Dear Bartender and Priestess,
Some years ago, my husband was unfaithful to me with a co-worker. We decided we still loved each other enough to stay together and put this nastiness behind us, and have managed to rebuild our marriage since then.
But. Of course there’s a but. He used to work with this one woman that he’s still friends with. When they worked together they often exchanged conversation during their down times (mornings before work, or during a coffee break), and from what I understand nothing ever came of it. She has taken another job at a different company, but they maintain their friendship. She’ll send him emails asking how he is, or forward jokes to him.
I can’t help but think that he’s connecting with her through his work email to keep this relationship secret from me. Why not just use our home email account? Am I just paranoid, or insecure, or what? This is driving me crazy. If their friendship is just platonic, why try and keep me from knowing about it? Why not just tell me? My guess is he would say he is keeping this friendship from me so I wouldn’t have to endure the knowledge that he’s friends with her. But why all this going behind my back?
–Fretting and Fearful
P: I think there are a lot of questions to be looked at here. Marriage. It’s complicated. I guess the first question I’d want to know is what kind of work did you do to put the “nastiness,” or as we like to call it infidelity behind you? Did you actually do therapy and talk about what happened or did you just pave over it? Because (am I really going to use a paving analogy here?) roads crack if the road bed isn’t solid. (I guess I am.) If you’ve done the work, and somehow I’m not hearing that in your description, then it should be fairly easy to enter into an ongoing conversation.
B: My initial question is: How long do you plan to stay in a relationship with someone you don’t trust?
The unfortunate thing is when a relationship suffers a betrayal, and the parties agree to stay together, it inherently requires that both parties work to move forward in that relationship. Which means leaving the past in the past and facing the future together. Which is, of course, easier said than done. You don’t mention whether you two went to marriage counseling.
It is entirely understandable that you are gun-shy about your husband’s making friends with a woman at work. It’s also understandable that you spend more than a reasonable amount of time thinking…and thinking…and thinking…about his history and how it matches up with his present.
It’s understandable. It’s not acceptable. Note the distinction.
Hmmmm…conducting this through his work email, so you don’t find out about it…
Does that mean you’re snooping his emails? Going through his phone while he’s in the shower, hacking his work email account when he goes out to run errands?
P: I also noticed that you don’t say how you found out about the email relationship he’s having with this former co-worker. You don’t make it sound like it was through a conversation you had with your husband. If you’re snooping, and perhaps not without reason, then you haven’t really put the past behind you. We all need our space in relationship, but when there’s been infidelity, some things, more than others require disclosure so as not to arouse suspicion. He was the one who was unfaithful, he needs to avoid certain behaviors, honoring you, your relationship and your realistic fears.
That said, snooping raises another flag. I would find it difficult to be in a relationship where I was tempted to spend my time keeping tabs on my partner rather than reading or writing the next great American novel… or even playing solitaire on line.
B: Seriously, honey, if that’s the case then you need to settle down. First of all, if you’re compromising his work email, you may place him in a precarious position at his job, since there may be sensitive business information there that is only meant for employee access. And secondly, his cheating on you does not immediately void him of any sort of privacy. He has a right to a personal life that doesn’t include you. Would you like it if he read your diary? Or hacked your email, or scrolled your phone? Of course not, it’s your private stuff, your inner life. You deserve that much, right? Why doesn’t he?
P: But snooping is an awful waste of your time. You deserve a relationship where that’s not necessary. And you deserve to be a person who isn’t constantly suspicious. You’ve got some of your own stuff to deal with — which doesn’t in any way negate his responsibilities!
B: There are three elements in every relationship. There is Partner 1. There is Partner 2. And there is the relationship. Both partners come to the relationship with baggage, and history, and quirks, and humor, that have been formed and are independent of the formation of said partnering. Being in a relationship doesn’t eliminate the boundaries between one person and another; you are still separate, distinct creatures. Your husband, independently of you, can be friendly with other people, particularly ones that he’s had to share a third of his waking life with. That share at least a nominative professional interest.
Then you say, “I can’t help but think…”. So, you assume. You are finding him guilty every day of a past offense, and not even giving him the benefit of explaining himself. Is it because you ARE snooping and don’t want to admit that to him? Regardless of why you’re doing this, the thing is, you’re having entire conversations with him INSIDE YOUR HEAD that he’s not even aware of. Partner 1, Partner 2, the relationship. You’re having your relationship without including Partner 2, which is no relationship at all. If you choose to stay in a relationship, then choose it in all its fully-formed, three-pronged messy glory. Tend to it. Have the difficult talk wherein you lay out your fears and concerns and insecurities. If he’s hiding an innocent friendship from you then believe me, he senses this already.
