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Is my partner having an affair? This post is adapted from Michele Weiner-Davis.
Below is a question many therapists get asked:
It’s unfortunately a fairly typical and pain-filled question: “Is my partner having an affair? I discovered some emails my partner has been exchanging with a woman at his work. He and this co-worker seem very close. I don’t think he’s having an actual affair, but I’m worried. What should I do?”
What you describe made me immediately think, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.
Your partner may not be having a physical relationship with his co-worker, but if what you read in their e-mails to each other tells you that they seem very close, you should talk to him about your concern.
Here’s why: If you’re feeling on edge and unsafe in your relationship, it’s hard to let your guard down emotionally and feel close to him. It’s hard to feel safe.
It’s important to clear the air rather than keep your uncomfortable feelings bottled up inside because if you don’t, eventually you will grow further and further apart.
Once your concern is out in the open, your partner will have the opportunity to explain the nature of his relationship with his co-worker and potentially allay your fears.
But even if he insists that their relationship is strictly platonic, it’s important for you to tell him why the e-mails raised a red flag. Learning to say “no” in a respectful way and explaining why this is distressing for you as well as learning to listen to him is a vital relationship skill.
Was the exchange surprisingly personal rather than collegial?
Were there expressions of caring or endearment?
Did the exchange seem flirtatious?
The truth is, many affairs start out innocently but over time, little by little, become inappropriately intimate.
Discussing your concern might just nip potentially hurtful behaviors in the bud.
Ultimately, even if your partner thinks that you are overreacting, he should endeavor to take your feelings into account by developing clearer boundaries with his co-worker.
In healthy, loving relationships, people accommodate their partners’ vulnerabilities even if they don’t always understand or share them. Jealousy can be a part of relationships, at any stage.
Keep in mind that how you approach your partner with your suspicions can make a big difference.
Talk about your feelings rather than criticizing, accusing, controlling, blaming or shaming. Don’t let your inner & outer child parts act out in revenge, anger or collapse.
This will increase the odds that your partner will react caringly rather than defensively.
For example, instead of saying, “I read some inappropriate e-mails between you and your co-worker. What is going on between the two of you? I’m really angry,” say, “I found some e-mails between you and your co-worker that made me feel very uncomfortable. Rather than being work-related, they seemed too personal. I’ve been feeling anxious, and I’d like to know more about your relationship with her. Can you help me with this?”
Working through your discomfort about your partner’s relationship with his co-worker will go a long way to restoring trust.
So don’t allow your suspicions to fester. Set a time to talk with your partner today. There is a skillful step-by-step method on how to bring up sensitive issues. Keep in mind that when you have your conversation, your partner may become angry about the fact that, in his mind, you were “invading his privacy.”
Do not become defensive. Instead, acknowledge his feelings, explain why you were suspicious in the first place and reassure him that you respect his privacy.
Hopefully, your conversation will eliminate your need to check up on him in the future.
There may also be some good tips on my page about Rethinking Infidelity – A Talk for Anyone Who Has Ever Loved, by Esther Perel.
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