A spouse should never be closer to a third party at the expense of his or her partner.
A while ago, a call came through to our offices. On the line was a man. Let call him Mark* to protect his identity. He was quick to state he wanted to talk to someone who writes about marriage and relationships and he had chosen to speak to me.
“I have a problem. There is a man who is giving me nightmares. He is very close to my wife and I am very uncomfortable about their friendship,” he started.”
“Do you suspect he is having an affair with your wife?” I asked expecting an affirmative answer.
“I have done my investigations and I am satisfied there is no sexual relationship between the two of them but I am feeling like I have been relegated to second place in my wife’s heart.” Mark replied.
We agreed to meet and talk about the issue. The issue, according to Mark, 30, who has been married for one and a half years, is that his wife is very free with this man whom she claims has been her very good friend for years.
He says his then girlfriend introduced the man as a good friend of their family even before he got married to her. He thought the friendship would eventually die off as his wife settled down in marriage. But this was not to be, instead the two seem to be closer.
He decided to let his wife know that he was uncomfortable about the friendship but she reassured him that he had no reason to feel that way because John* was just a good friend and their friendship was purely platonic he was like her brother.
Mark wondered whether he was being unreasonable and insecure especially because his wife would meet John regularly in public places, and would he sometimes even drop her home when she did not have her car.
Today, Mark confesses that this friendship is weighing on him too much and he feels he cannot go on like this. That is what prompted him to call me.
“I have tried to talk to her about it several times but she insists she has known this man for long and they are just friends and that I have no reason to be insecure about him,” says Mark.
But Mark is disturbed that his wife, does not understand “what the fuss is all about yet the man even helped her sister get a job.”
Mark’s wife who is 29, feels she is an adult who is able to have friends of either sex without jeopardising her marriage. She feels Mark is fussing too much about a non-issue and that he should trust her because she has nothing to hide. Mark has even raised the matter with John* who is also married.
And his response was that there was nothing between him and Mark’s wife and that they had been good friends for a long time. He felt that if there was an issue, then Mark should sort it out with his wife.
What Mark wanted to know is “whether it is possible for a man and woman who are not related to have such a close friendship? There could be two situations here.
First, the wife could just be having a platonic friendship with John. Or they could be having what is known as an emotional affair. But what is the difference? The Chambers Dictionary describes platonic love as “love between a man and woman without sexual desire”. This means the parties are close but the relationship has no romantic overtones.
What is going on here is probably that Mark’s wife is emotionally attached to John even though she may not be aware of it An emotional affair, according to Wikipedia, is defined as any infidelity that occurs through feeling or thought.
Many of the people who are emotionally cheating don’t consider it to be infidelity. Their thinking is that, because there is no actual physical contact, the behaviour can’t be considered cheating.
The end result is that the unfaithful spouse is paying more emotional attention to someone other than their partner, and they are removing themselves from the commitment they made to their marriage.
It starts innocently but chances are that half of these relationships end up being sexual, according to the source. While emotional affairs are considered as bad as cheating, platonic relationships can be beneficial.
“Sometimes, a woman may need a male perspective on family, career, and dating to make crucial decisions,” notes the website. The opposite is also applicable. However, the website quickly warns of misconceptions about the whole thing by other people.
“Many people do not believe that there can be a close relationship between a man and a woman without sexual overtones.”
According to Dr Gail Saltz, a Psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital, an emotional affair is when one has deep connection with another person without physical affection.
It may appear harmless in the beginning, he writes in TODAY Relationships, but it is very dangerous to a marriage. Often there is a desire to spend time with this person without necessarily being in a private environment.
“If a spouse happens to share secrets or any communication with this person, and hides the same from the spouse or when one feels free to share problems with the person that sometimes touch on the spouse, then there is an affair,” observes Dr Saltz.
A platonic friendship can be a nightmare to married people and as Dr Saltz insists, it affects both men and women. Sample this scenario that affects Jane, a mother of one.
On Valentine’s day in 2008, she almost broke up with her husband of seven years because he insisted on inviting a female colleague for a dinner organised by their friends.
“It was a friend’s dinner and ordinarily, each person was expected to be accompanied by their better half. My husband said it was not a couples’ dinner as such and went ahead to invite this colleague,” she explains.
It turned out the other friends were accompanied and she had to share the attention of her husband with this friend.
“Although I knew they were in high school and university together and that they were good friends, this woman had become a thorn in my flesh even though there has been no evidence of an affair,” Jane explains.
“I felt that she should have given him some space when he got married.” Jane adds. “She had a habit of calling my husband and asking for all manner of advice. Imagine asking him which colours her curtains should be?” Would I be faulted for thinking this woman was up to no good? In such friendships, there is a tendency to dismiss your spouse’s concerns – and declare “We are just friends”.
A spouse is also likely to withdraw from the other half and feel no enthusiasm about a sexual relationship.
“There is also a feeling that the other person understands you better than your spouse. This is what ends up causing emotional tension,” warns the psychiatrist.
Do Mark and Jane’s predicaments justify their worry? “Certainly yes. Once in a marriage, a person cannot continue to relate to former friends like they did before, more so when they are of the opposite sex,” says Caroline Mbuthia, a counseling psychologist.
When two people get married, the relationship must take precedence over all other relationships and certain freedoms that were enjoyed by the parties are affected, says Caroline. Each person must realise their conduct should never mean they are available to all other former interested parties.
“A deliberate effort must be made to show there is a level of closeness that can only be accorded to the spouse,” she advises.
On Mark’s problem, Caroline says he should ask himself, why he feels the way he does? Do he feel the man is taking his wife away from him? Is she neglecting him? Caroline says the questions are crucial as they could be signals that all is not well.
“Human beings are intuitive and some feelings serve as a warning bell in your system to tell you there is danger ahead. It may just be a chemical trigger for you to pay more attention to something you may be taking lightly,” explains the psychologist.
“Marriage requires a certain level of commitment. Many things that start out as ‘innocent’ end up becoming an entangled web. The lady in this scenario needs to decide where her allegiance or loyalty lies, she says.
It may help for the husband to ask her to consider how she would feel if things were reversed and he was the one engaging emotionally with another woman. Boundaries must be demarcated for spouses to avoid both physical and emotional strain.