How to handle a cheating in-law?
November 15, 2011 6:17 PM   Subscribe

My MIL is having an affair, is not being smart about it and I don't know how to be around her now.

I recently found out that my mother-in-law is possibly having an affair with a co-worker, and is at the very least sending graphic photos of herself to several different email addresses. The email addresses look to be throwaway yahoo addresses, but she is sending the images from her main email address, which is FirstName.LastName. Her last name is somewhat unique and I'm concerned about these random guys finding out more information about her.

Of course my other concern is my FIL. (I did tell my spouse what I discovered and so far he/she has not wanted to discuss it further, which I understand.) My in-laws have been in couples counseling for at least six months but my FIL had to fight to get my MIL to go, and now I understand why she was hesitant. She admitted to me last year that she was unhappy and wanting out of the marriage, but when they started counseling she told me things were better.

Is there any way I can at least suggest she be more careful with these photos and her email address, without letting her know I know, or how I know? (Admittedly unsatisfactory explanation - I do some IT work for them from time to time and I was logged into her email account without her knowledge. Believe me I've beaten myself up for this plenty, not to mention that I can't unsee what I've seen.) I feel badly that my MIL is so unhappy in her marriage but she is making some poor decisions that I'm afraid could come back to hurt her. Not to mention what she is doing to my FIL. We will see them over the holidays and I will act as though everything is normal but I feel differently about her now.

So I guess I'm not 100% sure what I'm asking, other than how can I deal with this in the most constructive way. I know what I did was wrong so please, no judgements on that. I just need to get this out there and get some feedback, especially since my spouse doesn't want to talk about it and I won't tell anyone else. Advise from anyone who has gone through something similar would be great.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total)
While it will be difficult to pretend that you haven't seen it, and since your spouse does not wish to discuss it further, it seems to make the most sense to simply drop this subject. And put on a party face for the holidays, for the sake of your own spouse and his/her family.
posted by infini at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

I think you should just ignore it, because it is really none of your business (I mean this kindly). I understand that it is very disconcerting for you, but you may need to let this one go.
posted by 200burritos at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

Do you really know she's cheating? Is it not possible that they have an open marriage, or at least a marriage that's tolerant of emailing risque photos to others? Some people might get a relatively safe thrill out of the sheer online communication even with no plans to have in-person extramarital rendez-vous. Seems like there are many enormous pitfalls for you getting involved with your in-laws' marriage, especially given the way you found out, and it's not even clear that you know the true nature of what she's doing.
posted by John Cohen at 6:26 PM on November 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

I had a similar problem: one relative (#1) told me that another relative (#2) had wanted to leave their SO and spend their life with a co-worker, and that #2 was rebuffed. I was angry at #1 for telling me about #2's attempt; I was also uncomfortable seeing #2, knowing that I shouldn't bring it up. So, I just kept it to myself, and mostly forgot about it. Fifteen years later, it's like a hazy dream from the past whenever I think about it... #2 stayed with their SO, and they seem as happy as they ever were. My relationship with #2 is strong as ever. (My relationship with #1, however, has dwindled to nothing.)

It's not your job to DO anything, no matter how awful the implications of doing or not-doing anything may seem now. Things will progress between them as they should, most likely.
posted by not_on_display at 6:31 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

What you should do is let it go. Absolutely nothing good will come of you getting involved with this. It's hard to watch loved ones make stupid mistakes, but it's very often worse to put yourself in the middle of them.
posted by sonika at 6:34 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Is there any way I can at least suggest she be more careful with these photos and her email address, without letting her know I know, or how I know?

Oh man. If I were you and I really felt she truly had no idea that these photos could end up really coming back to bite her, I would probably do the following: have a long chatty conversation with her that involved me kind of rambling at length on a few random topics in the news. And I would make one of those topics be "revenge porn" websites where people send in naked photos of exes along with screenshots of their FB profiles. And I'd probably babble on for a while about a lot of those, and instances in the news where people have been fired for their naked photos being sent to their job. And then I'd meander over to another topic.

Also -- is there any possibility that she's suffering from mania right now?
posted by cairdeas at 6:39 PM on November 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Oh my god I wouldn't even touch this with any sort of pole. The second you get anywhere near it, it will blow up in your face. I can not imagine the sort of conversation cairdeas suggests going well.
posted by kavasa at 6:49 PM on November 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

Send her an anonymous email, warning of the dangers of being cavalier with online photos. Tell her you are a concerned stranger, who discovered her photo and her real identity, and that you will never contact her again but that she should get her house in order. Use cairdeas' link.
posted by hamandcheese at 7:20 PM on November 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Although I like cairdeas idea...

