Relationship Q&A: Keeping in Touch with Former Flames
Q. My husband of seven months has maintained friendships of varying degrees with his former girlfriends. One, "Trudy", is a real thorn in our marriage. She and my husband were lovers over 20 year ago; their relationship ended because she discovered she was gay. She's now a self-proclaimed bisexual. I initially thought Trudy and I could friends, but when I met her, my first impression was that she's diabolical and manipulative. When I shared my feelings with my husband, he was angry and defensive. He tried to make excuses for her inappropriate behavior. She's obviously using him, but he doesn't see it. He has paid for her to have her teeth capped, and he spent hundreds of dollars on a computer for her (he lied to me and said she would pay him back). They meet weekly for dinner, despite my feelings against it. For a long time, I thought I was overreacting, but I asked another friend what she thought and she said, "I would put as much distance between your husband and that woman as possible." I would like to be a supportive spouse, but this marriage is starting to feel too crowded. How can I stop this train wreck waiting to happen?
A. First, believe in yourself. Your radar is sounding the alarm that someone is invading your marital territory. Trust it. You are describing a man who is having an affair -- not a sexual affair necessarily, but an overly attached relationship with another woman that is negatively impacting his marriage. Believing in your cause will help you to remain calm.
To fix the problem, however, you must be clever, not coercive. One strategy is to tell your husband that you have a serious problem you want to discuss with him, but you need to find the right time to talk to him about it. Arrange a lovely romantic evening, or a long hike together in a beautiful place. When you both feel appreciated and connected, hopefully you can do your best talking.
When you raise the problem, make it all about you -- not about Trudy or about your husband, but just about you and your distress. Tell your husband how much you love him and treasure your marriage. Tell him that at the same time you have been feeling quite depressed and anxious. Avoid any negative words like angry or resentful. Use only words that engender concern, words like fragile and frightened.
Explain that you just can't handle Trudy's time alone with him. Whenever he talks or dines with her, these feelings overtake you. Ask for his help. Explain that you are not jealous, just fragile and frightened. You are delighted for him to have female friends but you just can't handle his spending time alone with her. Finally, ask him what obstacles he'd face if he broke off his relationship with her -- and what you can do to help him close the door.
The opposite strategy also can work, but only if you feel up for it. You might leave your husband a note one day saying that an old boyfriend of yours is in town and you are out to dinner with him. Be perfectly sweet about it, but make it clear that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Lastly, keep in mind that an affair is like an addiction. It can be hard to admit to and hard to put aside. With addicted spouses an "intervention" can help. Consider asking a trusted friend or parents to confront your husband and explain how you feel. Whichever strategy you use, be sure you make it worth your husband's while to stay with you. Make your home a delight, for both of you.