Saturday, September 30, 2017

Dismaying Story #145: Husband Poaching

Dear Andrew,

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,


  1. Anonymous3:43 AM

    i completely agree with you, andrew. the spouse should always come first. one should never hurt the spouse out of fear of hurting some unknown person.

    i suppose that is similar with another post you've had: why do we hurt the ones close to us while being polite to unknown people? because we think that the ones close to us know us and will understand and at the same time we don't want to appear insensitive to a complete stranger. and so we jeopardize our most important relationships for the sake of image.

    maybe the cure to that is for our important people to show us they should not be taken for granted. until we are faced with the possibility of losing them, we will keep doing it, because we think they understand (after all, they're still there, right?)

    you have to stand up for yourself and say 'i will not put up with this'. then, maybe they will realize exactly what they're doing.

  2. I agree that it is important for spouses to respect and honor each other's feelings of insecurity and unease, and respond in ways to protect the marriage, but I also question why this woman is so convinced that the co-worker is predatory.

    If the wife truly believes her husband is loyal and she considers herself to be superior to Wilma in "pretty much every way (personality, success, looks, class, talent, and the fact that I'm not a tacky menace)," and that she "shouldn't be threatened," then why is she so threatened by someone so obviously inferior?

    Asking her husband if he has a younger brother is not necessarily a pick-up line—it could also mean that Wilam thinks Hubby is too old for her!

    Can't she still admire qualities of her co-worker and also completely respect his devotion to his marriage? She probably hopes to find someone else capable of the same devotion, without it meaning she wants him for herself. Not every single woman is some sort of predatory mate poacher.

    As a single woman who would NEVER even consider the idea of getting involved with someone else's mate, I resent married women who automatically assume I'm after their man if I so much as speak to their husbands. It usually stems from fears about the relationship on their parts, which have nothing at all to do with me, as an object of their jealousy, or or any action on my part, or even their husbands.

    I think the wife's insecurity is understandable, given Betty's intense competition while she & her husband were dating. But, by her own admission, the calls and emails have lessened since the marriage.

    The deeper issue here, it seems to me, is the wife's lack of trust in her husband and her hardline insistence that there is no such thing as harmless flirting.

    Is her marriage so frail and tenuous that he can never to acknowledge or interact with any other women ever again, without her leaping to the conclusion that something untoward is going on?

    Monitoring someone's email without their knowledge is a sign of lack of trust, as well as an invasion of privacy. Why is this necessary if she truly believes he's loyal and he continues to insist his relationship with WIlma is a cordial, professional relationship?

    Perhaps he is having an affair, and I am being hopelessly naive or overly idealistic. She may be right to be so suspicious, but she may also be completely wrong. She risks undermining her relationship with her husband due to her mistrust.

    What would it take to reassure her? I agree that it is a reasonable request to ask the husband to express his wife's discomfort to Betty and ask her to back off out of respect for his marriage.

    If Betty is unwilling to comply or requests surreptitious meetings or correspondance, that would more clearly indicate her nefarious goals to him and support the wife's contention that it is disrespectful of her.

    The situation with Wilma is a bit more complex, since she is a co-worker of the husband's and he will have to continue interacting with her on some level. I'm also still unclear about how Wilma has "mocked" the marriage.

    I think the key may be for the wife to calmly express her feelings of discomfort, rather than framing it as an accusation or casting aspersions on the nature of his relationship with his co-worker. By focusing on how it makes her feel, it'll be more difficult for her husband to ignore or brush off without undermining his marriage.

    Give him the opportunity to respond to her feelings, instead of what he sees as unjust accusations, and he may demonstrate the depth of his love and concern. If he's unable to respond in a way that reassures, that will be cause for deeper concern than the behavior of either Betty or Wilma.

  3. Wow, the comments section is just as thought-provoking as the question and reply!

    Thanks Protecting What's Mine & Andrew for highlighting another challenging relationship issue.

  4. Oh, my. I'm sorry, but I would have drawn the line BEFORE I married this guy, back when Betty started showing up with videos. I wouldn't do that to any of my friends without advance notice, and definitely not to spoken-for male friends. Andrew's right that that is WAY over the line. And the female partners of my male friends know perfectly well I'm not out to undermine them; I have never, ever, had a conflict with a friend's girlfriend.

    Sorry, Suzanne, but while I agree that the woman in question doesn't, in fact, trust her husband, her husband has earned it. He already knows what her feelings are and responds by belittling her and allowing his female dalliances to belittle her, as well. This is not "harmless flirting". This is him choosing his ego over his wife. She would not have to draw a hard-line stance if he knew where to draw his own boundaries.

  5. as a single woman myself -- i'm agreeing with andrew and diamond...

    but as diamond pointed out -- she should have stopped this long ago - when the friend just dropped in at 11pm to watch movies...i would never drop in unannounced and especially if i knew my guy friend had a girlfriend...just not done...

    this woman will need to think long and hard before proceeding on with a life with this man...long and hard

  6. Great Advice Andrew. I drove away my husbands "friend" long before. He had no problem saying goodbye either because our relationship was more important.

  7. She doesn't trust her husband. She reads his e-mail and most often finds something. He doesn't seem to want these women out of his life either.

    There are some males who only have female friends. If that's the case, let it go. If not, I think it's clear that he is not someone to settle down with one person.

    Painful to read, but I wouldn't lie to her at all. Sounds like he already is.

  8. I agree that how he handles this kind of attention is the real problem.


  9. Anonymous6:33 PM

    Seems to me that the behavior is the same behavior that he exibited when they were dating. Not sure why she would expect it to change after they were married.
    Common mistake of people, if they do things when you are dating that you don't like, they will do them even to a larger degree after you are married.
    I agree that his behavior is suspect, however this is nothing new.