It's none of your business. It's not about you. It's not about your spouse. You shouldn't have been snooping in emails that were none of your business, whether you had access from an IT standpoint or not.

Again... it's none of your business. Drop it.
posted by matty at 7:39 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't emphasize enough how much I agree with the posters who say let your partner be your guide in reacting to your in-laws. No good will come of you getting involved. Please leave this alone.
posted by slmorri at 7:40 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would not get involved with this any way whatsoever. She is an adult, she is not your parent, and I truly think getting in the middle in any way will not help matters. (At the very least be aware that the second you start talking about revenge porn sites, she's going to know that you know, which is going to open up an entirely different can of worms -- and if she's not perceptive enough to pick up on why you'd be bringing it up, she's probably not going to stop doing it anyway.)
posted by sm1tten at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

She's an adult. She knows this is wrong. And no, there's no good way to tell her to be careful about what she's doing without admitting that you know what she's doing. (Do not send her an anonymous email; that's creepy as hell.)

This is your MIL and your wife's mom -- not your mom. You have to take your cues from her in terms of how she wants to handle this.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:36 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

It is tempting, but resist the urge to get involved any more than you already are.. This is a matter for your SO's family and you have done as much as you can do.

Let your spouse, FIL & MIL sort it out at this point.

Let it go.
posted by lampshade at 8:39 PM on November 15, 2011

Your intentions are good. But really, this is none of your business and not your problem, and getting involved will only cause everybody (especially you and your spouse) awkwardness and pain.

Your MIL is a big girl, and is entitled to take whatever risks she wants, and deal with her own life and relationships in any matter she she fit.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:49 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a very google able name? Or maybe an ungoogleable one? You could bring up the topic of how hard it is to find Joe Smith but how easy unique names are to attach to the lives behind them.
posted by nat at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2011

While this is a pretty lousy bit of information for you to have, you might want to consider a larger question.

Why do you know this?

Who's stuff have you been snooping in?

The naked pictures of your MIL are probably punishment enough, but were it me, I would figure I should have left well enough alone.

There is no way this is going to turn out good for you. Please don't think you are going to come in and solve something.

The only thing that is going to happen here is you making it worse.

Much worse.
posted by timsteil at 9:13 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're acting under the presumption that you came by the information honestly, but you did not, and that effects strongly what's happened since.

You say you feel differently about your MIL - but you do not have a right to! You are judging her based on very very private information you did not come across by coincidence (which would make this different) but by actively looking for the information.

Recognizing that your MIL expressly does not mean for you or anyone else to have this information, and affirming to yourself that couples have a right to work out their issues... this marriage is very much on the rocks already. That's HUGE. Your MIL is already out the door. Please let her take the last step on her own.

You paint the picture of someone who is really struggling vs. someone that is a serial philanderer and has been so their entire marriage. You don't know what goes on in your in-laws' private therapy sessions. Your FIL may already know about this.

This is not your information to divulge. Really.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 PM on November 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Lalalalalalala. For your own good and that of your spouse, you never saw anything. I realize you're disturbed about this and worried about her, but she's a grown woman. She will have to handle this, and any consequences, on her own.

Do you think she wanted you to discover any of these things when you were working on her computer system, wanted to be caught, somehow? Too bad. If that were the case, it was an unfair burden to place on you, as it would have been unfair had her child been somehow the recipient of this unwelcome information. If she and your father-in-law were already having trouble, chances are that he already knows something's up, even if he's not clear on the details. Do not get involved. This is not your business.
posted by tully_monster at 10:01 PM on November 15, 2011


I'm not kidding when I say that I've spent most of this evening practicing the fiddle parts to Hank Williams' song "Mind Your Own Business".

And here it is! Seriously. This is none of your business and it will Not End Well if you get involved. There IS NO POLE long enough to touch this with.
posted by eleyna at 10:40 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh no. I'm sorry. This is a stressful in-law scenario...don't ask me how I know.

Your SO needs to actively guide you on this. I would put it before them again and leave it up to them to decide. If their decision is to ignore it, so be it. It's not fair for you to carry this burden all alone.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:58 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely, categorically, do not touch this in any way.

IF you involve yourself, your FIL may consider you implicit, your MIL may hate you for the rest of your marriage to your SO, and so on, and so forth. The fallout alone will rock your SO's relationship with his family -- be their support system right now.

Send prayers/good thoughts/whatever to all people involved, and then do whatever you can to let it go.

I am so sorry you've been put in this position, that your MIL is that unhappy, and that your FIL doesn't know. Your SO has the right idea.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:01 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not touch the third rail! You are running to hug a marital time bomb.

