A Painful Triangle
May 23, 2012 7:42 AM   Subscribe

How to handle my husband's "friendship" with a woman half his age? I am upset about it, and he refuses to give it up. Snowflake details inside:

My husband is 60--she is 30. She was originally a waitress at the bar that sponsors his softball team. He is absolutely not having a sexual affair with her, but I am still threatened by and unhappy with this relationship.

About 6 or 7 years ago he went to Vegas with some of his softball buddies. I found out by accident that this young woman and her friend went along as well. He had not disclosed this to me. My husband ended up taking her to the emergency room when she cut her foot. At that time, I confronted my husband about the secrecy, why he never told me about it--about the inappropriateness of this relationship, and the fact that she was our daughter's age. He had few answers. At the time, I asked him to discontinue the relationship. He has refused, stating that I have no reason to be upset as it is not an affair. Nonetheless, the secrecy and her needs of him have disturbed me.

My husband is a divorce lawyer and has helped this young woman many times with her former husband's divorce. She has since become a paralegal, and calls him for help and legal questions. Recently she called and borrowed money when she ran into difficulty. I only found out about it after the fact.

They have frequently had lunch together. She calls him whenever she is in need. He has told me that he thinks she may be bipolar and that she calls him more frequently when she is feeling manic.

When I expressed how distressed and upset I was by this relationship and asked him what he was getting out of it, he said that of course he was flattered by the attentions of a young and attractive woman, and that he felt like a "white knight" when he rescued her. I told him that I thought this was an indication that our relationship was troubled and that he was getting needs met outside the relationship and that perhaps we should take a look at that.

My husband has recently gone to therapy, and his therapist tells him that so long as he is completely transparent with me, rather than hiding the relationship, there is no problem with it. I, however, feel completely distressed by it. This evening he told me that in the interest of transparency, he wanted me to know that she had called to invite him out to a birthday lunch to give him a present. I let him know how upset I was by it, and he told me I had no reason to be upset. I feel that his stubborn persistence in keeping this "friendship" is really affecting how I feel about him. I have asked him to go to couples therapy to talk about this, and he has declined.

I'm not really interested in hearing that I need to just get over my jealousy or whatever it is. My feelings are my feelings. I would like some advice about how to communicate more effectively to him my hurt and distrust about this situation.
posted by chaoscutie to Human Relations (52 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Well, he's refusing to take into account your needs in the interest of his own desires. I think you need to tell him he is doing that and that it's not something you're able to deal with. You guys have to work out some sort of compromise here.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:52 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have asked him to go to couples therapy to talk about this, and he has declined.

It sounds like you have, in fact, pretty effectively communicated to him your hurt and distrust, but he is dismissing it. You've described more than one situation in which he has said that your feelings are unimportant and you don't need to worry, but zero situations in which he has really addressed your concern about how it affects your marriage. Maybe the question is, really, how many more times are you willing to accept that response from him?
posted by so_gracefully at 7:53 AM on May 23, 2012 [26 favorites]

Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Connection has helped my husband and I through a lot of difficult conversations. (As well as when not to talk, but to act.)

But like all books on bottom-line issues, eventually you come to a place where there is a bottom line. "If you continue this, the relationship cannot continue." It sounds like the refusal to go to couples counselling &/or set limits on this relationship is coming to that point for you. At that point it's not about communicating your hurt; it's about communicating which steps you are about to take.
posted by Zen_warrior at 7:55 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

I do not think you need to get over your jealousy. I think you need to listen to what your gut is telling you about this situation. I also think there is no answer to your request for advice re: more effectively communicating how you feel about this situation. The next step is deciding what you will do now that you know he is not going to change his behaviour. You may find the surviving infidelity forum a good resource for figuring that step out.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 7:56 AM on May 23, 2012

Given that your husband is a divorce lawyer I almost wonder if he's trying to get you to break up with him. He is sending a very clear message that he does not respect you or care about you in this situation.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:58 AM on May 23, 2012 [18 favorites]

His therapist, as translated by him anyway, is in the wrong here. Transparency in a relationship is necessary but not sufficient, he also has to care for your feelings even if they don't make sense to him. The specific nature of the relationship he has with this woman is immaterial, you are upset with it, he is being dismissive and sneaky, and that is several kinds of not ok. Women in particular are generally socialized to not trust their instincts, to devalue them, and to consider them irrational. This only serves one purpose, to make women more vulnerable and manipulate-able. Your husband has been acting like a dick.

You mentioned that your husband's friend is your daughter's age, maybe he mostly just wants to interact with young people and be a helpful father figure? You might try encouraging him to, depending on his skills and experience, be a business adviser person for small start-ups, join a second sports team with younger people, rent out a room with him to young professionals, or volunteer his skills with a charity.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:58 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

As a simple matter, your husband needs to care more about how you feel about the relationship. You're absolutely right that your feelings are your feelings, and that matters a lot more than any objective facts about the relationship. It sounds like you're good at communicating this, so I'm not sure what to tell you to tell him.

The other issue I see is the secrecy. Obviously, because you disapprove of the relationship, he's got a motive to remain secretive about it. It might help to tell him something to the effect of "You know I disapprove, but for now, just tell me what you're doing with her." It's what his therapist recommended and I have a feeling that discussing what's going on out loud will do something to make him realize that it's not a normal relationship between friends.

