Secrets, Suspense, and Sister-in-Laws

Dear Lisa,

My husband's sister has been married for years, has 3 adult daughters, has a great sense of humor and I like her a lot.  She recently told me she's been having an affair for over a year and the guy wants her to get a divorce and marry him.  When she confessed all of this to me, it wasn't a total shock cause I had suspected for a while but hadn't said anything to anyone, including my husband.  She begged me not to tell anyone, including my husband, and at the time I agreed not to repeat any of it to anyone but didn't make any promises about him.

What I think I should do is tell her that I can't keep something like this a secret from him any longer, that he's her brother and he loves her no matter what, and that we won't repeat it to anyone else.    I don't think he's ever suspected anything and he still sees her as his "little sister" so it will bother him a lot to find out.  To make matters a bit worse, the reason he got a divorce from his first wife is that she had several blatant affairs and he never had a clue.

I feel guilty keeping this from him and need an objective view of it along with an opinion of the best way to handle it.



You should get the Best Sister-in-Law of the Year Award!  I think it’s ironic when people share secrets and then forbid the listener from sharing it from anyone.  I’m going to guess that you didn’t go banging down her door, begging for secrets!  I think it’s wonderful that you’ve kept your promise and haven’t shared the details of her affair with anyone, but I do think it’s a bit unreasonable for someone to expect a wife to keep this kind of secret from her husband.

Do you remember that law (I think it’s only valid in some states now) stating that husbands and wives can’t be forced to testify against each other?  Even the government recognizes the very intimate bond of marriage.  Trust and communication are two of the most important aspects in relationships, and if your sister-in-law expects you to keep this doozy from your husband, she is asking too much – in my opinion.  However, this kind of behavior isn’t out of character, since she’s used to keeping secrets from her own husband.

We all know what happens when we keep things from our loved ones.  When they find out, they feel quite betrayed.  I don’t believe that you’re betraying your husband, of course, but he will feel as such – especially since the topic of infidelity has already crossed his path once in his life.  The way I look at this situation is that your SIL has started, sustained and aggravated this entire problem by 1) having an affair and 2) getting you involved.

I definitely agree that you should tell your sister-in-law that you need to confess this to your husband.  Word it in a way like, “Jane, I’m having a tough time keeping this from John.  I’m going to have to tell him about what’s going on, because it’s causing a lot of tension in my life.  Please understand that I'm not trying to make things difficult for you, but better for my marriage."

After that, one of two things will happen.  She will either be okay with that (fingers crossed!) or she will plead for you not to tell your husband.  Either way, you should still tell your husband.  I don’t know what the statistics are, but most people who let their secrets slip out want to get caught.  If I had a skeleton in my closet, I wouldn’t mention to my brother-in-law, “Hey, I killed a guy, and he’s in my closet.  Don’t tell anybody, though.”  If she just needed to vent, she should have gone to a therapist or an online advice column (wink, wink).

Her response to your request to tell your husband is pretty irrelevant.  This is her problem alone.  Her reaction to your telling your husband about her own affair is merely a reaction to her own creation.  Hopefully this won’t damage your good relationship with her, but sometimes you have to do what’s right over what makes everyone happy.  Your relationship with your husband is more important and in this case, it’s best to choose him over her.

Best of luck with you and your family!

Feel free to send any questions to:



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