Married to a Stranger?

Dear Robin:
I have been married for 12 years to a woman I consider my best friend, lover and strongest ally. We have one child, two dogs and a very nice life together. Up until a month ago, I would have told you I am the happiest married man in Seattle, and I think my wife would say the same.

About a month ago, I was shocked to learn that my wife had been lying to me all these years. It turns out she had a child her sophomore year in college 20 years ago and gave her up for adoption. That child who is now a young woman has reached out to my wife and wants to meet. My wife wants to do it.

Knowing that she probably couldn’t get away with starting a relationship with this girl without me finding out, my wife finally sat me down and told me the whole story. I was gobsmacked.

Since getting the news, I cannot get past the feeling that I am married to someone I don’t know. She has been lying to me for years and now I am questioning everything about her. How do I know she isn’t lying about a bunch of other stuff too? Maybe she is having an affair with ten different men – who knows?

In addition, I don’t know how I feel about my wife starting a relationship with her long-lost daughter. How do we tell our son about this? He’s only 8 years old and I don’t think he will understand.

I’d appreciate your advice. I am furious and hurt and honestly, I’m thinking of divorce. I saw a counselor who told me this was an irrational response but I’d like your opinion.

-Shocked in Seattle

Dear Shocked:

First off: nice use of the word “gobsmacked.”  You really don’t hear that one too often.

Next: Oh, dear.

Right now I am putting on my very best filter because my husband told me last night I am too mean in my responses. But seriously, dude,

You may be right that you don’t know your wife as well as you thought, in that she is even more awesome than you described.  Let’s deal with that, first.

I am pro-choice, but I am in awe of those women who carry an unplanned pregnancy to term and give up the child for adoption.  This may be the ultimate act of love and selflessness, and I don’t think I would be strong enough to do it.  Your wife was strong enough, and from the email exchange we had last week I know that the baby was brought up in a very loving home and is now a happy, well-adjusted college student (as least according to what she has told your wife) at Yale, no less.  Yale!

I also know you went to University of Washington, so this probably makes you very jealous.


Your choice of phrasing is interesting, in that you stated she has been “lying” to you for years.  Has she, really?  Do you ask her every few weeks if she ever had a child out of wedlock and gave it up for adoption prior to your courting?  Probably not, so what we have here is the OL or Omission Lie™which can be very bad, harmless or somewhere in the middle.  For example:

VERY BAD OMISSION LIE: Your wife never told you she screwed your boss every time you were up for promotion, and you are now CEO of a large company at which you started in the mail room.

HARMLESS OMISSION LIE: Your wife never told you she shoplifted a pack of smokes once in college and ended up in jail for a few hours.  *ahem*

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OMISSION LIE: Your wife never told you she spent 8 months as a lesbian in college during what she now refers to as her “Experimentation Phase.”  In her defense, she attended Wellesley and majored in Women’s Studies.  It’s practically required that you switch teams for a while.


I’d put this particular OL somewhere in the middle.  I acknowledge that this must have been very difficult for you to hear, and I understand your concerns about how to explain this to your son, as well as other people should that become necessary in the future.  But is this divorce-worthy?  No.  Does it deserve your self-rightous indignation?  No.  Will it pose a challenge going forward?  Yes, but how much of a challenge can be largely determined by your attitude about your wife’s non-disclosure and how you welcome this young woman into your family, if that is what both she and your wife want.

Your emails clearly conveyed a deep and abiding respect and love for your wife and family.  It isn’t fair for you to take all the years of a wonderful relationship and all the things you know and admire about your wife and suddenly make a drastic judgment about her based on this one thing.  You have the right to be hurt that she didn’t tell you, but you should spend some time thinking about why she didn’t.  This was probably the single most painful experience of her life and perhaps she just didn’t want to relive it by sharing it with you.

Whatever the case may be, picture a scale with two sides.  On the one side is all the great stuff, on the other is the Love Child.  There is no way you can reasonably come to the conclusion that this isn’t something you can forgive and move past.  If you can’t, you are lying to me about the state of your marriage and probably looking for a way out.


I know a guy who had decades of living an exemplary life who made an error in judgement and suddenly, it was the popular thing to completely dismiss him and sum up his entire existence thusly: you did this one thing I don’t like, therefore you are a pile of shit who deserves all the bad things and unhappiness that life can possibly visit upon you.

Don’t do that to your wife.  She deserves better and certainly your son does too.  If you are as happy as you say, I think it’s not the lie that is really eating away at you.  It’s something deeper which may be hard to admit and even harder to address with your wife: you are scared and probably feel like your little family unit is being threatened.  For years it was just you and your gal against the world, and then you added your little guy.  It’s just been the three of you, and as I mentioned earlier, you really gush about how happy you are.


I don’t doubt that figuring out if or how your wife’s daughter fits into your family is going to be difficult, but I hope you will really make the effort to support your wife as she takes this very frightening journey.  A piece of her has been missing for 20 years, and she has a chance to get a little of it back.  Let her try, and stop being mad.

Being mad makes you frown, and frowning gives you wrinkles.  Wrinkles need to be treated with Botox, and Botox is expensive.  How can you be spending money on Botox when you need to save it for all the bets you lose on the Ducks v. Huskies game Saturday?



This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Mark Elias

    Shocked in Seattle needs to take off the big girl panties he has put on and put those damn tighty-whities back on instead. He “knows” his wife, despite his protestations, and should do his best to let her daughter become part of her mother’s family, too. Good one today, Robin!

  2. John DesCamp

    I’m in awe. Your advice is so sensible. Why is the guy making it to be all about him instead of all about the woman he supposedly loves? She’s the one on the emotional firing line here. Does he have any idea how deeply a parent (father or mother) would need to bring this kind of situation to a resolution? Man up, boy! Marriage is for grownups (maybe that’s why I’m not in one……….).

  3. echinachea

    I agree with Robin’s response, as well as the counselor’s. While I can understand dismay at not being told before now, exactly what level of disclosure does anyone owe a future partner? Did husband require Proof of Virginity prior to making a commitment? I surely do not claim to know the answer, but do know that this past incident should in no way be interpreted as shameful. We are well past the days of referring to some offspring as “illegitimate.” I only can say from personal experience that surprises like this can turn into Big Life Bonuses. Another child (though almost grown, and a Yalie!) to have in your lives can be a spectacular development, if you put away the judgmental garbage and figure out how to go forward as a family. His wife is fortunate that her daughter wants to meet. Sometimes the opposite is true, which can be heartbreaking for the birth mom. Naturally, there will be some hurt feelings on the part of the wonderful adoptive parents who raised this marvelous kid, so the last thing the wife needs right now is a blaming, shaming spouse. Oh, if only men could get pregnant! These conversations would be a whole different ball game!

  4. Ali Whiting

    The fact that wifey told hubby the truth is an indication of her trust and respect. She is probably hurt that after working up the courage to tell her best friend he reacts by judging her. Fabulous advice DesCamp!! It’s amazing that it’s free!!

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