I don't think that transparency is enough, but it might be a start.

She calls him whenever she is in need. He has told me that he thinks she may be bipolar and that she calls him more frequently when she is feeling manic.

This is a red flag for me. If your husband is the person that a bipolar person turns to in times of need, there's probably a much strong emotional connection on her end that he realizes. Bipolar, especially mania, brings strong emotions and that can mean strong attachments. My wife is bipolar and our relationship progressed very, very fast emotionally because I was the one helping her through stuff.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:58 AM on May 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: of course he was flattered by the attentions of a young and attractive woman, and that he felt like a "white knight" when he rescued her.

It sounds like he has to make peace with his position in life. Erickson's last stage of development is "ego integrity versus despair" and the value to achieve is wisdom. It sounds like there's two layers going on, the first being the flattery of a young woman, which he is, in essence, paying for it sounds like. If he does not intended to enter into a sexual affair with her, we must then ask what 'payment' he is receiving.

From a far distance, it sounds like it's more than attention; perhaps a sense of purpose and meaning. If his efforts allow her to achieve something that she could not achieve otherwise, then he has the gain not only of the aforementioned flattery and attention, but in being part of someone else's life. Perhaps another way of saying it is that he is contributing to something larger than himself, and her stability or successes can feel to be partially his stability and successes.

The 'wisdom' aspect is that as we diminish in our ability to contribute directly to society and the world around us, we at least can contribute indirectly, by sharing experiences, helping others make better choices, and supporting younger people. Whilst that is not the totality of the situation here, it very well may be an aspect of it. Perhaps he is receiving tremendous emotional benefit, beyond the flattery, by helping this woman out, and in a way, providing for some of her needs.

Thus, he may have the subconscious need to having more meaning than exists for him at the moment. And that's nothing against you. Our needs change in time, and often they change before we are aware that they have changed. He's obviously having an emotional need met somehow, so it sounds like a positive progression would be to identify that need in his therapy, and find more sustainable, harmonious ways to satiate it.

In terms of your communication with him, there are the three styles: Attack, Withdraw, and Confide. The first two should be obvious, and usually result in the opposite of what we want. Frontal attacks cause the other person to become defensive and either respond with an Attack or retreat into withdrawal. Withdrawing is a form of passive-aggression, and can result in distancing, and can actually be as or more damaging to the relationship than attacking.

The final communication style then is to confide. Thus, I would say you can confide him in -- which is speaking your truth and telling him how his actions are making you feel -- and then allow him to make his choices. After you have confided, I would simply ignore it. Any attention that you give to it is reinforcing a bad triangle, for now he is receiving positive attention from her, and negative attention from you. If he is going to have this little parade of his, then let him. As long as he doesn't break his vows or disturb your life, it's a phase. Thus, perhaps treat it as a phase.

One thing that you can absolutely do is set boundaries. If you do not want your shared money going to her, than that is a healthy boundary. Or a fixed amount or whatever. But you can tell him that whilst you are not going to tell him how to spend his time, it is not fair to use your shared resources in a way which is counter to your intentions. It's similar to buying a high-powered rocket launcher. Can he buy one? Yes, he can. Do you want one in the house? No. That's not a fair use of your family funds.

If you can get him to agree not to spend money on her and that is what she is after, chances are when the tap is turned off, she'll flutter away to the next faucet. If she has Daddy Issues, she may stick around a bit longer, but in time, this too will pass.

What I would not do is react to it. If he is looking for meaning, than negative attention is a little kick that will satisfying the meaning for a bit. It doesn't solve the problem, and you may find yourself in a progressively-worsening pattern. He may well 'find meaning' by provoking negative attention. Thus, 1) confide in him how you feel. 2) set appropriate boundaries that you can live with and do not feel worried by. and 3) start feeling around for where the vacancy is in his life and when there's a bit of discovery done there, have that conversation.

It is not going to be helpful to get super cray cray all over him, for whilst negative attention may not be pleasant, it still is attention and can in some way fulfil needs. Red flag on that one.

posted by nickrussell at 8:02 AM on May 23, 2012 [31 favorites]

This does not comprehensively answer your question, but I will say that the notion that the therapist can somehow be the guidepost for what is right and wrong here is so wrong as to be ridiculous. Therapists aren't secular priests or holy men. They don't get to bless things or absolve people. The therapist is either misunderstanding his/her role or your husband is misunderstanding what the therapist said.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:04 AM on May 23, 2012 [18 favorites]

The only thing I can think of it to tell him you'd like to get to know her, and that it's ok with you that they meet as long as you can come along. (I don't imagine this would be fun for you; but it might be even less fun for them, and that's worth something. I'm just thinking it might make their thing less intimate and private.)

But at the same time I would strongly suggest having your ducks in a row in terms of knowing where your money is, etc. If he's having a midlife crisis with this lady, it might blow over or it might not.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:05 AM on May 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you know this is not an affair, then I think your daughter should feel more threatened then you...It sounds to me like he is helping her like a father figure...not a romantic interest...

