Has he created unrealistic boundaries for his opposite sex friendships?
October 6, 2017 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Previously asked for advice regarding boyfriend's 'emotional affair' (in my opinion). We are now trying to navigate the waters together, looking for advice (no DTMFA advice, though please).

So as I said I've made the decision to remain with my partner and am not interested in any DTMFA advice. We are now trying to rebuild/make the relationship stronger and I would appreciate advice on how to navigate this. We are both 25 and still trying to sharpen our relationship honing skills.

In the days after I found the messages from my boyfriend's woman friend, it transpired during our talks that there was another woman he talked with a lot (a person he had known for 7 years and who I had never heard of). He sought her advice on the fact our relationship was about to become long distance, again the interactions were more or less daily and again no flirting but lots of chatting. This woman was constantly inquiring about how the relationship was going and knew lots about me when I had never heard of her.

The following weeks were very hard. I moved away & my partner finally let himself feel how much the impending move had been affecting him. He has been writing me letters and we have been talking often on Skype. He will spend a week with me in person soon. He said he had been seeking advice and interactions from the wrong people and that he now felt ready to be more vulnerable with me and in the relationship. He is still awaiting his counselling confirmation letter.

I have felt a shift. He confides in me more often about things he didn't before. He has left his soul-sucking job and begun a new one he enjoys much more. We have been discussing our boundaries together, I shared mine and asked him for his.

In his letter about boundaries he wrote:

- he will only talk to his female friends once every 3 months (and only if/when they instigate contact. 'You have to be my priority.'
- he will come to me to talk about issues in the relationship first
- he has not been in contact with any women since I left: 'I can safely say I haven't missed the interactions.'

I personally would miss my male friends if I only spoke to them once every quarter of the year!? Secondly, I want these boundaries to improve the health of the relationship long-term. His don't seem realistic to me and I didn't ask him to cut anyone off, just reduce the contact and closeness.

That said, when he quit smoking he went cold turkey. Maybe this is how it has to be for him. What do you think? Since these are his boundaries is there nothing I can do but accept them, rather than trying to barter, as it were?
posted by Willow251 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
- he will only talk to his female friends once every 3 months (and only if/when they instigate contact. 'You have to be my priority.'
- he will come to me to talk about issues in the relationship first
- he has not been in contact with any women since I left: 'I can safely say I haven't missed the interactions.'


Statement 2 is healthy and appropriate, statements 1 and 3 are bonkers. Utterly bonkers.

If these options make sense to him, and to you, then the women in question were not friends: they were crushes or potential crushes or past crushes.

These boundaries he set would make me feel LESS secure in my relationship, not more. If he needs to police his interactions with an entire sex to this degree then I'd suspect he is not emotionally ready for an exclusive relationship.
posted by lydhre at 9:23 AM on October 6 [79 favorites]


You asked him to set boundaries to protect your relationship, and he did so. I don't understand what you would want to "barter" for. Don't pick a fight on this topic just because it's there- trust that he is a grown person and is working to better your relationship. I think the best thing to do now is respect that he's trying to make positive choices and monitor going forward to ensure they meet your needs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:24 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I think anyone who has to keep all female friends at such a distance as to basically unfriendly them really hasn’t uncovered the core problem that led to the emotional infidelity in the first place. It’s a strategy to deal with the current problem but I would press him to find during counselling a way to have healthy, platonic, unboundaried relationships with other women as friends.
posted by notorious medium at 9:28 AM on October 6 [25 favorites]


I'm with lydhre. How I interact with female friends is certainly not how all males interact with female friends, but I would be skeptical of how honest his newfound boundaries are, and how likely he is to abide by them. I would also be worried that they're so difficult to abide by, that he may be likely to lie about future interactions because they violate the "rules."
posted by craven_morhead at 9:32 AM on October 6 [7 favorites]


I've been through this, far too often, and the really insidious part of it that neither of you seem to be addressing is the fact that she was arguably one of his closest friends and you did not know that she even existed. The only way this happens is if he's intentionally hiding the relationship from you, and in the long term, that's the thing that will continuously erode your relationship. Honestly, from now on anytime you feel like he might be hiding something, even if it's innocuous, it is far more likely that you will default to assuming it's another infidelity because of the lies involved this time. This is something that took my husband a very long time to understand.

I would talk to him about the fact that what you need is less along the lines of severely restricting conversations with female friends and more on a 100% commitment to being open and honest about the conversations and relationships that he does have. Without that, I would be concerned that he will continue lying to maintain the perception of adherence to #1&3 above.
posted by scrute at 9:34 AM on October 6 [45 favorites]


I came here to say the same thing as ThePinkSuperhero. It sounds like you have some concerns about his plan to manage contact with other women and, frankly, so would I. But your partner shared their boundaries with you and it's not for you to decide if they're right, doable, manageable, correct or anything else. You especially don't get to try to talk him into changing them or "barter" for something different. That's not how boundaries work.

By the way, about the second item on his list. Is it all right if he talks other women about your relationship and gets their advice as long as he "comes to you first??
posted by _Mona_ at 9:38 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


So, my immediate read on this is "he feels really bad, also a little resentful and uncertain how to proceed, and is setting boundaries that he suspects/knows are excessive (1 and 3) because he really isn't sure how to handle this situation or his feelings". If he has been compartmentalizing his emotional life (which it sure sounds like he has) it must be very difficult to try to put all the pieces together. He also may be uncertain how to handle the just sort of random irregularity of contact with friends - like, he doesn't know how to imagine something different from "either every day all the time or never" and is looking for a rigid rule because that is reassuring.

You say it seems like he's really trying to fix these problems. If I were in your situation (and I felt good about how he was acting in general) I would:

1. Validate the ideas - the second one is great because [reasons reasons], and I really appreciate that you're putting our time and communications first.

