DEAR CAROLYN: My first husband and I married right out of college. It was not a good decision for either of us, we were not a good match, but there wasn't anything terrible in our marriage, either. We fell into the inertia trap. I had an affair with his cousin and we fell in love. We got a divorce and I remarried. My first husband is a standup guy, he's just not the guy for me. My second husband and I have a strong marriage and three kids. A few years ago, my first husband met a woman who was recently widowed and they got married. Everybody was happy for them, including us. This week, she delivered a stillborn baby at 37 weeks. Everybody is framing it as particularly awful since they both have already been through so much. This is said with a pointed look at me, but not my husband. We were also asked not to send anything or show support during this time, to simply remain silent. My husband's aunt said we should keep our distance and let them grieve without any reminders. Carolyn, our divorce was 13 years ago. I feel like I am going to be blamed forever for the divorce, as if I am the only one who got it. I would very much like to acknowledge this devastating loss, and not being able to is very hard. My husband said we should do nothing and just continue on. But that feels so wrong. What do you suggest?
FALLOUT: I suggest you listen to your husband.
"I am going to be blamed forever for the divorce" is not a full reckoning. This would have been one: "I feel like I am going to be blamed forever for the affair." Right?
If you had asked it that way, then you'd know the answer: Maybe "we" fell into the "inertia trap," but you are the one who cheated. And yes, you cheated with somebody, somebody related to your husband (ugh), but that somebody still wasn't married to your husband. One person broke vows, and that was you.
So you are indeed on an island with your past actions that put your ex "through so much" — which I wouldn't have spelled out for you if your question didn't insist on it, with its "Why only me?" theme. That it was 13 years ago and that both of you have since rebuilt your lives are significant points. It's just that you will never not be, to him, the person who betrayed him.
And so in this absolutely wretched moment of grief for him, the most generous thing you can do is act on his behalf, not yours.
RE: FALLOUT: I don't disagree with your answer, Carolyn, but if the exes have been on good terms, he might feel hurt this person he's known for so long didn't express anything! Maybe a private card from ex to ex, just to say, "I'm so sorry for your loss, for both you and your wife."
ANONYMOUS: Yes, a card is appropriate, arguably even if they weren't on good terms — IF the aunt was meddling vs. relaying a direct message from the ex. Worth asking the aunt to clarify. Thanks for the catch.