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No, They May Not Be “Just Friends.” It May Be an Affair (or Getting There).

So, I’m just wondering… whatever happened to trusting one’s own gut? Is it unfashionable to do so? Politically incorrect? Fattening? There must be a reason that so many people have stopped doing it, especially when it comes to their own relationships.

As a marital mediator who works with spouses trying to overcome infidelity and broken trust, I hear this kind of thing all the time:

“My husband is constantly texting a female co-worker. He says they’re just friends, but he guards his phone like it carries state secrets and leaves the room to text her. When I tell him it bothers me, he says I’m controlling and accuses me of not wanting him to have any friends. Now he’s locked his phone and won’t give me the password. He says I’m paranoid and it’s my problem. We argue about it every day.”

Or this:

“My wife has struck up a friendship with a man from her gym. They’re constantly texting back and forth and sending workout pictures of themselves. She says I’m insecure and they’re just friends, but yet she instantly deletes her text message history after they’ve texted. If I ask to read their texts, she says that I don’t respect her privacy.”

There comes a point when a spouse’s behavior is clearly inappropriate

Look, I strive to be unbiased, but there comes a point when behavior becomes not just suspicious, but also disrespectful to the marriage. And the dialogues above would seem to fit onto that shelf.

Yet you might be surprised how many people don’t — or won’t — trust their gut and accept the possibility that their spouse and their texting buddy may be more than “just friends.” No, it may not be a full scale emotional or physical affair, but it may indeed have passed the point of an innocent friendship.

Then again, maybe it isn’t about trusting one’s gut. Maybe it’s about not wanting to face it and deal with the conflict. Maybe it’s about falling for the manipulations that some committed people will use so that they can continue to indulge in the problematic friendship.

Many “friendships” are sustained because of a simmering attraction between two people

The truth is, many opposite-sex friendships are sustained because of a simmering attraction between two people. If circumstances were different, if they were both single, they might be a decent match. And here’s the thing – they know it. This underlying current of attraction makes talking, texting and spending time together as “just friends” all the more exciting.

Of course, it’s only a matter of time until a person’s spouse begins to notice this increasingly intimate friendship and get worried. They may ask “Who are you texting?” or “Why are you texting so-and-so all the time?” or they may say, “It bothers me that you’re texting him/her all the time.”

And that’s when it often starts. The defensiveness, downplaying and deflections. The insults and indignation. Too often, a committed person who knows that an extramarital friendship is inappropriate will deny, deny, deny that it is. Instead of respecting their partner’s feelings and addressing their concerns, instead of quickly and clearly putting their primary relationship first, they’ll do everything they can to ensure their “friendship” continues.

Unfortunately, this often involves turning the tables so that their partner’s behavior looks problematic, not their own. To do this, they may employ any number of “drop it” tactics.

Have you seen any of these “drop it” tactics?

To get their worried spouse to “drop it,” a partner may act like their human rights are being violated when asked to limit or end the opposite-sex “friendship” in question.

They might say, “It isn’t fair! I didn’t do anything wrong!” Or they’ll put on a show of feigned bafflement: “Why are you worried about this? I’m married to you, what does it matter what she/he texts me?

They’ll dismiss their partner’s concerns: “There’s nothing going on, it’s all in your head. You’re paranoid.” Or they’ll come up with all kinds of rationalizations and excuses: “So-and-so sends flirtatious texts to everybody, that’s just the way she/he is. I can’t control what she/ he sends me.”

Another “drop-it” tactic is to basically shame their partner into silence. We all know how public shaming is used nowadays: it allows the shamer to assume a position of moral superiority and simultaneously bully or embarrass another person into withdrawing, usually via a combination of name-calling, humiliation and distortion.

Well, this happens in intimate relationships, too. “You should see someone about how controlling and jealous you are. You’re turning into the typical insecure wife/husband.”

Ouch, right? Right. That’s why this tactic works. Nobody wants to be “that wife” or “that husband.”

Might it just be an innocent friendship?

Now all of this begs the question: might it just be an innocent friendship?  Might the suspicious partner in fact be jealous and controlling? Sure, it’s definitely possible. That’s why I always encourage my clients to start by self-checking their own behavior.

Are you the problem? Is your partner so sick of your suspicions or accusations that they’re finally taking a stand and locking their phone? Because that happens. There are definitely platonic friendships that are innocent, healthy, and perfectly respectful to the marriage. Most of us have these kinds of friendships with another man or woman.

Yet in my line of work, it isn’t unusual to see spouses who harbor legitimate feelings of suspicion, sadness and worry with regard to their spouse’s opposite-sex friend, but who nonetheless bite their tongue instead of voicing those suspicions. That’s because those “drop it” tactics work so well.

Nonetheless, depending on what is going on in your particular situation, you may need to be “that wife” or “that husband.” You may need to put less stock into what someone else is telling you — “We’re just friends!” — and more stock into what your gut is telling you. “Something isn’t right here.”

Many affairs begin as opposite-sex friendships

Any professional who works with couples will tell you that the majority of affairs begin as opposite-sex friendships, especially of the type enabled by personal technology such as texting and social media. These can create a false sense of intimacy that can fast-track a friendship into something more.

If your partner says, “We’re just friends” but guards or locks their phone, deletes their text history, goes into another room to text, and/or receives flirtatious or excessive texts from a friend whom you suspect of being more, you may have cause for concern. If your partner dismisses your concerns or disregards the impact the extramarital friendship is having on your relationship, then it’s safe to say there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

Marriage SOS™ delivers effective, no-nonsense resources that can help you do that, starting now.

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Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage author-expert whose plainspoken style and proven resources have empowered millions worldwide to save their marriage.