Help! My Husband Refuses to Unfriend a Woman He Flirted With

My husband and I have been married 40 years. Recently I happened to notice a conversation on Facebook that he left open on our shared computer. I would describe it as extremely flirtatious, but there were no signs of a full-blown affair. The woman appeared to be in her early fifties. When I asked my husband about it, he turned beet red and apologized for my having seen the conversation. He said she's an old classmate of his from high school and that she "friended" him about a month ago. He said they were just flirting harmlessly. However, it doesn't feel harmless to me. I am hurt. He hasn't flirted with me like that in decades. I asked him point blank if he has any romantic feelings for her. He said, "If I were single, maybe, but I am not and that is that." That made me feel a little better, but only a little. It made me think that maybe he's been thinking about what life would be like if we were no longer married. It made me think he has thought about what it would like to be with her. So I asked him to "unfriend" her and to no longer have contact with her. He laughed and said I have nothing to worry about and I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. He refuses to unfriend her, accused me of being "controlling," and says it's not his fault that I have a problem with the situation. I think it is his fault. What am I to do? I feel completely disrespected and devalued that he won't grant me the simple gesture of removing from our lives a source of worry that he helped create. Please help. —Dissed Missus
Dear Dissed Missus,

Thank you for your letter. I am sure that it hurt your feelings, to say the least, when your husband laughed at your request to remove the woman from his Facebook friends list. I also think that, while your feelings are very understandable, this woman is in some ways a red herring for both of you. My sense is that something is missing from the marriage and your feeling undervalued might be there with or without the online classmate. Somehow, his flirtation only exacerbated a feeling of disrespect and devaluing—a big “ouch” for anyone.

First of all, “extremely flirtatious” sounds concerning. From what you saw, did it stray into the sexually explicit? Did they toy with the idea of taking things a step further—“Hey, at the next class reunion, you and I will have our own private stroll down memory lane,” or something along those lines? It is hard to make a judgment about this secondhand, though again the important thing is your hurt feelings and the sense of being in second place (yikes). We all want to feel we’re “the one” with our partner. I also, though, wonder if his leaving it open for you to read was an unconscious communication of a kind, a signal to you that he wants these kinds of conversations with you and not her. An indirect distress call of sorts, or maybe even a protest bordering on the passive-aggressive. If this is truly a “secretive” relationship, he’s not being very secretive about it.

As for marital drift, I can’t tell you how common an issue this is for long-term marriages. Routine and day-to-day security is a double-edged sword: it is comforting, but it can dull our appreciation of who we’re with. We feel secure in knowing what to expect, that our partner is there for us, day in and day out … and may also begin to wish for something a little more vivid and emotionally satisfying, since our partner is always there day in and day out. Routines both soothe and lull us into complacency. Plus, if someone is “always there,” there may be little urgency regarding sex. Sex and physical intimacy (touching, cuddling) can wait until later, or the next day, tomorrow, maybe this weekend, next week … etc. Perhaps, then, this incident is an opportunity to rekindle something. Your husband obviously means a great deal to you, and I have the feeling a little freshness in the romance department could liven things up.

I’m thinking of at least two things to possibly try, depending on the state of affairs. First, more superficially, you could try something spontaneous that you both find a turn-on, something outside the usual routine—a weekend getaway somewhere you both like, some lingerie or a sexy movie you can watch together (and no, we’re never too old), back rubs, an old role-playing game you haven’t tried in a while. These are just some of the first things that come to mind. Laughter, too, can be sexy. Perhaps you both need a night out at the comedy club, or dance lessons (my wife’s favorite), followed by a nice dinner while sharing memories. There’s also massage: a foot rub with massage lotion can do wonders, taking a bath together with candles, and so on. Again, these are more surface things, but sometimes a little spark is all that’s needed.

I would emphasize avoiding concrete solutions at first—i.e., to “unfriend” her or not—until after you have shared feelings and listened and tried to understand how the other feels. Jumping into concrete details will dilute the more essential task of understanding each other’s perspectives and hopes, fears, desires, etc., at play in the marriage as of today.

