Q: I am close friends with a couple. I stood up at their wedding ten years ago, and they are happily married with two young kids. Yet recently I have become suspicious that the wife is cheating (or considering cheating) on her husband. She constantly talks about her male coworker and she often stays late at the office with him. I also overheard a phone conversation between them in which she called him “honey.” What should I say to the husband, if anything — or do you think it is all in my head?
A:Wow. It sounds to me like you are in a tough situation. Being stuck in the middle is never fun, especially when it involves a family’s future and two little ones. It sounds like you are trying to do the right thing and don’t want to create unnecessary drama or gossip, so you are certainly starting on the right foot. And, while I can’t say for sure what is happening between the wife and her coworker, it sounds to me like they might be having an emotional affair (if not a physical one as well).
In an emotional affair, the two people aren’t connecting on a physical level, but they are still intimate. Not only do they flirt and fantasize about each other, but they share secrets and bond on a very personal level. In short, they become lovers who haven’t yet taken things to the bedroom. It is a very dangerous situation to be in because it can lead to a physical affair and because an emotional affair on its own can be just as devastating and upsetting as a physical affair. All the attention, love, affection, and intimacy that are meant to be shared within the marriage are given away to another person, meaning that there is nothing left for the spouse. In other words, your friend might be so busy calling this other guy “honey” that she doesn’t have any “honeys” left for her husband at the end of the day.
So what should you do? Well, a lot of finesse and delicacy is required. First, I think you should reconsider your plan of attack. Don’t talk to the husband — instead, go right to the source, the wife herself. Choose a time when you two can talk privately, whether it’s during a walk around the block or a cup of coffee at a local café. Make it clear that you aren’t accusing her and that you don’t want to unnecessarily insert yourself into her relationship.
Instead, say something like, “I love you and [husband’s name], and you are one of my favorite couples. But since we are so close, sometimes I hear and see things that catch me a little off guard. I notice that you have been working a lot lately and that you always seem to be talking about [coworker’s name]. The other day I overheard you calling him honey on the phone. I don’t want to jump to the wrong conclusion, but I am worried about you and I don’t want you to do something you will regret.”
The ball will be in her court. If she gets upset or goes on the defensive, don’t engage or accuse. Instead, lay out the facts as you see them and explain how much you love her and her husband. Let her know that you aren’t trying to attack her or harm her reputation. If, on the other hand, she comes clean and admits that there has been improper behavior, you should encourage her to speak to her husband and then step away from the situation. If she admits to the affair but refuses to tell her husband, it is up to you to decide if you want to find a way to tell him yourself or if you want to disengage entirely.
Whatever decision you make, keep in mind that every marriage has problems and that you might be seeing only one side of the coin. You have to make a choice that you feel comfortable with at the end of the day, whether that is confronting your friend or taking a step back.
— Dr. Laura Berman
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