rebuild your life after your husbands infidelity and to have kept it secret must have taken courage and enormous emotional resources. But you did it, and I dont want you to sabotage all your hard work. If you tell your children, you risk considerable negative feelings towards yourself, simply because you may shatter their idea of their father. Thats hard to take at any time, but when they cant ask him his side, it will be especially upsetting and disorienting for them. Mills suggested it would be incredibly divisive to tell your children. The caveat to this, Mills said, is if your children ever ask directly. Then he thinks you should tell them. If theyre asking, then you are telling them for them, not for you. A question I often ask myself, especially where children are concerned, is: whose agenda is this? Mine or theirs?
It sounds as if youve never discussed the affair with anyone before, so no wonder you are now left with these painful feelings that need dealing with. You dont have to take your secret to the grave, Mills said. You can talk about it with someone, just not your children.
When difficult things happen, Mills explained, we can get overwhelmed. We need someone who can introduce thought and reason. Is there someone you trust who could help? If not, you may consider talking to a professional. You would probably benefit from some bereavement counselling (cruse.org.uk) and you wouldnt be the first person to divulge such things in grief counselling.
Send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
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