Note to humanity in general: do not ever install Picasa on relative's computer with hard drive image scanning enabled. DO NOT WANT.
posted by benzenedream at 12:45 AM on November 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

No. No. Nononononononono. No!

Back away. You didn't see anything. You're not involved with anything. What good could you possibly do by nosing into this situation?

Do not involve yourself at all.
posted by billybunny at 7:15 AM on November 16, 2011

Is there any way I can at least suggest she be more careful with these photos and her email address, without letting her know I know, or how I know?

I didn't see anyone other than cairdeas answer the question, and that way would make me incredibly uncomfortable, so here is my thought. You could create an anonymous throwaway email account, from gmail or yahoo or whoever, maybe even using an anonymiser service like Then you can send an email to the account she is sending from with your warning. Then burn the anonymous account.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:43 AM on November 16, 2011

So we'll use a counterfactual here.

The ONLY remotely plausible, and I do mean remotely, approach would be to send anon email telling her not to use firstname.lastname for this business.

IF your MIL were tech-savvy and got such an anon email, she would think, "crap! Some good Samaritan got these forwards and is trying to (nosily) help me out. Let me change the email I use ASAP. Passion must have gotten the better of me."

BUT if your MIL were even remotely tech-savvy, she would never in a million years used firstname.lastname. So anon email will not reach her in any constructive way.

Don't send anon email. And don't even CONSIDER any other option. Sadly, this is the price we pay for snooping. I've been there, too, albeit not this dramatically--most people have. Leave it be.
posted by skbw at 7:44 AM on November 16, 2011

Well, actually, no. Putting myself in your MIL's shoes, if I got such an email, I wouldn't think good Samaritan--I would think it's a friend/relative/IRL contact trying to warn me anonymously. So much worse.

A non-tech-savvy person would just think it's a stalker, or spam, or Big Brother--scary but not necessarily behavior-changing.

Don't do it. I understand the temptation. But don't.
posted by skbw at 7:57 AM on November 16, 2011

You might as well send an anon email, although I still think that your SO should be the one to decide.

So what if she thinks it's creepy or upsetting? Her behavior is creepy and upsetting, she just doesn't realize it yet. Sure, there's the small possibility that she has permission to do this, but I doubt it. The sooner she stops this risky behavior, the better for her, her husband, and your SO.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:08 AM on November 16, 2011

Go easy on your partner---I'm sure if he/she wants to know more about it they will ask you. Don't corner them with horrible, saddening, worldview-altering news about their parents. Don't hand a time bomb to your loved one.

Good luck---I hope for you and your family that the shit doesn't hit the fan.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:47 AM on November 16, 2011

I don't know, maybe give her a warning about internet security: not using weak passwords; setting up throwaway email addresses for purposes where you don't want your real name out there? You can take the position that you would warn any IT client if you had indications they were sloppy about such things. (And she is sloppy, clearly.) I would totally clear even that with with my partner first. And also, I wouldn't admit to knowing anything about any sexual activity of hers. When it comes to helping people hide their peccadilloes, all that stuff about no good deed going unpunished is too often true.
posted by BibiRose at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If anyone was going to say anything, it should be your spouse. It's his/her mother. You told your spouse, it's out of your hands.
posted by desjardins at 1:32 PM on November 16, 2011

Along those lines: I would be LIVID if my husband talked to my parents about that kind of thing and I would find it very hard to trust him again. Your spouse has to be 110% on board, and if they're that supportive of telling mom, why wouldn't they just do it themselves?
posted by desjardins at 1:34 PM on November 16, 2011

From the OP:
Thanks to everyone for their replies. I have a somewhat close relationship with my MIL and my spouse would understand if I wanted to pursue the matter (with the spouse's approval first), but I know that everyone is right that I should leave well enough alone. She is not tech-savvy AT ALL, hence the main concern of her sending these images from her FirstName.LastName email address, but other than an anon email there doesn't seem to be anything I can do at this point. I just feel badly for both my in-laws at this point and hate to see what is happening here. Fortunately my spouse is very understandable and is not upset with me for how I found out or for telling him/her about it. But I will take his/her (ugh these damn pronouns) lead and will not pursue it further.
posted by jessamyn at 10:03 AM on November 17, 2011

My MIL cheated on my FIL several times since I have dated and been married to my husband. Apparently, this is a pattern that had happened way before me and will probably never have an ending. To be honest, the only way I have been able to deal with it is to remove myself from being alone with her often because then she tries to talk to me about her "friends". The only thing you can do... is mind your own buisness. If the tables were turned, I'm sure you would expect her to mind her own also.
posted by AbsolutelyHonest at 11:47 AM on August 15, 2012

« Older Less work, more play   |   What does Market 8 represent- a region, a number... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.