Monday, January 15, 2007
Dismaying Story #102: Husband Poaching
Lately, a woman in my husband's office has seemed to take a romantic interest in him. I believe he's loyal to me, but it bothers me that she thinks she has a chance, and is not leaving him alone. She knows he's married, so her initial email to him was "So, do you have any younger brothers available?"
It's hard for me to believe my husband doesn't know that's one of the most cliché pick-up lines in the book—cleverly designed to gauge a crush's commitment to his/her current relationship, while simultaneously implying that you're into that person. "I know you're taken, so I'll let you know I'm interested in you by telling you I'm looking for romance, and I'd be interested in someone a lot like you since I guess I can't have the real you....or can I?"
Let's rewind a bit. He met one woman, we'll call her Betty, while we were dating. Betty called him at all hours of the night just to talk and would sound a little put out that he was with me (I could hear her on the line). She invited him on outings that he emphatically insisted were not dates, and showed up to his house with videos in hand at 11 p.m. on Friday nights when she thought I wasn't there. These kinds of things happened all the time with her. I grumbled about it, but didn't want to be the "insecure" jealous type and I wanted to prove that I trusted him, so I kept my cool and played nice with her.
I thought it would cease with our marriage, but she still calls and emails him (though less now than before). His tone of voice on the phone reveals how special she is to him. When I get upset about it, he sighs to demonstrate how tiring my insecurities are, makes me out to be a jealous, petty nag, defends her, a fight ensues, and he enters a defiantly defensive gridlock and essentially refuses to cut ties.
I feel that Betty wouldn't persist in such a way if she felt that it was hopeless, that she didn't have a chance. After a few years of her blatant disrespect for relationship boundaries and his unwillingness to honor my role as his wife, I started to lose trust in him. So without his knowledge, I got in the habit of monitoring his email for any sign that he was giving her reasons to persist. This snooping, however, feels like a dirty, compulsive weakness. Part of me is looking for damning guilt, but part of me hopes that I will find something that redeems him.
I learned of the more recent office admirer (let's call her Wilma) while observing this email correspondence. It makes me think he's developed a habit of passively encouraging this behavior because it's flattering, which I can understand, but this encouragement allows her to undermine me and mock our marriage. The fact that she is so brazen indicates that she is a mate poacher, something I've been hearing a lot about lately. I learned that poachers target people in serious relationships because of the thrill and power of seducing an unavailable person, taking competitive behavior to a new level. When a man flirts with me knowing that I'm married, I'm a little offended. He is discrediting the significance of my marriage and disrespecting not only my boundaries, but also my husband.
Just like with Betty, my husband defends Wilma. He defends this situation and insists it's a cordial, professional relationship. I don't buy it. In my opinion, there is really no such thing as harmless flirting with someone else's spouse and it concerns me when people brush it off as innocent. In fact, I think the likelihood of adultery is intensified when people militantly dismiss it as "innocent"; it's as if they like their guards to be down, and are desperate and determined to remain that way, as vulnerable to temptation as possible.
Because of her brazen arrogance, and her apparent confidence that she could poach my husband any time she wanted, I am incensed. It's not enough for me to know she's wrong. I need HER to know it. Maybe I am too insecure, and this is definitely petty. But I feel like a chump and I'm angry that he's not sticking up for me—or for his own marriage.
I have been giving him extra praise to ensure he isn't craving it enough to seek it from anyone else, but I feel like nothing I say as his wife is as exciting as the things that come from the fun, fresh, coworker who doesn't HAVE to say those things. I know that I'm superior to her in pretty much every way (personality, success, looks, class, talent, and the fact that I'm not a tacky menace) and that I shouldn't be threatened. I guess it just enrages me to watch her try.
Imagine that you lived next to a pedophile and you had small children. You have taught them all about strangers and grown-ups that could hurt them even when the ones who seem nice. You've even specifically warned your kids to stay away from the pervert next door, and you know they would not get into his house or car if he asked them to. But when they walk to their bus stop, you can see the pedophile staring at them and trying to figure out ways to entice them. Wouldn't that disturb you?