Try talking to him about the situation from this perspective. Perhaps he will understand your feelings better and not immediately think that because it's not an affair your feelings are unfounded...
posted by NoDef at 8:07 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree with Mr. Justice. Your husband might say that therapist told him that XYZ makes the situation a-okay but there's a chance that the therapist said something more nuanced and your husband is picking out the part that doesn't require him to make any difficult choices or be considerate...

...and there's a certainty that it doesn't even matter what the therapist says because the only people who get to negotiate the terms of your relationship (deciding what's a-okay and what isn't) are you and your husband.

The fact that he gave this woman money without telling you has made me angry on your behalf.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:08 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

My husband is a divorce lawyer and has helped this young woman many times with her former husband's divorce.

Question: Can you clarify the meaning of this? I'm unclear because of the phrasing. Her "former" husband — is he no longer her husband because of a divorce, or because he passed away? Do you mean that your husband represented this young woman when she divorced her own husband? That your husband represented this young woman's former husband in the husband's previous divorce?
posted by hypotheticole at 8:16 AM on May 23, 2012

It sounds like the real issue here is that he's being taken advantage of by a needy, unstable person. If you keep framing it as a trust/jealousy/younger woman issue, he's going to keep thinking "but it's not an affair, she's overreacting". But if you frame it as "yeah, you're being flattered as a mean to sucker you out of money that should go to us/our family", then he may be less likely to dismiss your problem as mere jealousy.
posted by spaltavian at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, first of all, you might want to look into therapy for yourself, not because there's something wrong with you, there isn't, but because you want to demonstrate how serious you are about solving this problem. Also, therapists are great at providing frameworks and wording to help you frame your feelings in a way that your husband might understand. If you select a couples therapist, he or she can morph into your couples therapist if your husband decides that he's ready.

Secondly, I understand how you feel threatened and I'd get my financial ducks in a row, ESPECIALLY as your husband is a divorce lawyer. Also, get someone on retainer NOW, as your husband's relationship in the divorce lawyer arena may poison the well, and you'll have a hard time getting anyone he knows to take your case if in fact this does turn into a divorce situation.

This situation is not okay, age isn't even a factor (although it sure doesn't make it any easier) your husband is emotionally involved with someone else, even if he isn't sexually involved (and we really only have his say-so on that don't we?)

This is hard, but take the emotions out of it, take what he says out of it, what is he doing?

I can not urge your strongly enough to prepare yourself for some very unpleasant truths, one of which is to treat this "affair" as infidelity, and act accordingly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2012 [11 favorites]

I understand how you feel, and that relationship would be a deal breaker for me. I think maybe you should write him a letter telling him exactly how you feel and mentioning some of the things that have been said here - your husband is basically telling you that your feelings don't matter, and basically putting this other woman's wants and needs before yours. You're his wife and that's not acceptable. Spell that out to him.

And also, what others said about the therapist not having any say in what goes on I. Your relationship. He can give your husband advice, but his word is not stone, and he certainly has no right to be dictating what should or should not be acceptable to you.
posted by catatethebird at 8:30 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm bothered by your husband's dismissal of your feelings. Feelings are not rooted in rationality, and his insistence that you have no reason to feel threatened is beside the point. You feel threatened, and therefore, there is a problem. I'm bothered by his therapist's position on this point, as well. Your feelings are real and deserve consideration.
posted by rosa at 8:35 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

You are inflexible with respect to accepting the friendship, and he is inflexible with respect to giving it up. I think it's less a question of communication at this point and more a question of finding a way to reach a common ground, and if you're not willing to do that then accept that either you need to set consequences and follow through or learn to accept the situation.

The only person you can really change here is yourself and how you feel - have you considered therapy on your own, to talk through the issues in your marriage and how they affect you (as opposed to how they affect the relationship)?
posted by mrs. taters at 8:43 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I had a similar situation and it did impact my marriage. And my husband complied with many of my requests around the woman. I did not ask him to stop the relationship due to a project they were involved in together that would have been adversely impacted. But he swore there was nothing there and wanted me to be happy. As it turns out he was lying to himself as well as me. This third person ended up breaking up my marriage not because of the emotional affair they were having but because he realized he needed more from a relationship than I could give him.

Totally agree with the idea that you need to matter more than his need to feel flattered. That is very selfish and not good for a relationshp. My husband was totally transparent and it still aroused in him the need for something else.
posted by shaarog at 9:00 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

The questions I'd be asking here are:

1) What, specifically, bothers you about the friendship? Is it the financial aspect? Is it the fact that he's spending time with a young and attractive woman? Are you secretly worried that because she's half his age, that he's going through a midlife crisis and might want to divorce you?

2) Is there any situation in which he can remain friends with the woman where you will be satisfied? Would, as someone suggested, meeting her help?

3) He says he feels flattered by her attentions. Has he stopped feeling flattered by yours?
posted by corb at 9:08 AM on May 23, 2012

Maybe you've been clearer with your husband, but I couldn't figure out what in particular bothers you. Obviously the combination of 30-year old woman + secrecy + bipolar + frequent lunches + money + calls whenever in need is bad. But would you object to your husband ever being friends with any 30-year old woman? What about ever having lunch alone with a woman? What about providing professional advice? Is it the secrecy alone? What if he had gone on a trip with another 60 year old man and had specifically hidden that from you?

