So My Wife Has This Friend…

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Reader’s Question

I have the following problem. We have been married about 7 years with two small children. During the last couple of years we’ve had serious marital problems, and at the moment there is very little intimacy between us and our sex life is almost nonexistent. My wife is also quite lonely, she does not have many friends. About a year ago she met a divorced man who is at least 20 years older than her. It the beginning he used to come to our home, they talked and occasionally he stayed over for dinner. That was no problem for me at all, and I was happy she had found a friend.

But about half a year ago he stopped coming. Instead they are now meeting in his apartment. My wife tells me about this, she is open and tells me she goes there regularly, that they drink coffee and talk. Occasionally she tells me about his life, about some sad stories from his past. She sounds quite emphatic. About a month ago she asked if I could look after the kids so she could go and visit him. I did not want to do this, since I had some work to do. I told her to take the kids with her, but she said it is impossible to have kids in his apartment. I then told her to invite him to us. She said that is a good idea (but he never came). My wife then started to ask whether I am jealous. I don’t feel I am jealous, but I might be envious since our own relation is going thru a very difficult period and I miss closeness with her, and our own intimate discussions. I told her that I have nothing against her having him as a friend, but it makes me a little anxious that they meet in his apartment. Could they not meet in some cafe instead? She said that it is quite natural for me to feel that way, but for her it is perfectly natural to have both female and male friends whom she meets as she wishes, at their home or elsewhere, without it meaning anything.

Now she is not telling me whether they are still meeting. But a couple of times she has started to argue to me that she feels quite uncomfortable that I have problems with her meeting him in his apartment. She tells me I am jealous. I don’t want this to become an issue between us, and I do feel she needs friends. But I find the situation a little difficult and I don’t really know how I should react. Do you have good advice how I should handle this?

Psychologist’s Reply

I think you have reasons to be concerned about the nature of this relationship. While it’s not uncommon for people to seek the emotional support of others during marital difficulties, your wife has formed a scheduled relationship with this individual. More than a friendship, your wife has formed an “emotional relationship” with this friend that is now increasing in its confidentiality and requirements for your understanding and tolerance.

While you mention that you don’t want this to become an issue between you — it already is an issue. When these situations develop, some of the marital issues that often surface are:

  • In the middle of marital difficulties, she has formed a relationship to satisfy her emotional needs. As you can see by her increasing demands, her need to maintain this relationship overrides any emotional issues you may have about the marriage.
  • While involved in this “emotional affair”, she has no motivation to solve or work on existing marital issues. She now feels ongoing marital concerns such as communication, intimacy, and normal interaction with you are a low priority.
  • As we often find in these situations, she has moved away from any concern for your feelings about her behavior or this relationship. She has become unconcerned about your emotional and support needs.
  • The older gentleman has also participated in this situation and has purposefully moved from being a family friend to having a relationship only with your wife. He is also actively keeping you out of the situation…as well as the children at this point. He’s making sure children and other issues are not involved in their relationship.

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In summary, this isn’t good. In a way, she has emotionally moved out. We don’t know if she’s sexually moved out as well. The major problem from a marriage standpoint is that her current arrangement with the older man now makes the marital difficulties tolerable. She is doing well enough that she doesn’t feel the need to fix anything…or leave. That’s fine for her (and it has been) but bad for your situation.

I often recommend placing these situations on a type of probation. Project about six months ahead and over the next six months:

  • try to address this situation with marital/pastoral counseling,
  • discuss the impact of this relationship on the marriage,
  • attempt to fix issues in the marriage,
  • recognize that this is a situation that threatens the success of the marriage,
  • ask for her participation in reducing contacts with the outsider and increasing communication with you, and
  • monitor the relationship for signs that it’s increasing rather than fading out.

After six months, if there is no improvement, it may be time to bring reality into the picture. Reality may include discussions about the end of the marriage, marital separation, and divorce issues.

Keep in mind that no matter what approach you use, you’ll be accused of being jealous or insecure. In truth, most people in your situation would have those feelings. They’ve formed an isolated, emotional and social relationship outside your marriage. It’s not like she’s on a bowling league and you’re upset about her evening with co-workers. Express your concerns and determine if she wants to repair the marriage or explore other options.

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