ASK ABDI: IS AN OUTSIDE RELATIONSHIP AFFECTING THE INTIMACY IN MY MARRIAGE?
QUESTION: I am in a new marriage that is having some difficulties. And what marriage doesn’t? My husband sneaked through my voicemail recently and found an exchange with a colleague that infuriated him. His reasoning was that he felt there was something going on outside of our marriage. Of course, I was furious that he broke our trust by his action. The one good thing about all of this is that we have just started couples therapy, something he had been resistant to up to now.
My relationship with my colleague is totally platonic, but very loving. I feel we both have been respectful of not crossing any boundaries, so I am surprised by my husband’s over-the-top behavior. My question to you is do you think the intimacy with my colleague is taking something away from the intimacy in my marriage?
One interesting observation that took me by surprise was the fact that I have wanted us to do couples work for a while now. My husband had been quite resistant, but now that he has agreed, I am butting up against my own resistance.
I don’t think my husband is right, and morally I know I have done no wrong. I think my relationship with my colleague is filling a certain need for intimacy. I also believe there are some needs for intimacy that can be met outside of my marriage. It would be inappropriate and probably unsatisfactory to get all needs met inside a marriage, as long as no boundaries are crossed. Am I totally off here?
ANSWER: There is no set answer here in terms of whether another relationship is taking away from your marriage. Only you can and have to answer that question. To your point, we do not and can not get ALL of our needs in our primary one. Relationships need room to breathe. In my own view, morality is for people who do not have an inner compass. But it takes work as well as sincere honesty and clarity to be able to be guided from that place. We all have blind spots, and it is only through detailed examination that we can be sure of our position.
Do be aware that your husband felt something that made him take the drastic action of snooping on you. Of course, his behavior is deadly to the feelings of trust in a relationship and has to be addressed. Regardless, you have to be honest as well as clear with yourself: is this intimacy with your colleague taking something away from your marriage? And how healthy and connected were you in your marriage to begin with? No right or wrong here, just sit with these thoughts and investigate them in couples therapy.
Part of our job description in a committed relationship is to help our partner feel safe. Not in a codependent "changing our behavior so their wounding will not get triggered" kind of way. But certainly with communication and discussion about what is considered appropriate outside of the union. We are all sneaky bastards and have learned to hide parts of ourselves. This is a defense mechanism against inevitable childhood wounding that makes total revelation to another an absolutely frightening proposition as an adult.
So be conscious about the possibility that you might not be as clear as you think you are. Maybe you are, but also maybe you are not. Sitting in the middle like that is good for investigation. Remember that you only became aware of your own resistance to therapy when he finally agreed to go into couples therapy. There could be an avoidance of intimacy with your husband that occurred by you opening certain emotional doors with your colleague, as innocent as that experience has been consciously.
This is where the concept of infidelity can get into the picture. Infidelity is not just about having sex outside of the relationship. Many times, blurred boundaries invisibly but tangibly bleed life and trust out of a relationship. A partner will ALWAYS feel what’s going on, regardless of how little they know on a conscious level. This just leads to more confusion and pain. So go slow and set your house in order. Wonderful that you are doing therapy. Keep the focus on you and your own fears and places that you hide. All this is your own work, regardless. It always is for all of us.