I think you need to think about what specifically bothers you so you can communicate that to your husband. Is the secrecy the dealbreaker? If so, you need to tell him, "You lied about the relationship so I don't trust you with this woman." Is it the fact that he is spending time and emotional energy on this woman and that you feel that is detracting from the marriage? Is it that he takes pleasure in being her "white knight," and you want him to be your "white knight"? Is it a combination of those things? If so, what aspects matter?

And perhaps more importantly, what aspects don't? I wonder if your husband is somehow telling himself, "My wife she won't even let me help a paralegal!" or "My wife is unhappy when I just have lunch with a friend, just because that friend happens to be young and female!" Obviously that isn't the case, but he might understand better or you were able to say, "I would be OK with this if it were only A and B, but it's also X, Y, and Z."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:11 AM on May 23, 2012 [20 favorites]

As you describe it, there's nothing logically untoward about their relationship. She's a young woman, possibly with mental health issues, getting by with a waitressing job after a divorce; he's twice her age, giving her professional and personal advice, trips to the emergency room, and acting as a reliable pillar in her life both emotionally and financially. He absolutely denies sexual interest, so it sounds like he's acting as a parental figure for her. When I was in high school there was a young man who my parents were helping out in a similar way, and that's something that wasn't unusual for them (they often "took in strays"). But that's my PARENTS, together. If it had been just one of them, I could imagine how the other would resent that person's external emotional investment outside the family, especially if there had been the lack of communication bordering on secrecy that you describe.

Try to refine what it is that bothers you most about the situation, and maybe the two of you can address those particular points together. Consider, would it matter if this person were a 60-year old instead of 30? If it were his coworker instead of a waitress or social connection? If it were a person you knew also, or you both knew as a couple, instead of his introduction (say, from church, or a friend's daughter)? Is gender a factor in how much those hypothetical situations bother you? Or maybe it's only partly to do with who the other person is, and it's the amount of time and money away from you that's bothering you?

Logic aside, he's not treating your feelings on the subject seriously, and that's not good at all.
posted by aimedwander at 9:12 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm less concerned about the relationship itself and more concerned about your husband's utter disregard for your feelings. You keep telling him that you're upset, and he keeps responding that you don't get to feel upset because he's not sleeping with her. This, to me, is really characteristic of our culture's strange fixation on sexual fidelity as the only barometer of a relationship's health. His spending this much time and attention on someone else, lying to you, and borrowing money without even telling you (!!!) is, to me, a really big deal. I actually think that some of those things are bigger betrayals than having an orgasm with someone else would be. But the bigger issue is that he doesn't see your distress as a problem that both of you share - he sees it as your problem. What's the point of being in a relationship with that attitude?

Usually, when people write AskMes like this one, they fall all over themselves to tell us how great their relationship otherwise is. They don't want to be told to break up, so they state really clearly how much they care about their partner (usually this is all protesting too much, to the point that I've started to see the phrase "I love this man" as a red flag, but that's neither here nor there). You didn't do any of that. Was that just for space reasons? Is this a relationship that's worth putting in a lot of work to save? Or one that you'd be better off without?
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:12 AM on May 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

If I were you, I would be questioning whether the fact that my husband wasn't having affair was less about "lack of interest" and more about "lack of opportunity." It sounds to me like he's a wealthy man who's attracted to her, she knows that, and she's playing him.

On the other hand, if he genuinely views her in a parental way, I can see why it would be hard for him to give this woman up. If you saw somebody as a daughter, would YOU give her up?

My advice to you is somewhat along the lines of "trust but verify." I think you should try to see things from your husband's perspective take a nurturing interest in this younger woman. Have dinner with her and your husband and try to help her out yourself from time to time - become the person she calls for emotional reassurance. If there's a sexual tension there, that will shift her perception of you from "potential rival" to "mother figure", effectively neutering your husband in her eyes. (Because he would consequently fall into the dad role, and sleeping with him would just be creepy for her.)

If your husband's interest in her is purely parental, he should have absolutely no problem with that. On the other hand, if he has a sexual interest, he will try to find ways to get you and her to spend less time together and drive wedges between the two of you. Document this - it'll be good ammunition for a potential divorce.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:45 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

chaoscutie: "He is absolutely not having a sexual affair with her, but I am still threatened by and unhappy with this relationship."

It may not be sexual, but it sure as hell is an affair. And it's now an affair acknowledged by the wife, who (through her actions) has made it plain she will endure it without initiating a divorce, or even asking him to move out.

After all, the difference between an affair and a friendship isn't the sex; it's the emotional surrogacy of the outside for the existing partner. There's sexual infidelity, and there's emotional infidelity; they are often comingled, but not always.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:07 AM on May 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

He lied (which he will probably justify as "by omission", which is has the same motivation to deceive) but has now offered to be honest/transparent. Does he not understand that you can no longer trust him to tell the whole truth? I would consider their relationship a deal breaker personally. Especially as he is publicly having an inappropriate relationship in public involving friends (to me, that shows he is disrespectful of not only your feeling but also his friends as well). That is uncomfortable for everyone and is damaging the entire social group. I second the suggestion to read surviving infidelity, meet with a lawyer and make yourself the centre of your life instead of him.
posted by saucysault at 10:14 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband has recently gone to therapy, and his therapist tells him that so long as he is completely transparent with me, rather than hiding the relationship, there is no problem with it.

