You’re having a nice coffee date with your wife when her phone chimes with a new text. She reads it, giggles, and starts texting this other person back. You know who it is. It’s him. It’s always him. Your neighbor, that overly friendly guy that you just know is a player. The one who sits a little too close to your wife during those backyard BBQ’s.
He gets his kicks by texting your wife whenever the mood hits him, sending inside jokes and even pictures of himself pretending to hop over the fence into your yard. Yeah, real cute.
But it’s pointless to tell her your concerns. She’ll just say you’re jealous, overreacting or that you just don’t get his sense of humor. He’s “just like that.” So you swallow your anger and hurt. No point having yet another fight about it.
Or maybe it’s like this:
You’re lying next to your husband in bed when his phone chimes with a new text. He looks at it, turns his back to you and starts texting. You know it’s her. It’s always her. That new female co-worker, the one with the train-wreck of a life who’s always asking for your husband’s help, whether it’s to set up her Wi-Fi or fix her kid’s bicycle.
You say, “Really? She’s texting you at 10 o’clock at night? Is that necessary?”
“She’s just having a hard time and has nobody else to talk to,” he says. “She’s just got out of a bad relationship.”
“I’m sure she can find someone else’s shoulder to cry on,” you reply. “It isn’t right. You’re married and she should know better.”
“She likes to talk to me because I’m married. I’m safe. She can talk to me and get a guy’s perspective without worrying about being hit on.”
You bite your tongue. But inside, you’re screaming, “Bullshit!”
You’re also profoundly worried and hurt.
Hurt that your husband is defending this other woman over you. Hurt that he trusts her “innocent intentions” more than your gut feelings. Worried about where things are headed.
Because you’re a smart person. You know how the whole “damsel in distress” game works, and you know this woman is playing it with your husband. And more and more, it seems like she’s winning.
These kinds of scenarios are more common than you may think. I see them all the time in practice: an inappropriate opposite-sex friendship on the part of one spouse begins to drive a wedge between a married couple. Yet instead of prioritizing the marriage and ending the friendship, the married partner defends their friend.
While this is a complex issue and I can’t unpack the whole thing in one article, there is no doubt that some of these “friends” have far guiltier intentions than they let on.
There is what I call a “partner predator.”
This is a person who – married or single – goes to great lengths to seduce another person’s husband or wife. In fact, some research has shown that some people find married people more attractive than singles.
But why? Who knows. Maybe because it’s fun. Because it’s how they get their kicks and pass the time. Because it’s how they add a spark to their own relationship or how they find validation in life. Because, thanks to things like texting and social media, it’s easy and relatively risk-free. There might be any number of reasons why and, unfortunately, they can be very good at what they do.
So what do you do about it?
I’ll tell you what NOT to do. Don’t complain. Don’t warn your spouse that the other person is up to no good. Don’t obsessively check your spouse’s phone or nitpick their texts for evidence that’s crossed the line. Don’t contact the other person to befriend them or ask them to cool it. Don’t allow yourself to be put in the role of the controlling, nagging or insecure spouse while the friend plays the role of the innocent friend who is simply befuddled by your baffling suspicions.
After all, this isn’t about the other person – if it wasn’t them, it would be someone else. This is about you and your spouse. You need to focus on improving that relationship, not tearing the other one apart…if you handle things properly, that third-wheel should fall off on its own.
If this is happening in your marriage, you need to trust your own instincts and stand up for yourself and your marriage. Insist that the friendship ends. What’s your alternative? To let it continue to cause problems in your marriage and drive a wedge between you? To let it become more entrenched until it transitions into a full-scale emotional or sexual affair? If that’s where you think this friendship is headed, then insisting it ends is very reasonable.
In the end, you must always advocate for yourself and the kind of marriage you want to be part of, one where you and your spouse are romantic best friends. One where partner predators will quickly tire of circling and will move on to easier prey.
That may seem impossible right now and you may be afraid to assert yourself in your marriage for fear that your spouse will outright refuse to end the friendship or affair (if it’s at that point); however, failing to address the situation, or continuing to complain about it, is not the solution either. This is one area where inaction is the least desirable action.
You CAN break the spell your partner seems to be under.
Despite the complexity of the situation and how you feel right now, you can prompt a change in your marriage. You can break the spell your partner seems to be under.
Many spouses have decided to handle things smartly – instead of just angrily or emotionally – and they’ve been rewarded with the return of a more devoted and loving partner, and a more committed and mature marriage moving forward.
If you’re tired of the drama, pain and frustration, and if you’re ready to make a real change, I offer plainspoken, practical help that you can access immediately. Thank you for reading.
• Debra Macleod’s Marriage SOS practice now offers immediate online relationship help. See your options.