I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer, author, and ethical Boyslut (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.
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Dear Sexplain It,
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A few weeks ago, my mom was showing me something on her computer, and she accidentally opened some files I truly wish I could unsee. ANYWAY, she’s cheating on my dad, and she asked me not to tell him because it would ruin their marriage. Now I have to keep this secret from my dad, and it’s eating me alive. It’s easier now that I’m back at college and not around them every day, but still, it’s on my mind every time I talk to my dad, and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it in. What do I do?
— Troubled Son
Dear Troubled Son,
This may seem ironic given my role as a sex and relationship advice columnist, but I actually avoid interfering in others’ relationships unless clear abuse is evident or if I’m directly asked for advice. As for whether you should say something to your dad? Well, your dad hasn’t asked for advice (i.e., asked you if you think your mom is cheating on him). Then, while cheating is often morally wrong, it doesn’t necessarily qualify as your mom being abusive.
Give yourself until Thanksgiving break to see if your discomfort fades over time. I understand that the situation is currently monopolizing your thoughts, especially when you’re on the phone with your dad. However, in many cases, these emotions become easier to manage with time. They might even fade altogether. If you can tolerate the discomfort for now, it might be worthwhile to wait and observe.
If your unease persists, don’t break down and talk to your dad. First, talk to your mom and give her the chance to fess up on her own. Express to her that carrying this secret is causing you distress and that the truth might harm her marriage, but it’s also harming your relationship with your dad. Let her know that you plan to tell your dad about the cheating but that you believe it would be more appropriate for her to disclose the information.
It would be pretty messed up of her to guilt you for your decision, but then again, asking your son to keep the secret in the first place is pretty messed up. In the likely event that she tries to bargain with you, hold your ground and give her a timeline: “I intend to tell Dad a week from today. I hope you’ll address it with him before then, as it would likely be better received if it came from you.”
If you do decide to inform your dad, please know you’re not responsible for whatever negative things happen as a result of the disclosure. Your mother’s actions—both the cheating and the position she put you in—caused the strain. You’re simply taking the necessary steps to maintain a relationship with both of your parents because your mother’s act of infidelity should not ruin the bond you have with your father. As for your relationship with her—maybe therapy can help you figure out how to forge a healthier bond with her going forward.