He followed his therapists advice and was transparent with you, but you still were upset. There is clearly a disconnect between what the therapist thinks is okay and what you think is okay. Either he should get another therapist, or you guys should go to couple's counseling together.

But I wanted to point out that you're fighting from having contact with this girl at every step. He's done a lot to meet you half way, but you haven't mentioned anything that you've done to meet him half way. For example, you could allow him to speak with this girl on occasions, as long as he remains professional. For example, in the pursuit of professionalism, you could ask him not to accept any presents from this person. He's already being transparent with you, it sounds like he would probably accommodate other requests as well as long as he doesn't stop full contact with this person.

Personally, I think your husband is not disregarding your feelings and is genuinely listening to you, however, he has also drawn a line. He has made it very clear that he does not wish to stop contact with this person. Likewise, you have made it very clear that he must stop all contact with this person. Unless both of you are willing to meet half way, then this will be a terrible ending to your relationship with him because at least one of you will never be satisfied. I'm not saying that he's right, or that you're right, because honestly, I don't know the whole story. Based on what you've said, his actions *do* sound a little creepy, but he's decided to meet you half way to lessen the creepiness. You can either accept that and meet him half way too, or you can refuse to accept any contact with this woman completely. If you choose to not accept it at all, then that doesn't mean that your wrong, it's just means that you have different values than him. And that's okay. Everyone has a different stance on relationships. No one is going to blame you if your view is different than his.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:18 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Husband's therapist a fool. Husband may not be physically having an affair but seems as though having an emotional one....if he will not end things as you ask, then time for you to act. for what you need.
posted by Postroad at 10:20 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wonder to if it would be possible to meet with his therapist and him and get clarity about what the therapist said. I think he has now defaulted to lies and justifications for his behaviour to both of you.

(I'm not one for absolutes usually but the ONLY reason a 23 year old waitress goes to Las Vegas with a man over 50 is his money. I'm sure he has lots of charms but she can get all that attention and advice from guys her own age; rich guys going through a midlife crisis have the open wallet without the wisdom to see when they are being manipulated. I'd get informed about your finances/his practice's finances and expenses immediately).
posted by saucysault at 10:24 AM on May 23, 2012 [20 favorites]

I have a best friend who's male and about seven years older than me. We met while working in the same industry a few years ago. He's happily married to a woman I'm not friends with. We've all hung out together on several occasions, his wife and I just don't click. My boyfriend likes him.

It was awkward at first, I didn't know if he was working up to making our friendship into a relationship and ruining his marriage. I was pretty confused early on. You should have seen my anonymous askme - people were lighting up torches and waving pitchforks in that thread. It's been about 4 years though and we're still friends. I figured out a long time ago that we wouldn't have been a good match romantically. She wasn't pleased about our being friends for the longest time, but he's stubbornly refused to give up our friendship. He was and has been very good about clear boundaries - for instance, he's probably the one friend I never hug. His wife's always his #1 priority - her needs are first, giving her attention comes first. He clearly loves her and I respect that entirely.

We go out for lunch, sometimes for after-work drinks when his wife's on shift (she's a doctor). We trade books, movies, tools, advice, recipes, little gifts (lego mostly, or souvenirs from travels). He likes having a female friend to gossip with, he likes hearing about my relationship and offering different perspectives based on his own experience, hearing about other stuff in our field of work, and having an understanding person to complain to about his own work. So yeah he gets something from this friendship that he doesn't get in his marriage, just like I don't get everything from my boyfriend. But that's what friends are for.

So there are a few things that I think should be happening here in your case.
1) you should meet this woman, and get to know her.
2) you should know about what boundaries your husband has with this girl - does she hug him or otherwise touch him? If yes, that must stop - it draws the line of familiarity at a more professional level rather than allowing a more intimate friendship to develop, if the potential for attraction exists. He shouldn't be loaning her substantial amounts of money - he can't be her white knight if he wants to remain her friend.
3) your husband needs to give you reassurance that your own relationship is a priority.

And you need to be willing to work with him on this. If he won't talk with you, write him a letter about your feelings on this. Be fair, be clear, make him understand you want to trust him here but you need to negotiate some boundaries he has with her if you're going to be able to do that. If he's just grown bored in your own marriage, and looking for excitement, that is also something to discuss and work on.
posted by lizbunny at 10:30 AM on May 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

Since he is being transparent about the birthday lunch, thank him for inviting you along and help him open the present. After all, he has nothing to hide, right?
posted by saucysault at 10:30 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

I find myself rolling my eyes generally when someone throws around the term emotional affair. It often is applied to virtually any close male female relationship that someone's significant other doesn't like, but in this case this is clearly an emotional affair that is just as destructive as an actual affair would be.

My first reaction is he wants this to be an actual affair and she has quite successfully played him. I would be asking him if he would leave you for her if she asked him.

