Should I Keep My Husband or My Brother-in-Law?

Reader’s Question

My situation is extremely complicated. A year and a half ago I found out that my husband had been sexually abusing my daughter for many years. He was also a victim of sexual abuse, and he believes that is what led him to abuse her and hide it. We were all devastated by the pain he had caused, but he immediately sought out treatment. As a family we willingly cooperated with child services and the police. He was prosecuted, and he is currently serving time. It was our hope that we could continue to be husband and wife, and work to reunite our family after his rehabilitation and release. I wanted to stay committed to him. However, as I began to work through my own pain it became apparent that I was extremely codependent on him. It has been difficult working through my codependence and determining my true feelings for him. I still love him very much, but there is also such intense resentment.

A few months after the truth came out, my husband’s brother began spending time with me and my two daughters. He was genuinely concerned about us, and we became friends. He helped me through the most difficult time after my husband’s incarceration. He was the only real source of support for me at that point. Eventually our relationship started to become more sexual in nature (he has been divorced for several years). I realized that I had intimate feelings for him. After months of fighting those feelings and struggling with not knowing what to do, I finally gave in to my feelings and allowed him to move in with me. We are now involved in a very intimate (and satisfying) relationship. I confessed all of this to my husband. He is heart-broken, but he still wants me to stay with him. Now I feel that I’ve put myself in a terrible situation. Not only am I still trying to heal from my husband’s betrayal, I am also ashamed of the taboo adulterous relationship I’m having with his brother. I see no future with his brother, but I don’t want to end the relationship. I also know that any future with my husband will be marred by both his crime and my adultery. It feels like a lose/lose situation for me.

Is it possible that my relationship with my husband’s brother is just a “rebound” relationship or worse, another codependency? Am I rationalizing my affair because of what my husband did? Could it be that I’m inventing my feelings for his brother in a sub-conscious attempt to “get back at” my husband? How do I know what the best choice is — to stay with my husband and hope for a better future years from now, or divorce him, stay with his brother, and say “to hell” with the taboo nature of the relationship?

Psychologist’s Reply

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This is extremely complicated — but not for the reasons you describe. Your husband sexually abused your daughter for many years, and the family took the appropriate legal actions. As your question describes, from that point the focus moved to you and away from your daughter who is the true victim. You are now struggling with:

  1. continuing the marriage to a husband that repeatedly sexually abused your daughter,
  2. divorcing your husband while he’s incarcerated,
  3. living with his brother although there’s no future for the relationship, and
  4. figuring out what’s best for You in this picture.

Your judgment is seriously impaired in this situation, and that may be related to a variety of factors. You’ve moved in your brother-in-law as though that has no impact on the children, especially the victim of the sexual abuse. You are also questioning which brother to keep, without any thought about how the situation might further traumatize your daughter or other children. On the surface, it would seem that you have made a sort of recovery — now having a live-in boyfriend and satisfying sexual relationship. These recovery moves have been totally for your benefit and may actually have created emotional issues for your children. Sexual abuse in a family requires a family recovery — not just a parent recovery.

In your recovery and reaction to this extremely painful family event, I feel you’ve lost your way. I worry that as you sort out which man is better for you, the children have become lost in this process. I would recommend family counseling to assist in the family recovery. You’re worried about what society would think about your relationship with the brother-in-law when you should be worried about what your children think about it, their current emotional status, and their future. I would also suggest obtaining mental health treatment/consultation for your daughter, the victim of the sexual abuse. If you remain focused on which man is better for you, she will need to recover from her sexual abuse and emotional trauma without your support — and with the possibility that your judgment and behavior may actually complicate her recovery.

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