Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Emotional Intimacy Outside Of Marriage Is Wrong

January 7, 2008

I received this letter from a reader asking for help.

A reader’s story. I will paraphrase part of her story. She and her husband have retired from farming. She and her husband have had a long standing social relationship with another couple. We ran around and did things with her and her other half. The other woman, Louise, (not her real name) has been a confidante for me all the while I’ve known her.

Then Louise got divorced. The writer’s husband, called "Jack", calls her at least once a week. They continue to socialize on the weekends as a threesome. When confronted, Jack denies any physical relationship between he and Louise. He is believable in his denials.

What is troubling are the phone calls. Jack never tells me when he calls her ( I always find out) and gets furious when I mention it. He once told me that he won’t call her it if upsets me.

His secretiveness is bothering her. Once I called him and asked where he was and he said, "What do you mean, where am I at?" He was sitting in his vehicle talking to Louise. It was in the daytime. Why didn’t he just tell me?

Her husband attacks her for being suspicious and controlling. This isn’t the case. He comes and goes when he pleases and I never ask any questions. He usually goes away for a while everyday or every other day.

She concludes, I don’t like to upset the household and I like things to go smoothly. But I can’t keep my mouth shut when I know he called her. I’m the one that feels guilty and in the end and apologizing - feeling like a fool.

What can I do?

I see red flags all over the place.

- Socializing habitually. Socializing as a foursome can lead to attraction and admiration that is usually kept under control by the moral values of the parties involved. Sometimes this may cause dissatisfaction with one’s own spouse. Unflattering comparisons toward the spouse in contrast with a friend can be made about personalities, having fun, mutual enjoyment, a sense of humor, etc. Sometimes this can turn into a full-fledged affair with devastating consequences for marriages, friendships and families.

The most fun and enjoyment you should have is with your own spouse. Couples need to put their relationship with each other first and cultivate it. Then other relationships won’t have much attraction, if any.

- Continuing to socialize. Being with Louise in her divorced status fills an emotional need for her and may be drawing out compassion and concern from Jack as he becomes even a greater "friend" in her post-divorce adjustment. Her best adjustment would be to adapt to her single status and enter a new world of meeting and socializing with others who share her lifestyle. Being a confidant to someone of the oppositive sex while going through a life crisis and transition is also a major pathway into an affair.

- Secretive calls. These phone calls are a violation of the marital bond. Jack’s emotional life and sharing should be with his wife. Who is the true intimate in his life? Even if the calls were in the open, they would be a problem. They are worse in private because they undermine the trust of a lifelong marriage.

Louise and her adjustment in life should be an open and freely disclosed conversation between a husband and wife who share deeply in each other’s lives. Jack’s conversations with Louise most likely would involve his intimate feelings - even about his relationship with his wife. Now who would be the true intimate in his life? It may not be a violation of physically intimacy but it would be a betrayal nonetheless. It also begins a slippery slope on the pathway to physical intimacy.

It isn’t just about phone calls. It is about attitude, defensiveness, meeting for conversations with Louise in private. It is about denial about the nature of the relationship. It is about making his wife the scapegoat for the confusion and anger he has for her intrusion into his emotional disloyalty.

My advice. My advice is for the writer and others who may face similar situations. Stop feeling guilty about your intuition and feelings. There are a ton of facts to show that your husband is out of line. Your marriage is at stake. He has you buffaloed about the innocence of what he is doing.

There is no bright line between an emotional affair and a physical one. His claim to propriety is the fact that in his mind it isn’t an affair because it isn’t physical and that nobody is doing anything wrong. Violating the emotional intimacy of the relationship through secretive phone calls, secretive meetings for conversation, and a lack of openness about the relationship has already supplanted you from your rightful place.

Insist on no phone calls. Break off the socializing with Louise. Although acting in her own interests, she isn’t being a friend to your marriage.

Louise needs others to help her, most certainly not you or your husband. She should contact a mental health or pastoral counselor or maybe a support group who can help her without bias.

Your voice is important. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. If you husband doesn’t respond, ask for marriage counseling. If he refuses, get help for yourself and become strong enough to confront the situation with all the strength and determination you can muster. Hopefully your husband will come to realize what a mistake he made, apologize and make amends.

There is hope. Things like this happen. They can be repaired. But they need to be stopped first before the healing can begin.