I also think that in relationships people are occasionally allowed to have unreasonable request. While I actual don't think you are being unreasonable at all, even if he does he should grant you this request. He should choose you over her. If he won't then it's really just a matter of deciding whether you are going to stay because if you give him an ultimatum and he still doesn't give her up then he never will.
posted by whoaali at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not one for absolutes usually but the ONLY reason a 23 year old waitress goes to Las Vegas with a man over 50 is his money.

Yeah, seriously, what even is this shit? I would want to know if he paid for her and her friend to join them, because I don't really see a 23 year old waitress being able to afford this on her own. And this was at the very start of their relationship? I just. Whether or not it's still going on, I find it really hard to believe he hasn't slept with her already.
posted by elizardbits at 10:41 AM on May 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

My husband is a divorce lawyer

I think you are being lied to. I'm really sorry.

I would like some advice about how to communicate more effectively to him my hurt and distrust about this situation.

I think you have communicated this as effectively as you can.

My husband has recently gone to therapy, and his therapist tells him that so long as he is completely transparent with me, rather than hiding the relationship, there is no problem with it.

I know me some therapists, and this doesn't sound like any therapist I've ever talked to. They are not cavalier 'no problem!' types.

I think you should have your radar working double-time.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:50 AM on May 23, 2012 [15 favorites]

I know me some therapists, and this doesn't sound like any therapist I've ever talked to.

That also made me pause, and now I'm wondering if he's legitimately seeing a therapist at all, or if he's using that hour or so as an excuse to get out of the house and see this other woman. It could just as easily be a terrible therapist, though. Or a misrepresentation of what the actual therapist said.
posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't understand why people seem to assume the husband is being transparent: he has not been transparent. He didn't tell his wife he went with the young woman to Las Vegas, and he didn't tell her he lent her money. He is being transparent when it suits him, and not when it doesn't. Or, he was not being transparent before, and now is.

Either way, the OP's distrust and anxiety is earned, not baseless. Even if the husband intends to be transparent in future, his previous secrecy makes him less trustworthy than if he'd been fully honest and open since day one. Like they say, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up.

I agree that the OP should do some thinking about what she'd like to have happen (perhaps via therapy) and what she will do if it doesn't. Once she knows her own limits (and the consequences if her husband won't accommodate them), she can communicate them to him, and take whatever action she needs to. This marriage may already be too broken to fix, particularly if the husband isn't interested in doing anything to fix it.

Good luck, OP.
posted by Susan PG at 11:08 AM on May 23, 2012 [13 favorites]

You are being lied to and it is time for you to find a divorce somehow and figure out how to protect yourself. If he's not having sex with her it is because she doesn't want him.

Please figure out how to detach from him and protect your financial security.
posted by discopolo at 11:29 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This story sets off my lie-o-meter big time.

"so long as he is completely transparent with me, rather than hiding the relationship, there is no problem with it"

so then the converse of that statement is:

"there is a problem with it if he is not completely transparent with you."

Phrasing it this way allows you to see that because he has not been transparent with you, there is a problem. I agree with couples counseling, I agree with laying down specific boundaries such as no loaning her money and no going away together, and I would also do the following: ensure that you can look at his cell phone and text messages and e-mails at random intervals and that you don't see anything suspicious there (ask his permission to do this), and ask him if you can be present at all their get togethers for the next few months. Why? Because I think he's lying and cheating, and I'm pretty sure you'll be able to pick up whether that is the case or not this way. Am surprised by how many people are putting this on you for being "inflexible" or not trusting your husband for what might be an innocent relationship. He's thrown up red flags. He's proven he is untrustworthy. If you weren't suspicious at this point I would wonder why not.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:48 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

My dad (70) is a master of snappy chatter. He strikes up conversations and friendships with a broad variety of people, including younger women. My mother seems to think this is hilarious. Jokes get made about my dad "cruising for chicks" and other nonsense. Sometimes she'll parrot things back at him. "Oh, Veeeeeera says ..." I could easily see this dynamic being a big problem in a different couple, but my parents treat it as a private joke and it ends up bringing them closer, not dividing them. (It probably helps that my dad makes cartoonishly obvious passes at my mom from time to time.)

I don't know that your situation is a joking matter, but I would look for an approach or solution that puts you on a team together. I suspect if you try with anger to make him heel and make him choose - you vs her, marriage vs fantasy, old vs new - that the consequences will put a sour note on what future years you have together. You don't want that.

This younger woman cannot seriously be any competition for you. You are wiser, world-smarter, have more in common, and you have the backing of your history with your husband. So she's younger. Whatever. She's just a paper cutout he's projecting some wishes on. Most likely, given time he will lose interest in her and her drama. Chances are it's going to be the same old dull chaos with her, over and over.

I would talk to him openly and often about what he's getting from this exchange. He likes helping someone who needs help? He likes being around someone younger because it makes him feel younger? Assume generalities, not specifics. Meet the woman. If he goes to lunch with her, ask him about what they talked about. Lending/giving her money is obviously out of line. Having secret adventures like the Vegas trip is not cool. But if your husband values your marriage there is no way he's going to trade the security of your future years together for this silly flirtation. He probably knows that, but he's feeling out the edge to see how much he can get away with for the "fix" he gets from this association. Try handling this with humor and grace before you try seriousness and words like divorce. What if when he left to see her you hassled him about meeting his girlfriend, told him to make sure he had her back before her curfew and made kissy noises? Declaw the monster.

