You’ve been looking forward to it all week – crashing on the couch with your husband and binge-watching the new show on Netflix. You set out a big bowl of popcorn, snuggle up next to him and then – bing! – his phone goes off. He grabs it quickly (it’s never more than an arm’s length away), faces the screen away from you and texts “her” back.
How do you know it’s her? Because it’s always her.
“You just saw her at the office,” you complain. “Why does she need to be texting you right now?”
“It’s just a work thing,” he says, although the smile on his face isn’t very reassuring.
As the show’s opening credits come and go, you and your husband don’t notice. You’re too busy having the same argument you’ve had every night this week.
Why do you have to text her so much? I’m not comfortable with it.
We have to text for work. Stop over-reacting. We’re just friends.
…or something along those lines.
From bad to worse…
Recently, I had a client who consulted me after marriage counseling hadn’t managed to improve a situation like this. Despite her hope that the counselor would help her husband understand how his behavior was hurting his wife, marriage and family, she was nonetheless frustrated at how her husband “spun” the situation to the counselor.
He downplayed the relationship and frequency of texts, and instead said that his wife was “bored” at home with the kids and was letting her insecurities get the better of her. He also said that she “didn’t understand” the relationship he had with his co-worker and that they were “just friends.” By the end of the counseling session, this wife felt that her behavior – not her husband’s – was being challenged.
Of course, both spouses in a marriage need to look at their behavior; however, that doesn’t mean that one person’s behavior isn’t more problematic and in this case, it was the husband’s – particularly as he was now in the habit of locking his phone, deleting text-messages from the co-worker and lying about meeting her after-hours on several occasions.
From “texting” to “affair.”
And that’s how it often escalates – from texting to an affair in record time. That’s because texting creates an artificial sense of intimacy between people. They can say things to each other, flirtatious things, that they’d never say in person. On top of that, co-workers already have a sort of shared life that is separate from the one they have with their spouses.
Not that long ago, I was interviewed by FOX to discuss the findings of a survey I took in my practice. I recorded where 300 clients said their spouse had met their affair partner, and then I listed the top six places.
Most affairs start in the workplace.
The workplace was number one. (In case you’re wondering, that was followed by the gym, social media, a social circle, a volunteering gig and church.)
It’s not rocket science to understand this: after all, we spend most of our time at work. We spend most of our best waking moments there, in fact. We tend to look the best, act the best and be the most engaging when we’re at work. We have the most energy to be witty and flirtatious. So that’s the “picture perfect” image co-workers have of each other, and it’s the one they have in mind when they text each other after-hours.
So – if your husband is texting a female co-worker and you’re worried that it’s becoming a real problem in your marriage, what should you do about it?
Men can be protective of and even prioritize these “friendships.”
Well, you can do what most women do: complain, threaten, cry, explain….repeat. But as you’ve probably already discovered, it won’t get you anywhere. Men (and women) who have these friendships are often very protective of them and resistant to end them. They may say and do just about anything to continue with them, sometimes even prioritizing them over the marriage.
If it comes to that point, I highly suggest that you reach out for help. Real help. You will find an abundance of piecemeal free advice online; however, there is no substitute for structured, comprehensive help.
You CAN break the spell your partner seems to be under.
You can delete this friendship from your marriage and come out more committed to each other than ever. You may just need to tackle things from a different angle. Yet that’s often easier said than done.
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.