Or it could be that what’s needed is way of addressing the depths of your feelings and the concern over a strained connection; you may want to sit him down, at a time that works for both of you, and spell out as calmly and non-accusingly as you can what it is you feel and would like to see happen, to make sure he really understands your concerns and how this episode has hurt. I recommend approaching this as partners who are seeking to strengthen the bonds of “the team.” (Rather than “you’re my problem here,” it’s “distance is our problem here.”) Try to keep the focus on you as much as you can, rather than that online woman. He is married to you, not her, but you’re not feeling it lately. You miss him as the man you love, and want to feel him as your chosen partner, not (I’m just guessing) your roommate. You can also mention that when he laughs and dismisses the idea, it feels minimizing and perhaps even abandoning.

I would emphasize avoiding concrete solutions at first—i.e., to “unfriend” her or not—until after you have shared feelings and listened and tried to understand how the other feels. Jumping into concrete details will dilute the more essential task of understanding each other’s perspectives and hopes, fears, desires, etc., at play in the marriage as of today.

Try asking him for his perspective, and—here’s the hard part—try and listen as openly as you can. Imagine, for a moment, you are a friend and not his wife. Is there something bugging him about the relationship? What does he think may be going on here? What was it he found with this friend and not you that can, hopefully, be sparked in the marriage? Does he understand how hurtful it was to stumble upon this online “chat”? I hope that such a dialogue would strengthen your bond, since hurt feelings can also be a catalyst for a couple’s coming closer together with deeper understanding.

It is often a turn-on to feel one’s partner understands how they feel, what they desire, and what hurts. Then we have not just a partner but an ally, someone in our corner who knows our heart, warts and all, and loves and accepts us for who we are. I hope you and your husband are able to find some of this … and there’s no shame in seeking out some couples counseling if the two of you need a little assistance sharing and hearing each other. Sometimes, even just a handful of sessions, with a focus on empathic and reflective listening, can help.

Best of luck to you, and thanks for bravely writing!
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • Deb

    Deb

    October 2nd, 2015 at 6:16 PM

    Those are all good suggestions but I’m wondering what’s going on with you . Are you taking care of yourself ? Are you happy with you ? There is nothing more attractive and enticing than a confident woman. So, instead of ” unfriend her ” I’d be on his lap while he’s on fb saying come on baby you can talk to her anytime …. Maybe get to the gym or do something that empowers you not only for yourself but for the relationship .

  • Janine

    Janine

    October 2nd, 2015 at 7:20 PM

    “Try asking him for his perspective, and—here’s the hard part—try and listen as openly as you can. Imagine, for a moment, you are a friend and not his wife. Is there something bugging him about the relationship? What does he think may be going on here? What was it he found with this friend and not you that can, hopefully, be sparked in the marriage? Does he understand how hurtful it was to stumble upon this online “chat”? I hope that such a dialogue would strengthen your bond, since hurt feelings can also be a catalyst for a couple’s coming closer together with deeper understanding.”

    You are victim blaming here, the fact that this gentleman is flirting with someone else is less about their marriage and more about his own needs. It’s not about what she needs to fix.

  • mikayla

    mikayla

    October 3rd, 2015 at 6:40 AM

    You better stand your ground.If it isn’t her then it will be someone else. You better work on figuring out why he feels like he needs this from another woman. I think that if he was totally happy then this wouldn’t have happened.

  • Karen

    Karen

    October 3rd, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    I really disagree with this. He ‘apologised for my having seen the conversation’, NOT for having had the conversation. Red flag number one. Then, when he is well aware that he has behaved inappropriately, he says the problem is with his wife, not him. His refusal to unfriend this woman then puts her feelings as more important than his wife’s. And yet she is now meant to be tippy-toeing around him and trying to make HIM feel better? Yeah, right. This lady needs to stop being controlled by him (because HE is the controlling one – ‘put up with my flirtations or else’), start getting her own needs met, or get the hell out of there.

  • Deborah

    Deborah

    October 3rd, 2015 at 12:30 PM

    why are you asking this roman to jump through hoops to “fix/please” her husband?
    He is guilty of being deceitful and having a selfish uncaring attitude.
    It’s time for the husband to shape up, not the wife.

