Dear Amy: A year after my mother died, I woke up to the sounds of my father and my married aunt (my mother’s sister) having sex in the living room.
I was 17 at the time and had to go to school the next morning. I was panicked that I would run across my aunt when leaving, since she was now in my father’s bedroom down the short hall from my room.
I waited in my room until she left.
I never told any of my siblings or any other family or friends about this.
I did share this with a therapist, who suggested that I needed to tell at least one of my siblings, but I did not want to upset them or be accused of lying.
My father and I did not always have a great relationship as he was emotionally and verbally abusive to me.
All of this happened more than 30 years ago. My father recently died, my aunt died over a year ago.
I thought I had dealt with this and moved on years ago, but I am now feeling the need to share this secret with a sister.
I know this will hurt whoever I share it with, and I don’t want to hurt anyone. Should I continue keeping this to myself?
Dear Secret Keeper: If you feel the need to share this and discuss it, then it is important to carefully pick the person, the place and the moment.
Choose your most sympathetic sister, and tell her, “I’ve been sitting on something for 30 years, and I really need to unburden myself and discuss this with you. I do not want to hurt or upset you – or anyone.”
Understand going in that your motives might be questioned. Needing to release your first-hand knowledge of an incident you’ve been burdened with carrying for 30 years is (in my mind) sufficient motivation, but you might be accused of trying to smear two people who are no longer here to explain or defend themselves.
You also cannot rightfully ask your sister to also keep this a secret.
The best-case scenario is that your sister may help you to understand or put this incident into a workable context. She may already be aware of this – or another similar episode. Discussing your father’s behavior might release you from your own conflicted and negative memories and emotions.
Dear Amy: Reflecting on a question from “Torn,” you have asked for readers to contribute regarding their experiences with “emotional affairs.”
I had an emotional affair seven years ago. It ended when I left the job. We did not have contact for two years, during which I worked hard in therapy and on my marriage to figure out why I did it and what I needed to do to it. I realized that my own life and my marriage’s life needed more experiences that would foster the happiness, connection and excitement that the affair brought. That helped me choose the best path forward.
My career brought me back to this man, and I have been working as a (long-distance) consultant for the last four years.
Our relationship is totally professional and we don’t have any contact outside of work. There were occasional bits of awkwardness in the beginning, but knowing each other so well has made for a solid work relationship.
I think back to how we felt about each other and realized how connected to time and place it was, rather than what I thought was magical compatibility.
Torn needs to cut connection with the affair partner, give herself time to mourn that relationship and get some sort of support or therapy to figure out where her marriage goes from here.
I wouldn’t recommend seeking out a future relationship with this man, but she should trust that there will be a time where she doesn’t feel this way.
Dear Been There: Thank you. One insight here is that emotional affairs often speak to a specific set of criteria in a person’s life, including time and place, and the strength of other relationships. Once these criteria change, the attachment will change.
Dear Amy: “Grateful Aunty” asked how to handle the difficulty of how to greet a transgender niece.
Thank you for responding that she should be natural, normal, use her niece’s name and not ask too many questions.
We are parents to a transgender woman. We are grateful that our family has been great.
Dear Grateful: Awkwardness subsides, and love abides.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.