Q. My male friend and I have both had marital problems. We started to meet at lunch to be a source of Christian support for each other. However, somehow, something more happened. While we haven't been physically intimate, we've confessed feelings for each other and have even admitted to having fantasies of being together as a couple. We find ourselves sneaking to meet, and lying to our spouses about it. Is there any chance of maintaining our friendship on a platonic level after having confessed such things to each other? Should we confess these feelings to our spouses, even though nothing physical occurred?
A. Your first big mistake was choosing to get "Christian support" by meeting one-on-one with someone of the opposite sex. Trust us when we say that is never a good idea. Never! In Proverbs 4:23 we're told, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do" (NLT). Meeting with an opposite sex person under the rationalization of Christian support is an almost guaranteed set-up for the trap you've fallen into.
You're in the middle of an emotional affair, and unless you make a radical decision, the next step will be for it to become physical. An emotional affair can be as damaging and difficult to stop as a physical one, and the only way out is to break off the relationship immediately. Don't kid yourself. You can't merely step back, change the rules, and pursue a platonic relationship as if nothing's happened.
Should you confess your emotional affair to your spouses? In most cases you need to tell your spouse. From what you've said, this emotional affair has involved dishonesty and duplicity. That needs to be confessed to God and to your spouse. It's often helpful if this is done in the context of meeting with your pastor or a trained Christian counselor. Something's lacking in your marriage, and that needs to be identified and dealt with in ways that can free you to receive "Christian support" from your husband, same-sex friends, and some wise counselors.
Choosing Mom Over Hubby
Q. My wife and I have been married three years. She talks to her mom every day on the phone, and when we visit her parents, it's as if I don't exist. Is this normal, or am I correct to feel defensive?
A. Based on the clear teaching of Scripture as well as the results of relationship research, we know that one of the essential ingredients to a healthy marriage is that we "leave" our family-of-origin and "cleave" to our spouse. While it sounds simple, for many it's much easier said than done.
It's always tempting to see these situations as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to grow. It's great that your wife and her mom have a close relationship. However, it's time for her primary relationship to be with you rather than her mom.
Women, as well as men, find camaraderie with each other, and the relationship with her mother must be a significant source of comfort and security to your wife. If you haven't had an intentional talk with her about your feelings, it would be wise to do so. Write out and rehearse what you want her to hear and understand. What's the "bottom line" of your concern?
As you talk with her, let her know you value the fact that she and her mother are close, but sometimes you don't know what to do or how to feel when they're together. If you want to be included in at least some of their conversation, tell her. You might want to explore whether her reliance and dependence on her mom is keeping her from developing that with you. Are there things she could be discussing with you that don't need to be shared with her mom?
This is a delicate conversation, and if you've prayed and prepared, she'll be less likely to feel attacked and respond with defensiveness. Let her know you aren't accusing her, but that you feel left out and want to have the best marriage possible. If the primary message is your love for her, your desire to understand her, and your commitment to become one in Christ, she'll be more likely to respond well.
He's a Video Game Addict!
Q. My husband and I have been married seven years. He has a group of friends who get together three times a week to play video games, usually until midnight. It doesn't matter that I have to get up early the next day for work. I hate the video games and wish he'd stop playing them. Sometimes I feel as though I'm married to a 12 year old. And although I love him, his video-playing makes me not want to be affectionate—or even nice!—to him.
A. Your husband is getting many of his male-buddy needs met through his video game adventures. His time with his friends is as important as your time with your female friends. It's a matter of balance.
The first step is for you to clarify your concerns. What do you really want? Is it a change in the frequency, length, location, or loudness of their time together? Do you want more couple time? When you talk with him, focus on your shared value of a healthy marriage. Tell him what you want more of rather than what you want less of. This communicates that you understand and respect his values and needs as well as your own.
If your actual words, or even tone of voice, communicate any message of disgust or resentment, he'll probably tune you out by thinking, She doesn't understand. You want your message to be heard, and if he senses condemnation, wrath, or rejection he's not likely to listen to what you say. He'll interpret those messages as nagging, and that will only drive him to the safe place of more buddy video game playing. Nobody nags him there!
One approach many couples find helpful is to have one night a week when each partner gets together with their same-sex friends. This facilitates the continuity of important friendships, honors each other's unique gender-related interests, and limits the amount of non-couple time. Have you considered having a girls-night-out with your friends on one of the video nights? It would also be helpful to talk about what you did when you were dating that you both enjoyed. Do you still have date nights? Are you involved with other married couples in a Bible study or small group?
Remember that how you talk about this issue is probably more important than what you actually say. Pray, prepare, be calm, considerate, self-responsible, and patient. If nothing else works, you can always march right in, sit down beside him, grab a control module, and join in—but you'll probably be better off trying our other suggestions first.
No Time Together
Q. My husband works a 12-hour night shift. If I'm lucky, by 11 p.m., I get a quick "good night" before I go to bed. Then I don't see him again until 4 p.m. the next day. On weekends, when he's awake, he spends most of his time with our two children, who are 3 years old and 9 months, because he never sees them anymore. Then he spends time with the TV because he never sees that anymore either. When I try to connect with him, he doesn't want to communicate. I miss my husband! What should I do?
A. You might be surprised to learn that the toddler twilight zone is one of the most challenging seasons of any marriage. Between a husband and wife having to redefine their roles, the pressures of making enough money to support the growing family, and the challenges of parenting little ones, many husbands and wives find themselves drained, discouraged, and disoriented.
The inherent danger during this season is that couples will drift apart and become married singles—couples who live together but who aren't growing together.
Your first step is to let him know you love him, what you miss about your couple times, and your hopes for the future. We've learned that frustration can lead to nagging and accusations, which build walls rather than bridges. Whenever appropriate give him a "real" kiss—you know, one that lasts longer than two seconds!
The next step is to seek the support of some moms who can walk with you and pray for you during these difficult times. If your church has a MOPS or similar group, we'd encourage you to attend regularly.
Sometimes couples can begin to reconnect just by being together. Join him in playing with the kids or watching TV. Set aside a month where you, with God's help, choose not to accuse or complain but rather focus on opportunities to encourage and validate him. Men are more likely to respond when they feel safe.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver Ph.D., is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
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