You certainly are entitled to feel hurt about this. You could divorce him for this, sure. Anytime. But I don't think either of you would be happier at a period when you should be cultivating happiness. Figure out what future would make you happier, and work to build that.
posted by griselda at 12:18 PM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

My feelings are my feelings. I would like some advice about how to communicate more effectively to him my hurt and distrust about this situation.

I think part of your distress is actually that he has used an imbalance of power in this situation - you and he disagree on what is appropriate, but the husband's decision on what is and isn't appropriate is the only decision that influences the situation, and you are left feeling made powerless in this dispute.

From your husband's perspective, a lack of compromise is appropriate because you are similarly not compromising on a destructive and wrongheaded attitude that threatens the marriage.

Perhaps if you can view it in that light - you and he are doing the same thing to each other, you can see that in this context, trying to better communicate your hurt is coming across as an act of digging in your heels and entrenching your position in a dispute, and therefore quite possibly a counter-productive action.

I don't know what approach would work for your situation as it depends on the people, but my suspicion is that he won't budge much more without seeing you take similar steps, so perhaps you can sketch out a compromise with him: You are feeling distrustful of the situation and hurt by his riding roughshod over your objections. If he will demonstrate goodwill by accommodating some of your requests even though they might seem needlessly burdensome to him, you will in turn work on getting over your distrust (and its implicit accusation that he lacks strength of character) of him being in this situation.
Your requests wouldn't be "You can't be friends with this person", but more "Any interaction that is not talk (eg loans) needs to go through me first" and/or "for the time being at least, make sure you're not alone together. Lunch in a public space is ok, but I'd like you to pretend we're all French aristocrats and our reputations will be ruined if even the opportunity for impropriety can be perceived."

While at your end, an example might be "I want to work on eliminating my distrust. If you believe you are trustworthy, and if you know that even should this person actively try to seduce you, pull out all the stops, and perhaps feel terribly hurt if rejected, you would remain true and not so much as kiss her, then if you make that promise to me, I will work very hard to trust it absolutely."

Like I said, I don't know the people involved, so those suggestions could be way off, but I don't think you'll get anywhere without compromise, because to him you are using your hurt as a false justification, and he wants it recognized as such, so until compromise is "on the table", he will be reluctant to compromise.
On the bright side, the compromise you make could potentially be a compromise that you have already been forced to make, but which has not been noticed, or explicitly spelled out.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:29 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would talk to him openly and often about what he's getting from this exchange. He likes helping someone who needs help? He likes being around someone younger because it makes him feel younger? Assume generalities, not specifics. Meet the woman. If he goes to lunch with her, ask him about what they talked about. Lending/giving her money is obviously out of line. Having secret adventures like the Vegas trip is not cool. But if your husband values your marriage there is no way he's going to trade the security of your future years together for this silly flirtation. He probably knows that, but he's feeling out the edge to see how much he can get away with for the "fix" he gets from this association.

I would focus on getting to the bottom of what he's getting, as griselda mentions. Where is her father? Why isn't she relying on him for this kind of emotional and financial support?

If it makes you feel any better, and I admit it may not, I have a friend who, in her youth, struck up a friendship with a much older gentleman in much the same way. It was entirely innocent, at least from her end, but she had a history of connecting with father-figures to fill a bit of a gap in her own history. Now and then if they were in the same town, they would meet up for a drink and a chat. They still do, are still friends, over a decade later. It is still innocent.

So try to get to know them together. If he balks at that (have you met this young woman yet?), then worry. Honestly, when I read your post and your certainty that he isn't cheating, but he is determined not to let go of this young woman, I thought, "eh, maybe she's his other daughter."
posted by OompaLoompa at 3:54 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. You have all given me a lot to think about. I appreciate all the time and trouble people took to think and write about this.

As to his therapist, I am a clinical psychologist myself in the same town as his therapist, so he definitely is in therapy and not deceiving me about that.

I feel so very validated by all the feedback here. There have been so many times that I have doubted myself and my reactions to this--since he feels it is not a big deal and that I am overreacting--that it gives me quite a bit of relief to have this community support my experience and still give me so much to consider.

To those who wondered about my divorce-lawyer husband helping her with her then husband's divorce, the story is that she had a husband who had children from a former marriage. My husband helped her husband with his custody issues. She has since left that husband. The question I have asked about this situation is as follows: If she is married (until very recently) why is she looking for money/rescuing from my husband rather than her own?

I haven't even touched on the aggressive Facebook posts she has made . Bah. why even go there? except to say that I asked him to defriend her and he refused. Ultimately, I told him last night that I thought I would unfriend HIM so that I didn't have to see this crap.

I feel that the right track here is couples therapy, for two reasons: Number one, I doubt he is getting feedback anywhere in his life about the problems with this relationship except from me, and I would hope that someone might make him look more closely at what this is about. Number two, there remains the question, at least in my mind, of what he is needing that he is not getting from me.
y'all are awesome
posted by chaoscutie at 4:54 PM on May 23, 2012

I haven't even touched on the aggressive Facebook posts she has made

Wait, wait, what? Are they aggressive towards YOU? Aggressive as in just super obnoxious, or like actually voicing threats?
posted by elizardbits at 5:00 PM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Aggressive as in just super obnoxious, or like actually voicing threats?