My husband is obviously more discerning and less vulnerable than a small child, but I am just as upset knowing there is a woman who has her eyes on him, plotting to take him. It's also upsetting that he refuses to see her as predatory (yes, it's a strong word…but the shoe fits) and thus lives with his guard down.
I have concluded that no matter what I do, he can't be convinced and she can't be stopped. The only way to get through my issues will be to do it on my own and make peace with it. It seems impossible to do. I understand that jealousy in small doses is not harmful and in fact can add a little flavor to the relationship…but this is different than that. I put up with this type of drama in my dating years. But I'm married now and I should not have to deal with these kinds of things anymore. I hate that I'm competing for my own husband. I hate that he's allowing it. I REALLY hate that he defends her and I hate that I can't do anything about it. It's making me into an angry, bitter, untrusting person.
From an outside perspective, do you believe I should be concerned? Do you believe these situations lead to adultery? How can I stop this pattern? How can I just shrug it off like some women? I would love your insight.
Signed, Protecting What's Mine
Dear Protecting What's Mine,
I understand your anger toward the women you consider to be potential mate poachers; I would also resent someone I thought was making a serious play for my spouse. To me, though, the main issue does not depend on whether you are right or wrong about the intentions of those women. My concern is the way your husband has handled the situation.
His first interest should be in safeguarding and nurturing the relationship he has with you. He is not doing that. He knows the things that bother you, yet he continues to do them. This shows a blatant disregard for your feelings. He is not attaching the degree of importance that he should to looking after you and the relationship between the two of you.
Results matter. If the result of some behavior is damage to your marriage, then that should be enough for him to stop that behavior, or at least work with you to make sure you are not being hurt by that behavior. He is doing neither.
He has learned that you will put up with him crossing the line. If you need to own a piece of this problem, this is it -- by not wanting to appear jealous or petty, you have taught him that you will put up with it.
He can't control what other women do, but he can control his responses to those other women. His response to them should be: "This makes my wife uncomfortable so you have to stop doing this." The fact that he won't do so is a major danger signal in terms of how close the bond is between the two of you.
You should make this point with him and insist that he put your needs before those of one of his friends, regardless of whether the friend is male or female.
You are not being overly sensitive or jealous. He is being insensitive, uncaring and flirtatious because he likes this attention from other women -- another danger sign. Allowing another woman to drop by to watch a movie alone with him at 11 pm on a Friday night is WAYYYY over the line... and he knows it. Everybody knows that, which means he is getting a payoff from it, enough that he is willing to battle with you to retain it.
An ongoing email correspondence with another woman where he discusses personal matters about you and his marriage -- to me that is one form of emotional affair.
It is also a bad sign that he is willing to let someone else demean you and your marriage without defending you. A husband who holds his wife and marriage in high regard would never allow that or condone it with silence. I would shut anybody down in a heartbeat if they said something nasty about my wife, and that includes my parents, boss, children, co-workers ... you name it. I would simply never allow anyone to do it. You are right to be upset about this. Furious and hurt would be the appropriate response from you.
Yes I would consider all of these to be danger signs in terms of adultery. If I were you I would check out my post from November 10 entitled Catching a Cheating Spouse. I note that this article mentions monitoring of email and phone records as possible ways to find out if your spouse is being unfaithful.
Your path to freedom is not just to accept this behavior from your husband. Instead you should make the arguments I have made in this email and insist that he stop. If he persists in ignoring your complaints ... well, you have to decide how far you are willing to go to back up your request that he treat your with dignity and respect.
If you think he might already be cheating, you may wish to wait to confront him until you have read the article I mentioned and followed the advice given there.
These are strong words and I don't mean to add to your hurt and torment. As I see it, though, you will never be happy until the situation changes somehow. You can make it change. Stand up for yourself, say what you mean ... and mean what you say.
All the best,