Question: Up until recently I considered myself a happily married woman. I think most or all of our family and friends consider us an ideal couple. So, what is the problem? My husband’s “work spouse” and the increasingly close relationship they are developing.
For over a year now, I have heard many stories about how well his colleague handles the job, the most difficult clients and that she has been a great support and confidant. According to my husband, she manages to be efficient and tough when necessary, but is a warm and caring friend to everyone, especially him. They go out for lunch frequently, text each other a lot outside of work (business issues he says) and now have discussed running together every morning because she worries about safety and he also runs every day.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my gut tells me this has grown into something more than what he is telling me. He is sharing personal issues with her, seeking out her guidance and spending more and more time with her during and after work. I feel a closeness between them that is replacing the “us” in our marriage.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and, if you agree, any suggestions you may have for how I can address my concerns with him. – Not the Last to Know
Dear Not the Last to Know,
It’s clear from your letter that your spouse and his co-worker have more than just an office relationship. Along with relying on her counsel and support for work related matters, he is confiding in her and seeking her advice in very personal issues as well. This is one marker of a boundary being crossed. In addition, there is a lot of texting and emailing outside of work, frequent lunches and now a plan to combine their daily exercise routines. You are certainly not imagining that the relationship has grown closer.
It’s important to note that it’s not completely uncommon for office mates to share personal information and become friends outside of work. This happens quite a lot. The danger is that your spouse and this woman are both heterosexual and have made themselves increasingly available to one another both at work and outside of it. This is how relationships progress into something more, even though what that more is has not yet been determined.
Keep boundaries in check
There are people who can be very close friends with attractive members of the opposite sex and not have it develop into something more intimate. If this were the situation here, it’s unlikely you would feel this concerned or tentative about exploring this upfront with him unless you have a history of jealousy or insecurity in your relationship. If a relationship is crossing an important boundary, it’s not always just about sex. There are really two kinds of affairs that people can have — emotional and sexual. Both pose a danger to your marriage, if your husband is connecting to her on either of these levels you have reason to worry.
Begin assessing what is going on here by taking an honest inventory of your marital connection. Do you relate strongly as friends and lovers and both support and challenge each other to be the best you can be? If there is something missing in one of these connections, it can leave a space that another woman could move in to fill. Affairs are never really about the other man or woman. They are about what is missing in the couple’s relationship.
If you have a good marital connection, you are coming from a position of strength. It will be easier to sit down and have a very candid discussion with your spouse about your feelings and your desire to see him set some boundaries with his co-worker.
Pinpoint problem areas
If the answer is no, it is a good time to talk to him about your relationship and to begin paying close attention to how you two relate and connect with each other on a daily basis. Once you can pinpoint any problem areas around communication, friendship or intimacy, tell him you want to work on these with him and suggest marital counseling. If he is resistant, make an appointment to go yourself.
You will need help with how to work on this together or support to begin working on it alone. Either way, don’t ignore your instincts and hope it will all just resolve itself. Take action now before his bond with this other woman grows stronger.
Toni Coleman, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist. She is a well-known relationship expert and author, working with many publications, television and radio programs. Follow her on Twitter @CoachToni and FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman. Toni writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com.