P: We don’t know what kind of relationship he’s having with her. If he’s on a list of people she emails jokes to, then that’s one thing. If it’s a deeper friendship then that’s another. Responses would be different depending on what they’re doing. People don’t need to be doing the bed mambo to be unfaithful to their vows and relationships. So, I’m never buying the “but we’re not sleeping together.” Sex? It’s sex and it’s complicated. But emotional infidelity? If he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you. And if he’s hiding that he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you and she’s… oh, right we don’t care so much about her.
B: The fact is, your husband has a job which involves him going out into the work force, and unless he works at the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, he’s going to encounter female co-workers. Also, people tend to try and get along with—even befriend!—people they’re in an office with for forty hours + per week. I would worry that he wasn’t making any sort of friendship with female co-workers, because when people work together that’s a normal thing to do.
P: In healthy relationships, you don’t always gauge the people according to whether your spousal unit will like them, but you pay attention, especially when they’re the opposite sex. Generally, it’s good when we say, hey, I know this great woman from work, let’s make a double date and go out with her and her husband, I think we’ll get along. But if that didn’t get suggested when they were working together… you’re not wrong to ask questions. And the oh, I wouldn’t want to hurt you? Um… too late. You are. Lying to me hurts me. And this is lying. Omission, commission, schmomission… Lying!
Because, if you develop a friendship with someone your partner doesn’t particularly want to hang with, you find something in the relationship with this new friend to share with your partner. Share the jokes or progress on the joint project. All of us, if we’re healthy, have friends with people of the opposite sex. Certainly my husband and I do. But we know what’s going on in one another’s lives. We know who the friends are and why we’re hanging out. I don’t want to go to his music meetings. He doesn’t particularly want to go to my ministerial stuff. Both of us have challenging and interesting relationships with other people outside our marriage… and we’re glad to share that with one another. This doesn’t sound like that. Sure, one of us may forget to mention we had lunch with so-and-so, but that’s really different that hiding that we’re talking to someone by private message every single morning.
B: While all that is true, the only behavior you can ultimately control is your own. How do YOU want to handle this? Do you want to confront him about his friendship and explain—calmly, with reason on your side—why you don’t like it? Or do you want to be tense in your guts and hope to that he just figures it out on his own? No matter what you think he might think, he’s not a mind reader, and neither are you. I can hear you right now…but he..! But he..! Yes, but he. I know, right? He did it. He cheated. And years later, he is still being tried daily and found guilty of an offense he committed, by your own admission, years ago. Two? Ten? I don’t know. But you haven’t moved on, since you’re living in his betrayal every day.
Sure, I would most certainly have things to say to him about this, too. But I’m talking to you.
P: So, I want to know are you getting counseling? In a healthy relationship, it’s good when we want more than for our partner not to fool around on us. What do you want from this marriage? Is that realistic with this partner. Because his lying and cheating negates he knows how to build an addition on your house. One you can hire out for… the other, not so much. And if he’s NOT lying and cheating, you’re wasting precious time and narrowing what you are getting for one another.
B: I almost think you have the harder job than he does in the recovery of an affair, because you’re the one whose feelings were trampled on. If you want to function more healthily, you’ve got to learn to let your anger and resentment go, and put your trust in someone who has already violated it once. That’s tough, I get it. But right now, the options before you are A) living with stress-inducing, crazy-making insecurity or B) agreeing to find a way to put this past in the past and truly, as partners, move forward together. Or C) splitting up, if neither A nor B are feasible options. You may want to find a marriage counselor to help guide you through this rocky time. But the sake of your health and your heart, find a way to live in the present, and come to understand the husband you have now, not the one who betrayed you then.
P: I’m just big on people’s being happy and healthy. Sneaking peeks at the relationship is like sneaking chocolate. Sneaking and good health and good relationships are not compatible. (I know. That is so not fun to hear.) If he’s going to have these relationships while being in your marriage, are you willing to accept that and develop other interests? Or are you going to set some firm boundaries about what’s ok and what’s not — for you?
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