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Husband Seems Closer to Secretary than to Me

QUESTION: My husband and I have been married for almost 5 years, we have two children ages 4 and 2. The problem is that there is a secretary where he works that he is very close with. She is married and also has two older children. It seems that he is closer to her than to me. It seems that he has to always be in contact with her and that she always knows what is going on in our life i.e. if we are fighting or having a disagreement.

If I am at work late (9p.m.) and he picks up the kids he goes over to her house to visit for a while, and I usually end up getting home before him. He sometimes gets home just before midnight, because they got to talking and lost track of time. Rarely is he ever home before me anymore. I know that nothing physical is going on between either of them. Their closeness is really causing a lot of problems between us, I know I am jealous of their relationship. He says I exclude myself because of my jealousy. I always feel like I am on the outside and that all of our problems are my fault..

It seems that if her and I were to have a problem at the same time he would help her first then help me when he got around to it. I think that he should do a little more to spend time with me and the kids. I don't know what I can do to get our closeness back, I don't feel that I can talk to him because I fear that he will tell her everything I say about her, or the problems I have with her?

ANSWER: Your husband is having an emotional affair with his secretary which is draining energy from your marriage. You are jealous of the emotional connection he has with another woman because it is this emotional relatedness and not sex, that is the real crux of intimacy.

This is a critical phase in the development of your marriage. After 5 years together and two children, it is natural that you might need to work through some things. But to do so, the two of you need to direct your main energies towards each other. Ask your husband to curtail his relationship with his secretary and confine it to business. Tell him you want to be the one with whom he shares his most intimate feelings and confidences. It is also important to maintain boundaries which protect not only the marriage, but your personal life. Talking about your marital disagreements with his secretary undermines your privacy. And it takes the energy away from your relationship that is necessary to solve marital conflict.

Your husband's behavior is not your fault! If he is having difficulty feeling connected to you, it is his job to express these needs in the context of your marriage. And it is your job to listen and to consider his needs. But this is teamwork, not the responsibility of one person, and marriage is a two way street. All marriages undergo some struggle and yours may be no exception. But working through these struggles requires communication of needs and boundaries. Your husband's current relationship with his secretary violates both.

It is often the case that women feel emotionally responsible for family relationships due to cultural messages, particularly when we become mothers. Men, too may subliminally feel entitled to obtain other relationships with woman when they feel emotionally hurt or deprived in their marriage. A husband may suggest through his behavior that the woman is culpable for his problems. This can result in a man's justification for emotional or sexual affairs. A woman who believes she is responsible for his actions, remains in a bad situation out of guilt. This creates a downward spiral in self esteem and marital satisfaction. Unfortunately, many women get depressed, instead of angry.

It is not too late to take a deeper and honest look at your marriage together. What is missing? Why isn't your husband bringing his concerns to you instead of his secretary? What is the nature of your communication and your emotional connection to one another? What do you need from one another? Are you getting it? If not, what can be done to improve your relationship?

Perhaps your marriage has gone untended by the two of you, and it seems easier to your husband to relax in a neighbor's garden down the street, rather than pull up the weeds and get down to the business of landscaping his own backyard. But this path of least resistance has a cost. And you are feeling the neglect of an undernourished garden. It is also likely your children are experiencing confusion about what is happening in the family. They will soon begin to wonder why they are not doing more things with Mom and Dad together, instead of the secretary.

This situation benefits only your husband in the short run. But the whole family suffers in the long run if the two of you do not get your relationship back on track. Have a discussion with your husband about the seriousness of the current circumstances. At the very least his behavior is eroding your self esteem. But at worst it is putting your marriage and family in jeopardy. Is this what he wants? If not, there is work to be done at home!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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