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Question

My husband has a twenty-something female co-worker who happens to be a single mom. During a difficult time in our marriage (when our child was going through extreme anxiety), he turned to this woman and began secretly texting and Face Timing her. I eventually found flirty texts between them and I asked him about her. We went to therapy and I felt like we were doing much better. However, I recently got a strange feeling and decided (against my better judgment) to put an audio recorder on his keychain. He’d been telling me they no longer talked except when required for work-related issues. I recorded him one day at work. Here’s how the recording played out:

She approaches him and he begins to breathe heavily. She says, “does she know?” He replies, “I don’t think so”. They flirt while talking about work and he pokes her somewhere because then she responds, “don’t touch me there.” He apparently follows her back to her seat. The flirty talk continues. She tries to tell a story about what her daughter calls her bellybutton.

He tells me they’re just co-workers and he’s not attracted to her. He says he’s just “being goofy and likes to be funny with her”. Am I being unreasonable in assuming they’re having an affair? He won’t even admit that they’re friends. I’m very embarrassed and ashamed for recording him, but I knew something wasn’t right. I’m sincerely confused and heartbroken.

Answer

I can see why you’re confused and heartbroken. You have discovered actions that threaten the very foundation of your marriage. It’s hard to think clearly when your world keeps turning upside down. Let’s talk about how you can get some clarity and respond to what you’ve just discovered.

First of all, you don’t need to apologize for acting on the impression to secretly record your husband. I’m sorry you had suspicion that required action. No spouse should have to worry about their partner’s fidelity and then assume the role of a private investigator. Marriage should be the one relationship where we don’t have to nervously look over our shoulder.

The evidence you collected is hard to refute. Regardless of what else they might be doing outside of work, you’ve got proof of an interaction that validates there is active deception happening in your marriage. Do not ignore this.

I don’t know if you’ve shared this recording with your husband. If so, have him explain what he means when he tells your co-worker that he believes his wife is uninformed about something. What is he hiding? Why is he colluding with her against you? As the old saying goes, “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” The marriage might be able to heal from whatever he’s doing behind your back, but marriages can’t heal when one person covers up and protects secrets.

Your husband is also manipulating you by doing something called “gaslighting.” This happens when two people know the truth about a situation, but one of them tries to convince the other that they don’t see it clearly. You can trust what you felt and what you discovered. You can also trust the behavior you’re seeing from him. At a minimum, “being goofy and funny” with a co-worker crosses the boundary he promised to uphold.

In a 1996 Ensign article, emotional abuse is clarified with this helpful explanation:

“The degree of pain or unhappiness experienced by the spouse, as well as your own feelings of unease, determines the severity of the problem. [If] one person believes there is a problem, even if the partner disagrees, there is a problem. Those who abuse are often satisfied with the way things are and are insensitive and not motivated to make needed changes.”[i]

You now have the difficult, but critical, task of deciding how you’ll respond. You can receive clear guidance of how to proceed. The Holy Ghost will “show unto you all things what ye should do.”[ii] And, you can trust the promise of the Savior when he says, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”[iii]

You have the truth right in front of you. Even if it’s not the entire truth, it’s enough truth to speak clearly and courageously. Expect your husband to step up and admit the truth of what is on that recording. This is the minimum requirement to being rebuilding trust. However, it’s obvious he has more to share, so please seek guidance from professionals and ecclesiastical leaders to know how to proceed. If your husband refuses to acknowledge the truth of what’s directly in front of him, it will be impossible to feel secure in this marriage.

If this marriage is going to heal, the burden of proof can’t remain your responsibility. It’s his responsibility to bring you the entire truth and prove to you that he is faithful. This will require tremendous work and time to make this happen. You’ve discovered a great violation of trust that won’t mend without the truth and a deep commitment to restoring your security.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recoveries. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery

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.geoffsteurer.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.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT


[i] https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1996/06/the-invisible-heartbreaker?lang=eng

[ii] 2 Nephi 32:5

[iii] John 8:31-32