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I think my husband is attracted to a friend and I’m at breaking point

Ask Roe: How can I confront him without appearing like a nagging wife?

Dear Roe,

My husband and I have been happily married for over 20 years. We enjoy a healthy relationship, well balanced all round. We live in a village and have a small circle of friends through mutual activities that our children participate in. In the last year it has become obvious that my husband is attracted to another woman who we meet regularly. He will always position himself close to this woman, leaving my side at the quickest opportunity (not that we expect each other to be stuck beside the other at all times). But time and time again when I seek his whereabouts he is chatting with this woman, often leaving the venue by her side. He becomes a different person when speaking to her, engaging in an energised manner consistent with sheer attraction. It is becoming unbearable to me.

I do not want to appear a “nagging-wife” and confront him as he will easily play it off as nonsense and that I am paranoid. This matter has almost broken our marriage recently. Unbeknown to him, I became aware of how he tried to initiate a social gathering where neither I nor this woman’s husband could not be there. I am seeking your advice on how to broach this issue without appearing as an over-zealous, paranoid wife.

For me, the very obvious nature of his attraction and willingness to flaunt it is no different than them actually sharing a physical or intimate moment. The mistrust levels are the same. I do not need to wait and catch such a moment to prove my suspicions or feel he has been unfaithful. I genuinely feel he is walking all over our marriage and the beautiful relationship and trust we have achieved over the last 25 years.

There are two things you should know.

One: I think that we can be naive and unrealistic about the nature of attraction, to a toxic degree. We perpetuate myths that if you love your partner, you will never find anyone else attractive – and that’s simply not true. The world is filled with attractive, charming, sparkling people and noticing that isn’t inherently cruel or disloyal or disrespectful – it’s just human. Trying to control or punish a partner for noticing attractive people in the world isn’t healthy. I also think that for some couples, having the occasional flirt with someone else can be fine.

As long as there are clear boundaries, open communication and if the flirtation is just being enjoyed for its own sake and isn’t trying to lead anywhere, I believe that some people can enjoy the touch of frisson and validation and excitement of a flirtation and lovingly return to their partner, harnessing that energy to vitalise your connection.

Two: absolutely none of that matters here if these are not the terms of your particular relationship and it sounds like they aren’t. If this matter is making you feel like your husband is disrespecting you, walking all over your marriage or “has almost broken” your relationship, then it’s clear that something needs to shift. Frankly, if you truly are at this breaking point, it seems high time to get into some couple’s counselling.

I could make the argument that what your husband is doing seems above board, and that he’s allowed have female friends whose company he enjoys. Again, though, that isn’t really the point. You feel like he is betraying you, crossing boundaries and disrespecting you, but most importantly, although you feel like your marriage of two decades is in jeopardy, you don’t even feel comfortable raising the issue because you feel like you will be dismissed as crazy and paranoid. There are multiple issues within this – the idea of trust; a lack of shared boundaries and respect; and a lack of open and honest communication.

The latter feels the most telling – more telling than even the possibility that he is attracted to this woman or flirting with her. In a healthy relationship where you are both committed to making one another feel safe and secure, saying “Your interactions with this person make me feel insecure” would be okay. It would be the start of a conversation about vulnerability, about respect, about boundaries, about comfort levels and about how you are both feeling in your relationship overall. (This feels like something to consider. Do you feel like you are loved, appreciated and desired by your husband generally, or is there something lacking that is making his connection with this other woman feel particularly threatening right now?)

In a healthy relationship, feelings of insecurity and even jealousy can be expressed and navigated in ways that don’t seek to control, punish or judge anyone involved, but in ways that foster vulnerability, honesty, connection and healing. In that space, starting a conversation about your feelings and emotions would feel possible without the fear of your husband dismissing you as being “nagging” or “paranoid”.

I’m curious about where this fear of yours comes from. Is it because this insecurity and jealousy is new for you and you are pre-emptively shaming and judging yourself for it? Have there been similar conversations about boundaries where this has happened? Are you assuming this outcome because you can’t imagine having a conversation where you simply stated “Your interactions with this person make me feel insecure and disrespected” without issuing punishments or ultimatums that you know will shut down communication? Or is this a recurring trend in your relationship, where your husband dismisses your feelings out of hand?

This situation may feel like it’s about this one woman but it isn’t, really. It’s about how you and your husband communicate, set and respect boundaries and make each other feel safe – and all of that has collapsed. It’s time to start having some honest, vulnerable conversations and a counsellor will help guide you through them in ways that are productive.

Tell your husband that you love him, that you have been struggling with some feelings of insecurity, jealousy and betrayal and that you haven’t felt able to communicate with him. Don’t focus on the woman – you could get stuck arguing about the minutiae of his interactions with her, when what it important is what is happening in your relationship with each other.

Tell him that you want to discuss and mend this and would like to do so with a couples counsellor. If he resists or tries to dismiss you, tell him that you feel like the breakdown in communication, respect and boundaries have left you feeling like your marriage is almost broken, so that he understands the stakes. Hopefully he will step up and show you his priorities. Good luck.

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