There’s nothing going on,” Tom said defensively. “She just wanted to know how I was doing,” he continued, talking about his recent email conversation with an ex-girlfriend.
“Nothing like that is innocent,” his wife, Sarah said angrily, pointing at her husband in disgust. “Why in the world would she contact you, and why in the world would you answer her? And what if I hadn’t discovered it on your computer?”
“I knew you’d be upset, and that’s why I didn’t tell you. I answered her because we were friends once and I think it’s rude to ignore someone.”
“That’s a bunch of bull,” Sarah replied, then turned to me asking, “What do you think? We don’t seem to be seeing this the same way, but I don’t want this woman in our lives.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Tom said, slumping in his chair like a whipped pup. “I can’t do anything to please you, so I’m not surprised this bugs you too.”
“Oh please,” she said, becoming more annoyed. “How would you feel if an old boyfriend of mine emailed me? I doubt you’d like it. Besides, the way our marriage is going, don’t you think I might feel a little threatened?”
Tom and Sarah had been married for five years before coming to see me for marriage problems, including this recent issue with broken trust. While Tom wasn’t open with his wife about his recent emails to a former girlfriend, he didn’t seem highly guilt-ridden about them either.
As I listened to Sarah’s anger and hurt over Tom’s secretive contact with his ex-girlfriend, I thought about the dozens of other situations I’ve faced in the past year with ex-boy and girlfriends. Countless couples have been in marital trouble because an “innocent friendship” was renewed. Why is this a problem and what should be done about it. Let’s consider the issues.
First, more often than not these friendships are begun secretively. Anything done in secret has the potential of being problematic because the secretive behavior betrays trust. When something is discovered it raises the question as to what else has occurred that is unknown. Marriage is a place for transparency—not secrecy.
Second, rarely are these friendships innocent. While they may indeed be started with innocent motives, trouble can erupt quickly. Friendship with the opposite sex, especially if it is with an old girl or boyfriend, can move from friendship to passion rapidly. A friendship that becomes passionate is then difficult to reverse or stop.
Third, email relationships easily take on a flirtatious or seductive quality. If a relationship becomes overly friendly, particularly when there are already unresolved issues in the marriage, you’re in for double trouble. “The grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.” This old friend, willing to listen to your problems, quickly becomes someone more than simply an old friend.
Fourth, we make “Seemingly Unimportant Decisions” (SUDs) that compromise our values. One small compromise often leads to another small compromise, and soon we’re in a very compromising situation. While many say “It just happened,” the truth of the matter is that the friendship moved from innocent to troubling in step by step fashion.
Finally, we should never do anything that causes alarm or fear in our mate. Even if we believe we’re on solid ground, if our mate feels threatened, we shouldn’t do it. Carrying on a friendship with an old flame is rarely met with approval by our mate.
Many couples who come to The Marriage Recovery Center are in trouble because of “another woman,” or man. A relationship begun in innocence can wreak havoc in a short period of time. A friendship that turns into an affair can cause irreparable harm. So, in a day of Instant Messaging, easy access to old schoolmates and social networking, be extremely careful that social networking doesn’t become a rationalization for getting emotional and perhaps sexual “hits” from the interest of an old friend. Stay away from trouble. The price you’ll pay for an indiscretion could be very costly.
What are your thoughts about social networking and the impact on marriage? Can we ever be “friends” with an old flame? Should we always respect our mate if they feel threatened by our friendships? Share your opinion or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website, www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find podcasts on affair-proofing your marriage as well.