When we talk about affairs, we often categorize them as emotional, physical, or both. That’s helpful to some extent. Yet nowadays, there’s another category that we can loosely call the texting affair.
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An oversimplified scenario goes like this: Your spouse strikes up an opposite-sex friendship with a person at work, spin or yoga class, the gym, or through your child’s school or extra-curricular activities. For some reason, they feel compelled to exchange phone numbers. There’s no real need for this, although your spouse tells you that they need to stay in touch because of work or to coordinate fitness class, the kids activities, etc.
Soon, their innocent texting about work or scheduling begins to escalate into personal, evermore intimate texting. Your spouse starts guarding their cellphone and going into the next room to text. They lock their phone, change their password and delete their text history.
For a while, you bite your tongue.
After all, nobody wants to be “that wife” or “that husband.” You look the other way and pretend not to notice or be bothered. You force yourself to not ask who your spouse is texting and not show how worried or hurt you are. You lay awake and stare at your partner’s phone, wishing you could look through it but not wanting to cross that line.
Finally, you crack.
Choosing your words carefully, you ask your partner who he or she is texting. If you already know who it is, you might tell your partner that you are concerned or feeling second-place. Or perhaps you wait until your partner is in the shower and give in to the urge to scroll through their phone. Either way, you hear or see something that makes your stomach sink.
This is when a spouse may put their own spin on it.
Your spouse may downplay the relationship and shrug off your concerns, saying, “We’re just friends! You have to trust me.” Or your spouse may react with an angry, inflated display of wounded indignation by saying, “Oh, so I’m not allowed to have ANY friends?” They may turn the situation around so that it’s you who finds yourself explaining your behavior. They may make you feel paranoid, jealous, controlling, or pathetic. “You went through my phone! You’re crazy. That’s private!”
Of course there are spouses who are unreasonably jealous and suspicious, and who behave in controlling ways. Of course there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in marriage. Of course some co-workers and friends need to communicate after-hours. Of course there are unhappy marriages that have deeper problems.
But that’s not always the case. Suspicions are often warranted. Your spouse’s anger, defensiveness or indignation may be covers for behavior – or even feelings – that they know are wrong.
A spouse’s explanations may be just excuses.
And all too often, a texting affair steals so much time, energy and emotion from a marriage that a rift forms — or widens — between spouses that otherwise would have worked through their marriage troubles.
Unfortunately, there is no formula to determine when texting crosses the line into betrayal. In fact, those who are behaving in inappropriate ways quickly learn how to blur this line so that they can deflect and continue to do what they’re doing.
In the end, you must learn to trust your gut.
After all, no one knows your marriage or your spouse better than you do. Texting affairs are the gateway to emotional and physical affairs. Of the infidelity cases I’ve dealt with in the past several years, the vast majority started out as “innocent” texting between opposite-sex friends or acquaintances.
You are not over-reacting by insisting that a spouse end a texting relationship that you feel in your heart is undermining your marriage, and you are not over-reacting by treating it as a form of infidelity.
Blocking the other person’s number, keeping communications strictly work-related, being transparent in terms of cell phones and computers (those who have nothing to hide hide nothing), and working together to improve your own marriage are all reasonable requests.
But that doesn’t mean your partner will agree to those requests. In fact, if they’re carrying on one of these texting relationships, you may find they are more protective of it than of the marriage. That’s because texting creates an artificial sense of intimacy between two people.
Texting creates a false sense of intimacy between texters.
Within weeks, they may feel that they have formed a deep bond. Too often what begins as a cautious “hi…was thinking of u” turns into “i miss u” and then “can you meet again tomorrow?”
And when it gets to that point, well, the whole thing becomes a lot harder to “delete.”
In the vast majority of cases that I’ve seen, a spouse who is carrying on an inappropriate relationship via texting will not end that relationship on their own. Rather, it comes down to the other spouse deciding that enough is enough and insisting that things change.
You CAN break the spell that your partner seems to be under.
Despite the complexity of this situation and how you feel right now, you can prompt a change in your marriage and motivate your spouse to put down their phone! Many spouses have decided to handle things smartly – instead of just angrily or emotionally – and have been rewarded with the return of a more devoted and loving partner. In fact, they’ve learned to be a more devoted and loving spouse themselves. The result is a stronger, happier marriage.
If you need some practical help getting there, visit the homepage to see what resources are available to you. This marriage problem is an area that I specialize in, and I’ll do my best to help. Thank you for reading.
• Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. can help you now, not weeks from now. See her Marriage SOS instant-access marriage recovery programs.