Or aggressive as in aggressively pursuing this man or flirting with him?
posted by getawaysticks at 5:19 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The question I have asked about this situation is as follows: If she is married (until very recently) why is she looking for money/rescuing from my husband rather than her own?

Because she's burnt that bridge and other family and friend bridges seems a likely guess. I wonder if she sobbed upon your husband's shoulder about how "mean" her family and husband were to her and he is the only one who really cares about her enough to rescue her, etc. - which definitely gives him a chance to play "white knight" and rescue the poor, misunderstood damsel.

And what do you mean by "aggressive" Facebook posts? Is she being pushy and obsessive or is she threatening you or your husband?

This sounds messy, and I suggest you get your own (unconnected to your husband) divorce lawyer on call and have all your own ducks in a row. This does not mean filing for divorce, it just means covering your butt in case the shit hits the fan.

If he's doing anything like using business money to pay her expenses things could get ugly.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:21 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have sort of a different take on it. Some needy, unstable bipolar people can be very tough to deal with - my experience is that there's a slippery slope because at first they're super fun to be around and just need a good friend. And then you don't realize just how many boundaries they've crossed (especially if you are the type of person who likes to be helpful and has a hard time saying "no") until something really out-there happens, if it ever does. Because it slowly becomes clear that this person - who is utterly charming and flattering as long as they get their way - will not react like a normal, healthy person when you finally put your foot down and say "no" to yet another of their demands. This person will freak out and say all kinds of hurtful things to you and other people behind your back and/or do something to make a huge scene and hurt themselves and blame you for it, say.

Did you ask him lately if he wants to keep bailing her out, or if he just doesn't know how to say "No" because at this point, he really doesn't feel he can deal with the fallout? I know your husband is an adult and not helpless, of course, but maybe he isn't very savvy about being manipulated. And it's not right for her to be calling him whenever she's in need and borrowing money and so on - it's disrespectful to your marriage.
posted by citron at 10:03 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Other than this "When I expressed how distressed and upset I was by this relationship..." you haven't told us what you've already tried in communicating your feelings.

If you want to work on your relationship with another person, ''my feelings are my feelings' is not a helpful starting point: it's intransigent. It sounds like he's given you reassurances you don't want to hear: communication is two-way, and you'll have to really listen to him and understand his position better if you're going to get through to him how you feel.
posted by Gomoryhu at 4:14 AM on May 24, 2012

I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but this sounds exactly like a repeat of my best friend's marriage. The trips, the lunches, presents. He swore up and down nothing was happening sexually with this woman, they were just friends. No surprise when my friend was served papers because her husband left her for this woman. I would be speaking to an attorney and getting my ducks in a row if I were you. It sounds like your husband is taking advantage of your trust and is telling you what you want to hear. Sorry you are going through this. I wish you luck.
posted by sybarite09 at 6:58 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should also anonymize this should you have to go the divorce route.
posted by discopolo at 8:47 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

there remains the question, at least in my mind, of what he is needing that he is not getting from me.

Respect for his choices. She validates him that his choice to continue a relationship with someone half his age, giving her money and time while married is a GOOD choice and makes him a good man.

All he hears from you (not that you are saying it, but what he HEARS) is that he is a foolish old man going through the stereotypical mid-life crisis with a gold-digger he is too dumb to recognise, and that he has poor character as shown by his lying (and possibly cheating). In other words, it isn't you, it's him. He needs to see the truth himself, either he is a good man or a weak man, and live that truth. This is his hard work.
posted by saucysault at 9:30 AM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

What saucysault said.

And really, would you do this to him? Would you go running round after some handsome 30-year-old guy, hand-holding and having intimate birthday dinners and lending him money? No you wouldn't, because it would make you look a fool, and it would disrespect your life partner. Also it would make him feel bad about himself just when he's feeling maybe vulnerable about growing a paunch and starting to go grey, if not bald. You wouldn't be that jerk, would you?

Get your ducks in a row, as posters above have said.
posted by glasseyes at 12:53 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're his WIFE. She's his FRIEND.
He is disregarding your distress. That, in and of itself, displays a lack of respect to you and your marriage, even beyond the lack of respect his friendship with this girl shows you.
When those closest to you treat you with less civility than they would show to a stranger, it's time for reinforcements.
What he is repeatedly indicating to you, and what you seem to be not wanting to understand, is that his relationship with this girl is more important to him than your feelings about it and possibly, more important than your marriage.
The fact that he's already lied and omitted details about the closeness of the relationship coupled with the fact that he has convinced himself that as long as there is no sex, YOU have no right to have a say in the matter is a huge screaming sign that he will (continue to) spend money, time, effort, and resources on her without feeling any compelling need to tell you all or most of it.
He has already switched alliances...from you to her.
For your husband, it could be a phase, it could be a friendship, it could be temporary, or it could be a permanent awakening to more of that kind of whitekight fantasy.

The point is, right now, no one has your back.
Your husband has hers instead.

Lawyer up. You don't need to file for divorce, but someone oughtta have your back right now.
I'm so sorry you are dealing with this.
posted by Jezebella at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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