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Recently I discovered via social media my sister-in-law has been hanging out with a girl my husband had a one-night stand with, prior to our relationship.
I find this to be extremely hurtful because I have created the belief in my head that there’s no way his sister is unaware of the hookup because the girl had to have told her.
How do I get over my feelings without confronting my sister-in-law? I don’t want any riffs in the family. It makes me feel super insecure.
I’m glad you have the clarity of mind to leave your sister-in-law alone. She’s doing nothing wrong and neither is her friend. I believe you’re wise to leave both of them alone and, instead, work on your own insecurities and anxiety. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t talk about this with your husband and seek reassurance.
My first question involves the origin of your insecurity. Are there any lies or betrayals around this previous relationship? In other words, did your husband lie about this one-night stand or his relationship with this woman when you were dating, engaged, or married? If this is someone he’s continued to contact or hold onto, then of course she’s going to feel like a direct threat to your marriage. It’s important for you to know that your husband has completely forsaken his relationship with her and isn’t keeping up with her through this sister-in-law or other means. Even though it was a one-night stand in his single years, it could still be a threat to your marriage if he continues to find ways to keep her on his radar.
If this is the case, then this is your husband’s responsibility to set those boundaries and make amends to you. Additionally, he needs to make sure he does his own personal work to understand why he kept her active in his mind and heart. This isn’t your fault or evidence that you’re not enough. It’s something that requires his own personal accountability and repair.
On the other hand, if he broke off contact with her prior the commencement of your relationship and he was completely transparent about his involvement with her, then there isn’t anything he or she need to do to reduce the threat. They’ve ended the relationship and moved forward in their lives. As you know, all of us need a chance to move on from our mistakes and write a new story. If this is the case in your marriage, then let’s talk about how you can feel more secure with this situation.
I think it’s a good idea to let your husband know that you feel insecure about this part of his story and let him know that this woman is connecting with the family again. This isn’t to blame him or shame him. Make it clear that you aren’t asking him to do anything about this situation by pulling in your sister-in-law or the other woman. Instead, you’re opening up your vulnerability and fear to him so he can offer comfort and support. It also helps you both draw together and become more united.
Hopefully your husband can be understanding and supportive of your need for reassurance. In the popular TV series “This is Us”, one of the lead characters played by Sterling K. Brown, has debilitating anxiety that pulls him into worst-case scenario thinking. His trick for disarming this fear is to begin talking about his worst fears of where things could go. He shares these fears with his wife and then later with his brother, who are both supportive (and even share their own fears). When you share these things with a safe person, it allows you to regulate your body and your emotions so the fear doesn’t grow unchecked. Dr. Sue Johnson has said that naming an emotion begins to calm the emotional center of the brain and that, “naming the emotion begins the process of regulating it and reflecting on it.”[i]
You can tell your husband that you simply need to talk about your fear and have him care about you and the experience you’re having. If he knows that there’s nothing more he needs to do other than to stay with you in your fear, then you can get the comfort you need. Let him know he doesn’t have to explain anything or prove that you’re the one. His stable presence is an effective form of reassurance.
Having his reassurance and presence is the most powerful way to regulate this fear for two reasons. First, it allows you to name it, which, as stated above, begins to calm your brain. Second, his willingness to stay close sends a signal to you that he’s connected to you and isn’t going anywhere. This is more reassuring than a thousand explanations from him that he chose you and not her.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with him verbally reassuring you about your worth and value to him. However, you need to take the risk of opening up your fears and vulnerabilities with him. Don’t make him do all of the work reassuring you while you stay closed and self-protective.
I also believe that this is an opportunity for you to surround yourself with light. Focusing on the sins of others, especially those we love, can invite more darkness to our lives. When Alma the Younger was overcome by the reality of his destructive life choices, he said he was “encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” and wished he could die.[ii] Even though it was appropriate for him personally to feel the weight of his sins and have a change of heart, it was also just as important for him to feel the truth about his Savior and the hope of redemption. Even though these aren’t your sins, the darkness of your husband’s mistakes can still overcome you. Beg your Heavenly Father for this same light and you can experience the same “marvelous light” that flooded Alma the Younger’s battered soul.[iii]
You have lots of options to seek light and reassurance. When you have these in place, you will begin to see this other woman as less of a threat because you have the security you need from your husband that he is faithful to you and the strength from your Savior that you’re safely in his hands.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] Alma 36:17
[iii] Alma 36:20