Relationship Connection: When does flirting cross the line into an affair?

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Question

My husband has a 20-something female co-worker who happens to be a single mom. During a difficult time in our marriage (when our child was going through extreme anxiety), he turned to this woman and began secretly texting and FaceTiming her. I eventually found flirty texts between them, and I asked him about her. We went to therapy, and I felt like we were doing much better.

However, I recently got a strange feeling and decided (against my better judgment) to put an audio recorder on his keychain. He’d been telling me they no longer talked except when required for work-related issues. I recorded him one day at work. Here’s how the recording played out:

She approaches him, and he begins to breathe heavily. She says, “Does she know?” He replies, “I don’t think so.” They flirt while talking about work, and he pokes her somewhere because then she responds, “Don’t touch me there.” He apparently follows her back to her seat. The flirty talk continues. She tries to tell a story about what her daughter calls her bellybutton.

He tells me they’re just co-workers, and he’s not attracted to her. He says he’s just “being goofy and likes to be funny with her.” Am I being unreasonable in assuming they’re having an affair? He won’t even admit that they’re friends. I’m very embarrassed and ashamed for recording him, but I knew something wasn’t right. I’m sincerely confused and heartbroken.

Answer

I can see why you’re confused and heartbroken. You have discovered actions that threaten the very foundation of your marriage. It’s hard to think clearly when your world keeps turning upside down. Let’s talk about how you can get some clarity and respond to what you’ve just discovered.

First of all, you don’t need to apologize for acting on the suspicion to secretly record your husband. I’m sorry you had a reason to act on these feelings. No spouse should have to worry about their partner’s fidelity and then assume the role of a private investigator. Marriage should be the one relationship where we don’t have to nervously look over our shoulder.

The evidence you collected is hard to refute. Regardless of what else they might be doing outside of work, you’ve got evidence of an interaction that validates there is active deception happening in your marriage. Do not ignore this.

I don’t know if you’ve shared this recording with your husband. If so, have him explain what he means when he tells your co-worker that he believes his wife is uninformed about something. What is he hiding? Why is he colluding with her against you? As the old saying goes, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” The marriage might be able to heal from whatever he’s doing behind your back, but marriages can’t heal when one person covers up and protects secrets.

Your husband is also manipulating you by doing something called “gaslighting.” This happens when two people know the truth about a situation, but one of them tries to convince the other that they don’t see it clearly. You can trust what you felt and what you discovered. You can also trust the behavior you’re seeing from him. At a minimum, “being goofy and funny” with a co-worker crosses the boundary he promised to uphold with this other woman.

You now have the difficult but critical task of deciding how you’ll respond. You have the truth right in front of you. Even if it’s not the entire truth, it’s enough truth to allow you to speak clearly and courageously. Expect your husband to step up and admit the truth of what is on that recording. That is the minimum requirement to being rebuilding trust.

However, it’s obvious he has more to share, so please seek guidance from counseling professionals to know how to proceed. If your husband refuses to acknowledge the truth of what’s directly in front of him, it will be impossible for you to feel secure in this marriage.

If this marriage is going to heal, the burden of proof can’t remain your responsibility. It’s his responsibility to bring you the entire truth and prove to you that he is faithful. This will require tremendous work and time to make this happen. You’ve discovered a great violation of trust that won’t mend without the truth and a deep commitment to restoring your security.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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