Woe Is Me! “I Found Out My Mom Is Cheating on My Dad. What Should I Do?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“My mom and dad have been married for 18 years now. Recently, I saw some suspicious photos on my mom’s phone. When I opened her WhatsApp for something related to my school, I read a text by a man who called my mom his jaan (life) and my mom reciprocated that. I tried forgetting what I saw until it happened again. Her phone had some screenshots of her on a video call with the same guy and he was masturbating in them. I don’t want to bring it up with my mom but I don’t want to tell my dad about it either. But it feels wrong to keep my dad in the dark about it. What should I do?“
— How to unread a message
RN: I’m so, so sorry you had to discover this information the way you did. It must have been extremely jarring, and you don’t deserve this. Parents fighting, cheating, or having a dysfunctional relationship, in general, has a huge impact on people and I’m sure you are no exception. This is why I would urge you to take a moment to think about yourself in this situation. Before trying to fix things with them, ask yourself how this is making you feel and try talking to a therapist or trusted friends about this? At the end of the day, your parents are adults in a relationship, and no matter how good your intentions are it may just be harmful to you to get caught in the crossfire while intervening between them. It can be difficult to accept for you, personally — but something like this has the potential to blow up in your face if you don’t tread carefully. Understand the risks or potential fallout involved if you do choose to get involved. Otherwise, for the near future, the best course of action would perhaps be to stay out of it and look after your own needs. You said that you don’t want to tell your dad and you don’t want to bring it up with your mom — which probably means that deep down, you’re not ready for what that could lead to either. You’re not a bad person for looking out for yourself in this situation, since it does affect you too. Please give it lots of time and patience and act only when you feel like you’re ready. And meanwhile, please try to talk to a therapist about this.
KB: Always keep in mind when it comes to other people’s romantic relationships: you don’t know what you don’t know.
What should you do in this situation? It’s extremely simple: stop snooping on your mom, mind your own business, and keep whatever you think you saw to yourself. You have absolutely no idea what sort of marriage or arrangement your parents really have. Most likely, whatever they show you is a facade they have purposely created for your stability and well-being. But you cannot possibly guess whether they have a horrible, cold, loveless marriage in which your mother has felt emotionally abandoned for years, and she has stayed with your dad only for your sake. Do you really want to blow up her life or a loving relationship she might have had because of some childish notion of what a marriage should look like? Or consider another alternative: that your dad is fully aware of this relationship, and that your parents have a mutual, respectful arrangement where they may both discreetly see other people. Is it your place to publicly out them and possibly embarrass them, or encourage them to change a lifestyle that might be making them both very happy? Hopefully, you agree that is certainly not your place, nor should you want it to be. I can’t see any situation in which any good comes from you inserting yourself into this romantic entanglement. The sooner you stop checking your mom’s phone without her permission, the better.
DR: This is a very, very difficult situation to navigate, and I don’t know what I would’ve done had I been in your place. As an outsider to this though, I feel instead of going to your dad, what if you have a conversation with your mother first to get a better idea of what’s brewing? Just in case you’re wrong about her having an affair — although it doesn’t seem likely from what you’ve described, to be honest — don’t you think it could be more prudent to get a grasp on things before you brief your dad? Also, you confronting your mother might give her a chance to come clean — I’m not saying that’s an opportunity she necessarily deserves to have if she’s indeed been “cheating” on your father, but just putting the idea out there. Here’s another thing to think about: while it does appear that she’s been engaging in romantic ad sexual chats with a man other than her partner by marriage, are you sure it’s “cheating”? Do you think she may have an open relationship with your father? Or is it possible they’re pursuing a separation but didn’t tell you since they want to shield you from its impact until they think you’re ready to deal with it? I can’t comment on the likelihood of either given that I don’t know any of you, but I do think that we often refuse to acknowledge that it’s possible for our parents — even consensually so — to be interested in people other than their “better halves.” In the meantime, I’d suggest you give yourself the time to process everything you saw and, well, take care.
PB: Wow, first off – I’m sorry about the pain and turbulence you must be feeling right now. I hope you’ll find a way to deal with what surely must be immense internal turmoil. My heart goes out to you.
However, your extreme disregard for your mother’s privacy raises my eyebrows till my hairline. Your parents aren’t just your parents, they’re people with private lives and they are most definitely entitled to that privacy. Their relationship is not your dominion, and for the sake of your mental health, it shouldn’t be. If the roles were reversed how livid would you be if your mother went through your private texts? Treat your parents’ private lives the way you’d want them to treat yours.
This isn’t me condoning her actions – adultery is serious, and in a monogamous relationship, a deep betrayal. Now you know: You can either test your mental fortitude and keep what you know to yourself- since it’s none of your business in the first place. Or you can speak to your mother first, and confront her about these revelations. Let’s see how that conversation goes, and what it leads to. Your actions must now speak to what you think is morally correct- respecting your mother’s privacy, or telling your father what the truth is.
If you do want to take action, that’s fine- that is your prerogative. Just be careful and respectful. Your words can either be a lockpick or a hammer.
SS: I am so so so sorry that you’re going through this right now. I think my advice to you is pretty simple: please protect yourself right now. Instead of thinking about whether you should tell your dad, do you want to consider talking to your mom about this privately (or if you feel unsafe having this conversation alone, then in the presence of a family counselor?) Please protect yourself in the situation as far as possible because it’s not going to be easy taking care of yourself in a situation like this – irrespective of what the truth is. Call your friends, fall back on partners (if you have one or any right now), counseling helplines like iCall are available for you to speak to a trained counselor anonymously and address your problems. I encourage you to take this up.
AS: I can’t imagine what you must be going through — like I genuinely cannot fathom how scarring and bizarre it must all be — so I won’t pretend that I’d know what to do if I were in your shoes. Though maybe I could throw some ideas at you, and you can see what sticks? One way is to confront your mom directly. Like just come out and tell her what you’ve seen on her phone, and let her explain. And then from your end clarify that she needs to tell your dad about this, or you will. Another alternative is to do this more indirectly. Maybe when you’re giving the phone back to her, keep these ‘incriminating’ messages open, so she can put two and two together. Once she knows you know, she might bring it up with you herself. Or (this is a lame one, haan) you could use a conversation starter from outside. Talk about a movie or celebrity gossip that deals with infidelity, and take it from there. The more drastic option would be to directly tell your dad. But honestly, I think that might make things even messier since this is better coming from your mom herself — so I might hold on to that as a last resort. All this is with the assumption that you want the truth to come out into the open and are aware that it may lead to serious strains in your family, or separation.