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My wife has a very big and loving heart. She takes care of our four children and me. For the last year, she has been helping a recently divorced couple with their two girls, who happen to be very good friends with my children. About six months ago, the mother left the two girls with the father and moved out of state. About the same time, I experienced a job change that has me out of town Monday through Friday. My wife has pitched in to help this single dad with his two girls. They come over to our home 2-3 days during the week when I’m not there. The father, of course, has to come pick them up and is in our home for more than hour with my wife and the kids.
I recently looked at my wife’s phone and saw some flirtatious texts between the two of them. He said that he knew what he wanted, but couldn’t have it, sent a picture of him with his kids and said that he wishes she was there, called her “bestie”, wished her good night, etc. I asked my wife about it and she initially blew it off and said he is like a brother and nothing is going on, but didn’t really seem sorry. Eventually, she said she re-read the texts and said she understood where I was coming from and apologized and assured me it wouldn’t happen again. She told me I could look at her phone anytime I wanted to.
I told her I was really hurt and that I didn’t want him at my house anymore. She pushed back and said he was like a brother and that she was doing nothing but trying to make him feel better about himself because he was depressed. She also said that she was going to continue to help because of the kids and that would mean that he would be coming in our home when I wasn’t there. I understand, to an extent where she is coming from, and best I can tell, he nor she has sent flirtatious texts since then. I believe and trust her, but also know that things can happen. I am trying my hardest to forgive her for the texting issue, and to her credit, I haven’t seen or read any texts that I thought were even questionable. It just bothers me that I feel like she is putting them ahead of my wishes that he not come in the house if I’m not there. At times, the thoughts of the texts just pop in my mind and keep me up at night. I haven’t talked to her about it in about month because it gets her mad and I don’t think it helps me get over it. What should I do to truly forgive and put this behind us? Should I be concerned anymore?
Yes, you should be concerned. Your wife has a serious blind spot that is putting your marriage and family at risk. You are both nice people who want to give others and each other the benefit of the doubt. While I think those qualities are admirable, I also recognize that without firm boundaries around your marriage, she is on a slippery slope toward another unintentional affair of the heart.
I recommend you and your wife pick up a copy of Shirley Glass’ book, “Not Just Friends.” She wrote this book after researching infidelity for more than thirty years and shares some facts about infidelity that most people overlook. One of these truths is that it’s possible to be attracted to another person and fall in love with them even if you have a good marriage. She says that proximity and familiarity make this possible. So, even if two people have good intentions, the risk is still very high that they will form a romantic bond. Another truth is that everyone believes they’re the exception to this rule.
This attraction has already happened between your well-intentioned wife and this other man. Even though your wife may feel remorse for allowing herself to cross lines with him, recognize that they are most likely having different experiences as they connect with each other. Shirley Glass shared that, “although women share their deep feelings with lots of people, particularly other women, men are usually most comfortable sharing their feelings in a love relationship. As a result, when a relationship becomes intimate and emotional, men tend to sexualize it.”[i]
I have no doubt your wife feels badly about crossing a line with this man, however, she doesn’t appear to recognize how this happened. Instead of simply forbidding her to speak with him, I encourage you to invite her to join you in affair-proofing your marriage. If she truly wants to protect your marriage from further harm, she will be open to this.
If she’s not open to discussing this, then continue finding ways to address this, as this exposes a serious vulnerability in your marriage that won’t go away with good intentions. She might want you to believe the best about her and forgive her mistake. I think you can do that while still recognizing that any well-intentioned person with poor boundaries and opportunities could end up in a situation they never intended.
There is no reason this guy needs to spend time in your home, especially after telling your wife he knows what he wants, but can’t have it. Recognize that your wife apologized to you, but he isn’t showing any respect or boundaries toward your marriage. He might be her friend, but he is not a friend of your marriage.
If they’re talking for hours during the week about the children, then she’s not babysitting; she’s co-parenting. This level of involvement in their lives builds a deeper connection that goes beyond just helping out. Couples who affair-proof their marriages build walls around their marriage instead of windows. They make it clear that they’re not emotionally available to other people who could be potential partners.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “when the Lord says all thy heart, it allows for no sharing nor dividing nor depriving.”[ii] This doesn’t mean we don’t share our thoughts and feelings with other people. It means we don’t share those parts of our hearts that should be exclusively reserved for our spouse. Sharing our hearts in this ways divides and deprives our marriages of something special and unique.
Dr. Kenneth Matheson provided the following questions you can review with your wife to better understand how much of a threat this relationship is to your marriage:[iii]
- Are you turning to your friend for comfort rather than turning to your spouse?
- Do you find yourself thinking about your friend even when you’re at home?
- Do you seek opportunities to be with your friend even when work doesn’t require you to be together?
- Do you e-mail and/or text your friend when you’re not together?
- Have you told your spouse about these messages?
- Does the relationship with your friend take more of your time and energy than your relationship with your spouse?
- Do you compare your spouse to your friend?
- Would you be uncomfortable introducing your spouse to your friend?
Don’t give up addressing your concerns with your wife. While you can certainly step in and talk with him about your concerns, it’s more important to help your wife understand her own vulnerability and how that affects the stability of your marriage.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle (1972), 142–43.