  • Darren Haber

    Darren Haber

    October 3rd, 2015 at 2:04 PM

    Thanks all for your comments. I can understand those who feel I am perhaps “taking his side” or being unsympathetic to her “side” or what have you. I often detect black and white thinking that goes along with the “victim/perpetrator” perspective, and with some cases of abuse there is obviously a grievous harm done that IS pretty black and white (emotional or physical abuse, for instance). Some readers seem to feel there is a right and a wrong here, and clearly the husband is about as far from right as England is from Japan. The problem with this, in my years of clinical work with couples, is that it only perpetuates conflict, head-butting and goes nowhere. Usually it goes like this, “you’re the wrong one,” “well you’re judgmental” “well you’re selfish” “well you’re spying on me” etc etc — circles of frustration and rage that damages the relationship, sometimes irrevocably. Certainly she has the right to draw a line in the sand, tell him to like it or lump it, to say shape up or ship out, point the finger and say “cut the crap or pack your bags.” The risk there is he could feel cornered and call her bluff and walk. One could argue it’s worth the risk, given his behaviors, but she seems to want closeness, not a showdown, and for him to understand how much this hurts her, which requires some degree of vulnerability on her part. One can argue over facts or interpretations of events, but not feelings, meaning I would advise her to boldly (not cautiously) share the hurt, anger and what ever else she feels about this incident. In other words I would focus on how she feels, which cannot be argued, rather than what was happening or not happening on Facebook. This in turn opens up the relational space, invites him to indulge in some rigorous honesty and “cut the crap” so that he might say “I feel embarrassed, ashamed, afraid” and hopefully “I’m sorry and will stop it” . The problem is the pain she feels and the strain in the relationship. I think sharing honest feelings with a partner is the opposite of walking on egg shells, perhaps the bravest thing we can do. Shouting creates barriers and invites retribution. We have no idea what’s going on with him, or the two of them, besides his admittedly inappropriate and hurtful behavior. If I were her I’d be sore as hell, but I’d also want to know what is making him resort to this? And how the heck does he think it feels to see it? I never presume to know the whole story in a relatively brief account such as this; uncovering deeper motives and feelings gives the relationship more space and emotional oxygen to strengthen an attachment. Of course, if he blows her off and refuses to listen, then all doors are closed so why not let him have it. Sometimes it comes to that, usually as a last resort, I advise. But even there the point of a raised voice is sharing hurt feelings of disregard and disrespect,, to break through his defensiveness. True love requires humility (not humiliation) which includes boundaries of course. But as they say in some recovery programs “do you want to be right or do you want to be married” or “sometimes the loneliest place to be is ‘right’.” Thanks again for all your comments.

  • Buddy

    Buddy

    October 5th, 2015 at 2:19 PM

    My thoughts are that if there is nothing there then he is going to be fine with deleting her a s a friend.
    If he puts up too much of a fight about it then yeah, I would be worried. W hy would he care so much about it if there was nothing there?

  • june

    june

    October 6th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    This just screams that he has far too little respect for you or your marriage

  • Dillon

    Dillon

    October 7th, 2015 at 2:28 PM

    you really can flirt and not have it mean anything

    but I can see how it would bother you seeing it

    I wouldn’t read too much into it just yet

  • eleanor

    eleanor

    October 13th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Would I ever feel like doing something that would let both of us feel turned on? I would always be wondering in the back of my mind if he was actually thinking about this other woman even after the time that he was spending with me.

  • shades

    shades

    March 16th, 2016 at 4:02 AM

    try doing the same to him and see what his reaction is.

  • Tona

    Tona

    April 1st, 2016 at 5:53 AM

    My husband is cheating on me he sleeps around and always chatting with this lady on the phone. When I caught him with several texts he refused to admit it. Rather he told me am critical and that I don’t value myself . I told him how I feel and I asked him to unfriend the lady from facebook he rather changed his facebook password. Later I looked through his group of friends and still saw the lady and I insisted he unfriend her which he later did. But for some months we have never had sex but we did last night but it wasn’t as like before and right now I still feel betrayed and it seems he might still be thinking of that lady. How do I make my marriage work. And how do I stop thinking of this sexually immorality my husband is committing?

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