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I noticed that my wife was searching for old friends from high school and college online (Google, social media, etc). Included in those searches were some previous boyfriends, including one guy that she was almost engaged to. I asked her about the searches and she treated it like it was nothing serious. She said that she was just curious how people’s lives have turned out. We’ve been married for almost twenty years and have a good marriage and family life. I don’t want to keep bugging her about it, but it makes me nervous as to why she would need to find out more information on previous boyfriends. Am I overreacting? Is it worth addressing?
I see why you’re concerned. It seems there are countless stories of marriages ending after one spouse finds a former flame online and rekindles old feelings. I certainly see it in my office on a regular basis and it’s something all married couples can’t afford to ignore.
However, you don’t need to accuse your wife of anything. While she’s stepping on to a slippery slope, please keep in perspective that you don’t have any evidence that she has cheated on you. It’s easy to feel threatened and treat her in a way that would shut down any productive discussion. This is a time for questions, not accusations.
Even though it’s easy to be impulsive and search online for any random thought we may have, I believe there is a reason she began searching for these ex-boyfriends online. It’s one thing to wonder where life has taken people from our past, but it’s another thing to spend time researching and searching out information on specific individuals.
It’s important for her understand the reasons she pursued this course and not immediately dismiss these feelings as unimportant. Based on my observations over almost two decades of clinical practice, here are some possible reasons she might be searching:
- Feeling unsure about where she is in her life and wanting to see how she compares with their lives.
- Feeling low and wanting to reconnect to a time when she was energetic, younger, and full of potential.
- Feeling lonely in her relationships and reconnecting to a time when she felt desired.
- Recognizing unfinished business or a bad ending with ex-boyfriends and seeking closure.
- Seeking out a thrill by seeking out questionable relationships.
- Unable to address unresolved feelings or thoughts in her marriage and turning to old relationships to validate those needs.
I share these with you not to judge or condemn her. This isn’t an invitation to interrogate or psychoanalyze her motives. I simply want you to understand that there are usually deeper motives for seeking out old relationships that aren’t necessarily about wanting to start a new relationship with them.
She owes it to herself and her marriage to understand why searching for these guys moved from a thought to action. It’s normal to wonder how people from our past have turned out. Even though she may not have contacted them, it’s wise for her to understand why she’s giving them any energy at all.
Lovingly and gently explore with her what moved her to seek them out. If you can drop the fear, defensiveness, and blame, she’s more likely to explore this with you. These are fair questions to ask. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to identify areas where she may have unacknowledged needs and emotions. This could open up a chance for more connection and growth in her life and in 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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.