Can She Save Marriage?
Q: I'm 32 and married for 10 years. My husband has a close female friend who also is a co-worker. The problem is they are constantly online together and spending extra time before and after work together, though he claims it's just in the parking lot. I've caught him in several lies, and he knows it. I've had phone calls from some of their co-workers who have told me that they've been having an affair. He denies it. Each time we have gotten together, she exposes herself or says how much she and my husband are in tune. I have tried several times to put this out of my mind but things just don't add up. His behavior REALLY bothers me. We have separated because of this three times already. He blames me for being closed minded and insecure. I went to counseling thinking it's me. Then we went to one session of marriage counseling, but he wouldn't continue. I've asked him to stop, even cut back... but no such luck. What can I do to 'help' him come clean? What makes him want to be with a 'friend' more than his family? I would hate to 'throw' away a 10 year marriage. -- Jennifer
Dr. Susan: While it takes two to tango, it takes three to make a very big tangle. I wish I could agree with you that this "doesn't add up." It adds up very neatly: your husband is cheating on you, lying to you, devaluing you, and generally making your life miserable -- and he's getting away with it. I totally do agree that it's a shame to toss this marriage out the window, but unless he's willing to open up about his shenanigans and stop living a lie, he's flushing you and the marriage down the toilet -- again and again. Ouch.
You ask why he'd rather be with a so-called "friend" than with you. Because secrets are sexy. Because she's a novelty and you're just... family. Because he hasn't the guts to work through whatever problems the two of you have and he'd rather take the lazy, immature way out and have "fun" in and out of the office. That's the biology of affairs. Some people wise up before it's too late -- often by means of a swift kick to the head by someone who really loves them (figuratively speaking!) -- but some never do.
So what can you do? Taking him back after three separations is pushing the limit. Now it's time to advise him that he has to make a decision: either he joins you in counseling, or at least admits his behavior has been wrong and hurtful to you. Then he stops ALL the lying and stops communicating with this woman beyond the absolute minimum necessary at work. Then he begins paying attention to your feelings.
If he won't agree to do that, you have two choices. Either accept a half-husband and find a way to tolerate that, whatever it takes. Some women decide to do this if they have kids, at least for a few more years, though I'm not necessarily recommending it. Living a lie can have unexpected consequences. Or call it quits and get on with your life. Either way, you have a tough road ahead of you. And remember: his affair is not your fault.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.