Debra White Smith
Facebook: Ask Debra
Facebook: Debra White Smith
Spouse Cries, “Just Friends”
Question: Last year, my husband ran into one of his old high school friends by accident one day in the mall. Even though he claims they never “officially dated,” I noticed they had a certain camaraderie that made me uncomfortable. He says they were just great friends in school. Since that meeting, they have connected through Facebook and are texting daily and have even started meeting for lunch once-a-week. Last Christmas, he bought her a 14K gold chain, and they spent Christmas Eve together. Her husband passed away, so she is now single. I have told him the relationship is making me nervous and he says I am insecure and jealous and that it was no different than him and his old Army buds. We are Christians and attend church regularly. I don’t want to be petty, but my gut instincts keep sending a warning. Am I unreasonably insecure or should I ask him to stop seeing her?
Answer: First, this is not like your husband’s Army buds. I seriously doubt he’s buying 14K necklaces, talking daily, and doing lunch weekly with his guy friends. This is a denial mechanism your husband is using to downplay the attachment. Their relationship has the earmarks of both reliving the thrill of high school and an emotional affair.
When men and women enter their middle adult years, they often feel they are losing their youth—probably because they are. With this set of emotions they can go into a reminiscent mindset that glorifies their youth and mourns its loss. When they connect with people from their teen years, it’s like they get to relive their youth. While it’s perfectly fine to reminisce about the good ol’ days of youth through high school reunions and such, it’s not okay to allow those feelings to overcome us to the point that we lose focus of the commitments in our present and future.
Even though your husband’s friend wasn’t a romantic girlfriend (as far as we know), this relationship appears to be dripping with the symptoms of an emotional affair. Emotional affairs happen when two people begin to bond deeply on an emotional level. It moves from friendship to sharing deepest thoughts and needs and desires. The two of them may have had an emotional attachment in high school that never matured into a “official” romantic attachment, for whatever reason. Now, they are picking up where they left off.
While not all emotional affairs wind up in the bedroom, sexual affairs are often and usually preceded by emotional affairs. Once the relationship moves from friendship to deep friendship to intimate bonding, the extended hugs follow. And from there, the couple will bond physically. This is the natural sequence of any romantic relationship with any couple. There’s a reason we have the cliché, “Most great marriages start as friendships.”
Understand that I am not opposed to married people having friends or business associates of the opposite sex. My husband and I both have many friends and ministry or business associates who are of the opposite sex. I have heard of married men or women who run from people of the opposite sex. I personally cannot live in that kind of a knee-jerk, fear-driven world. If I gouge all of the men I work with or am friends with from my life, I would have a relational and professional mess.
However, I am not going to lunch with these men on a weekly basis, constantly talking to them, accepting gifts from them, or spending holidays with them. I don’t depend on them for emotional support and do not share my deepest thoughts and needs with them. All of these clues scream of an attachment beyond mere friendship.
With that said, your gut instincts are correct. Whether your husband wants to admit it or not, he’s setting himself up for a sexual affair. As his wife, it might be time for you to ask him to seriously back off of this attachment. He is your mate, not hers. I would tell him the same thing if you were the one manifesting the same symptoms.
Furthermore, it might be a good idea for you to consider counseling as a couple. Any unresolved issues the two of you have will affect your abilities to closely bond and therefore create an emotional neediness in one or both of you. Understand that I am in no way blaming you for your husband’s behavior. You could have been close to the perfect wife and he could have still slipped into this relationship solely based on his own issues. However, a good counselor will help both of you get through and overcome this problem—regardless of the simplicity or multiplicity of the issues.
A good counselor will also help you to set some mutual boundaries in your relationship. I realize you aren’t the one on the verge of an affair. However, if you agree to these boundaries as a couple then your husband will understand that you are subjecting yourself to the same standards you are asking him to keep, and it will put him less on the defensive. Some suggested boundaries are:
1) Never spend significant time alone with someone of the opposite sex.
2) Keep all friendships with the opposite sex out of the realms of emotional dependence and deep bonding.
3) Never discuss issues about your mate or your marriage with a friend of the opposite sex. This sends the message that you are dissatisfied and are open to another relationship. If there are issues in the marriage, the place for discussion is with your mate and with a counselor.
4) Avoid all dating behavior with anyone other than your mate.
5) Limit all hugs to brief side hugs. Engaging in long, front hugs from someone other than your mate sends all the wrong messages.
6) Avoid “all appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22). A good way to determine if something appears wrong is to ask yourself, “If I saw a friend doing what I am about to do, would I think it looked bad?”
The world is full of stories about upstanding people who succumb to moral failure. Affairs often happen because the people involved don’t want to admit early on that the relationship is much more than “just friends.” Denial is a huge part of the package in these situations. The denial often blinds the person to how the whole situation looks from the onset. When a couple commits to mutually applying the suggested boundaries, they are ensuring that they don’t get lured into something that could lead to moral failure and high scandal.