The dilemma In the digital age what do we make of a husband who texts a female colleague more than his wife? I trust my husband, but he doesn’t see why I feel hurt. The number of texts has grown significantly over a couple of months. I realise opening his post, phone bills addressed to him, is wrong, but we women only seek answers when we have questions. The texts occur during work hours or when he’s working abroad, when I receive very few texts from him. They don’t occur at weekends or late at night, nor is he spending time away from home. He continues to be as loving as ever, but did not apologise when I told him I was upset. In fact, he claimed I was being ridiculous as they were just friends. I feel angry that he doesn’t respect my feelings, but I’ve no idea how to sort this issue or how to live with it and carry on trusting him.
Mariella replies It’s an issue, but not just one of the digital age. It harks back much further. Judging by your appraisal of events so far this woman has done little apart from arrive in the job and communicate regularly, during office hours, with your husband. It’s hardly an act of ardent passion. If we believe in an equal world, where men and women work as colleagues and often as friends, then we can’t discriminate in our treatment of our partner’s work mates. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be alert to trespassers overstepping boundaries, but we have to be fair-minded, reasonable and gender blind. By your own admission there are no notable changes to your husband’s behaviour so why have you breached his privacy and betrayed his trust by searching through his mailboxes? Your behaviour suggests you have reason to suspect him of deception, as otherwise his crime, if there is one, is simply one of omission.
Making sweeping statements like: “We women only seek answers when we have questions” doesn’t exonerate your sleuthing. Such broad and unsubstantiated declarations do women and humanity in general a disservice. There are plenty of people, male and female, who display irrational and in many cases damaging degrees of paranoia and jealousy when it comes to their partner’s wider circle of friends and colleagues. They’ve even recently featured in the Archers plot.
I’ve met plenty of suspicious, green-eyed lovers. I’ve also been one myself in my insecure 20s and hold two basic tenets based on my own grim experience. The first is that you can’t enforce fidelity by policing your lover. And the second that when a partner’s behaviour regularly provokes suspicion either your fears are well-founded, in which case you should be considering your options, not chasing evidence – or they’re self-created, and you need help to diffuse whatever is triggering your paranoia.
Text, emails, social media and mobiles may all facilitate extracurricular relationships, but they don’t create them. They also leave a trail far harder to erase than that of a 19th-century lover. Men and women have been finding ways to have sex with strangers and friends since time immemorial, so blaming your dilemma on the digital age ignores the real conundrum. Once upon a time, when we had barely won the vote, the idea of men and women working together in harmony, having relationships without the complication of sex and bringing their different attributes to work for a common goal seemed almost inconceivable. Now we’re lucky enough to live in that world.
I’m worried about you sitting around at home poring over your husband’s business correspondence and phone bills, and I wonder if you would do better to develop a more fulfilling life of your own. Keeping tabs on your man’s movements may one day net you the prize you seem intent on – exposing a guilty dalliance – but what an enormous amount of time and energy you’ll have squandered in the process.
I suspect that if he were having an affair there would be clearer indications than his phone records. By your account his behaviour remains faultless. It would be perhaps less palatable if your partner spent his free time referring to his colleague’s texts. Then again, why on earth should he, as I’m sure it’s not the only relationship he has that’s based on his job and kept in that arena.
You haven’t said what prompted you to monitor his messages, or what you do while he’s going about his day, so forgive me if I’ve missed a message myself. If she’s a “friend” as he describes her, rather than a colleague, I’d suggest a meal together so you can enjoy her company, too. Ultimately, though, I’d urge you to find more satisfying diversions than trawling through your man’s correspondence. Keeping tabs on your partner’s life leaves you with less time to invest in your own and that’s a far greater crime than texting a colleague.