  10. I'd be pissed if my husband/partner was allowing this behaviour to continue. I agree with the advice you've given. He is enjoying the extra attention of these other two women a little more than he should be.

    He's not respecting her feelings or his marriage by letting it carry on. I can understand her point of view about not wanting to be the nag or have feelings of insecurity, but the longer he permits it to happen, the more she'll stop trusting him. Once the trust is gone, everything else he's said in the past will go through her head and she'll analyse it all to the nth degree.

    I don't think he should send an email saying "This makes my wife uncomfortable so you have to stop doing this". I think the email should say "This is making my wife AND I uncomfortable, so please stop it now."

    It's obvious the contact is causing problems in his marriage, he should be concentrating on THAT. Not turning them away outright only gives them hope. 11pm?? Bugger that, I would've said what I thought well and truly back then. I'm not a jealous person and for the most part I think I'm pretty flexible, but come on...where's the limits?? Friends are friends, they respect each others privacy and the feelings of their partners as far as I'm concerned.

  11. Anonymous7:53 AM

    Dear Protect What's Mine...I am just where you are. My husband has spent our marriage...six years now...encouraging, tacitly and overtly, email correspondence with other women, either through dating sites, extending conversations with women through business to be more personal, and on one great occasion, with a client of mine. Till I discovered it, we had an ecstatic marriage. Since then it has been raddled with rows, mistrust and guilt. Every single thing about our relationship has suffered. Last year, my husband was seriously ill, and I thought that after such a close brush with death he would rethink his attitude to life. But no....I discovered that it has not stopped. When he is away from his computer he is a Christian (really!),loving, sensitive, great human being. I wish I didn't know what he does, but I do. From what he tells me, this behaviour was what finished his previous relationships, so its some kind of a pattern for him. He insists that it's innocent, and his response is white-hot anger if I try to suggest that he is hurting me. I know, were I to do the same thing, he would be devastated, but, though I am anything but an inexperienced wimp, I cannot bring myself to turn, in any way, to another man. I might make some other woman go through what I do, and I could not square it with my conscience.If I had my time again, I would leave, but I now find it impossible to do. Your self-respect is at stake here. If you do not manage to get him to see how this is destroying you, and to stop his egotistical behaviour, then you must consider that the terms of the relationship no longer suit you, and you must consider leaving him. Don't let anyone tell you that you should put up with it. He is hurting you. He knows it. He should, if he cares enough, adjust his attitude accordingly.You don't sound the kind of girl to suffer this stuff indefinitely. I wouldn't wish my hurt on anyone. Go well...God bless......

  12. Dear Anonymous (I mean the most recent one, at 7:53 a.m.): I would like you to read the last part of your comment again ... and apply it to yourself. You are telling someone else in your situation to act one way, and you are choosing to act differently.

    You say your conscience couldn't bear the idea of unleashing this man back on the unsuspecting population of women at large so he might hurt another woman. That sounds incredibly masochistic. Would you say the same thing if he beat you? If he committed any number of other sins? I think not, so why should that argument apply here?

    His anger in response to your admission of hurt feelings is completely inappropriate. It is insensitive and is a type of emotional abuse. There is absolutely no good reason for a married man to be on dating sites. This is a clear violation of his commitment to you.

    He has done this before and defends this behavior vigorously, apparently believing it to be okay somehow. You clearly are failing to make him see it differently. If you can't, you should consider whether this relationship is healthy for you. There is no way you will be happy with a man who seeks constant personal gratification from other women. Sticking around for the sake of some potential unnamed woman he might hurt in the future is self-defeating and foolish. (I actually suspect there are other reasons you stay, such as not wanting to be alone.)

    Please, please, please ... consider showing the strength in your own life that you urge the letter writer to show in hers.

    Good luck!

  13. My take... she's insecure and her husband isn't helping.

    But as a single woman -- I too take offense to the assertation that asking about a brother or two is a pick up line. (but maybe I don't know any conieving women!)

    If I meet a fabulous man and discover he's married... I respect that... but still want to know where to get one of my own! And frankly, I sometimes feel a bit rejected that he went ahead and got married before meeting me! (The ULTIMATE rejection! ha)

    Sure, it IS meant as a compliment to the man... "you're attractive both physically and in the manner you treat your wife. Got a clone?"
    But usually, I would turn to the wife and say, "does he have a brother?"

  14. Will the husband be okay with it if he is being ignored by his wife while giving more time to her friends? I bet the answer from the heart is " no" may be a "yes" from the lips.
    Friendship has his boundaries and if a marital relationship with secrecy is the worst curse ever. Candidacy is the key to any marital relationship.

  15. Anonymous1:24 AM

    my husband and i have been married for sometime now, i have a friend i have know for less than a year, but she's over everyday. everyday she asks for my husband, she asks who he is talking to, she spends time with him playing games, she sits beside him, she stops by for pity stuff, i am either cooking, cleaning, or on the phone when she comes, and he is watching nba. i feel so insecure around her,it's something that has overtaken me lately and i don't know why. i told him about it which was wrong because he suggest i am tripping. now he spends more time talking to her, joking with her, asking for her since i told him. it's like he is pushing my patience. I feel like i want to spend time with him but everytime i try she's over, or i have to cook,clean, take care of our kids, or something. IT's never just us, and when it is he is just watching nba, or doing his own thing, when i tell him about it, i am tripping again....I am trying not to get oversensitive, but i don't like the person it's making me become, i have never been jealous over him, now it won't go away. i get furious when she comes around and i don't know why.

  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.