Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, licensed clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, Boulder, Colorado, and author of Getting Through to the Man You Love: The No-Nonsense, No-Nagging Guide for Women. DivorceBusting.com
I discovered some e-mails my husband has been exchanging with a woman in his office. My husband and this coworker seem very close. I don’t think he’s having an actual affair, but I’m worried. What should I do?
What you describe made me immediately think, Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Your husband may not be having a physical relationship with his coworker, but if what you read in their e-mails to each other tells you that they seem very close, you should talk to him about your concern. Here’s why: If you’re feeling on edge and unsafe in your marriage, it’s hard to let your guard down emotionally and feel close to your spouse. It’s important to clear the air rather than keep your uncomfortable feelings bottled up inside because if you don’t, eventually you will grow further and further apart. Once your concern is out in the open, your husband will have the opportunity to explain the nature of his relationship with his coworker and potentially allay your fears. But even if he insists that their relationship is strictly platonic, it’s important for you to tell him why the e-mails raised a red flag. Was the exchange surprisingly personal rather than collegial? Were there expressions of caring or endearment? Did the exchange seem flirtatious? The truth is, many affairs start out innocently but over time, little by little, become inappropriately intimate. Discussing your concern might just nip potentially hurtful behaviors in the bud. Ultimately, even if your husband thinks that you are overreacting, he should endeavor to take your feelings into account by developing clearer boundaries with his co-worker. In healthy, loving marriages, people accommodate their spouses’ vulnerabilities even if they don’t always understand or share them. Keep in mind that how you approach your husband with your suspicions can make a big difference. Talk about your feelings rather than criticizing or accusing. This will increase the odds that your husband will react caringly rather than defensively. For example, instead of saying, “I read some inappropriate e-mails between you and your coworker. What is going on between the two of you? I’m really angry,” say, “I found some e-mails between you and your co-worker that made me feel very uncomfortable. Rather than being work-related, they seemed too personal. I’ve been feeling anxious, and I’d like to know more about your relationship with her. Can you help me with this?” Working through your discomfort about your husband’s relationship with his co-worker will go a long way to restoring trust. So don’t allow your suspicions to fester—set a time to talk with your husband today. Keep in mind that when you have your conversation, your husband may become angry about the fact that, in his mind, you were “invading his privacy.” Do not become defensive. Instead, acknowledge his feelings, explain why you were suspicious in the first place and reassure him that you respect his privacy. Hopefully, your conversation will eliminate your need to check up on him in the future.