2. Talk about how putting the relationship first is more of an emphasis thing than a "never talk to women friends" thing. Emphasize that if he wants to manage his friendships this way, that's his decision, but that what you're looking for is more [ ]. (If this were me, I would be saying, "It's not that you have close women friends that is an issue, it's that you spent more time talking to them than to me, and you told them more about our relationship than you told me, and you told them more about me than vice versa. It's not that you need to get rid of these friendships to make our relationship work, it's that when relationship stuff is involved, the people in the relationship need to the main actors".)

3. Kindly make clear to him that you're not requiring him to drop his friendships - I could see a situation where he could tell himself that you were requiring this in order to avoid taking emotional responsibility for the fact that he is having trouble handling the whole "staying friends but prioritizing relationship".

Assuming that you have the right read on him and the relationship, my guess is that he just does not know how to handle what's going on - he's trying, but he is having new feelings and needing new emotional skills.

Honestly, I could easily see myself acting like this dude at an earlier fork in my relationship life. Not because I wasn't serious about the relationship, but because my emotional toolbox was pretty small - talking about the relationship in the relationship felt weird and scary, talking about the relationship to someone else was more like I would handle any other issue (like talking about work). And I am an introverted person who has never really wanted to merge social lives with my partner - we don't really socialize as partners too much, only have a few overlapping friends, etc - and figuring out how to manage this in a way that wasn't weirdly compartmentalizing was difficult. I think it's lucky that my relationships was kind of a low-needs one for the first few years so that I worked through all those things without too many issues.
posted by Frowner at 9:49 AM on October 6 [14 favorites]


Having a close, opposite-sex friend who you confide in is not a red flag. Keeping it a secret? That is a huge, glaring red flag. It worries me that the two of you haven't discussed that aspect of it. Why couldn't he tell you about these friendships? Will he tell you about friendships he has in the future? Will he introduce you to his friends and invite you to outings with them? Will he talk to his therapist about his worries and fears? If the issue is that he actually does develop crushes on every woman he befriends, will he talk to his therapist about that?

If these conversations aren't on the table, I'm worried you won't end up with the outcome of honesty that you want in this relationship.
posted by capricorn at 9:57 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]


I might say, "Thanks so much for doing this. For what it's worth, I would be fine with just #2, but I support you in anything you need to feel good about the relationship. Love you."
posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:01 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]


Since he's super-motivated right now to make a big shift, how about have him do #1 for just the next 3 months. Then after 3 months you two can plan to regroup and reassess.

It sounds like he cares enough to do a hard reboot for you, so let him.
posted by metaseeker at 10:10 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


Why not just explain to your partner what actions make you feel insecure in a relationship and what actions make you feel loved?

Essentially, you said to your partner: "When you did X, Y, Z, it made me uncomfortable. I don't think I can continue to be in a relationship with you if X, Y, Z happen again."

I get that this crazy list is your partner attempting to reassure you that X, Y, and Z won't happen again because they're going to take actions A, B, and C." What I don't understand is why your partner is pulling these action-items out of thin air? Why haven't you said what actions would make you feel secure? And why hasn't your partner asked you what actions you feel they could do that would make sure you feel secure in the relationship?

Your partner doesn't need you to hack their ideas for how to make you happy, in other words. Good partners often ask if there are specific things they can to do help their partners feel secure in the relationship. Likewise, good partners often volunteer that information. It seems to me that there's neither enough asking nor enough volunteering in the way this conversation is going between you and your partner. On either side.

I think you should just say that you feel secure and loved in your relationship when your partner stays far afield from X, Y, Z and does A, B, and C. And your partner can let you know if that will work for them.

And then your partner should get to sketch out where their boundaries are and describe the actions you could take that would make them feel secure and loved in the relationship. And then you can decide if that's doable for you, too.
posted by pinkacademic at 10:25 AM on October 6 [5 favorites]


Reducing contact with these particular women in such a strict way does absolutely nothing to address what lead him to stray emotionally in the first place. It does nothing to address how he sees and treats women in general. If you're cynical you might see this all as a performance.

Women aren't cigarettes. He doesn't need to quit interacting with Becky or only talk to Becky on Christmas and Easter and then everything's solved; he needs to investigate the whys of what he did, and learn how to be friends with women without violating his relationship with you.
posted by kapers at 11:36 AM on October 6 [12 favorites]


These rules don't fix the problem, and I suspect he either knows that or he just has no idea how to have appropriate boundaries with anybody, and that is never going to stop being a problem if the issue is the latter, until he does some training so he can do better. And he's already demonstrated he doesn't know how to have appropriate boundaries with you either, so that's a lot of learnin' he's got to do.

What'll happen if he *gasp* has to work with a woman? What if he has neighbors who are women? Don't you think he ought to learn how to not have emotional affairs with women instead of just avoiding half the world?

This isn't like alcohol, abstinence won't even kinda solve the problem. And honestly it isn't your problem how he handles this, and you should not accept the role of Parole Officer here. His commitment should be: I will stop having inappropriate relationships with women, and I will do that in a way that does not require a ton of extra emotional labor from you and all the other women in the world.

Yes, it's great that one of his strategies it to communicate with you openly and honestly, since that should be like Level 1 Relationshipping, so it's nice of him to say he's going to start doing the bare minimum. He needs to actually do it, is the thing.

If he'd just engage honestly and openly with you, there wouldn't be any secret friendships. I'm not saying he needs to immediately give you access to his bank accounts or medical history or similar, but if you have reached girlfriend-boyfriend stage you have moved past secret-keeping about daily life and social/work activities. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant. Being honest keeps you honest.

It's fine if he decides to chill his interactions with women, but setting a time interval instead of being able to identify okay vs not okay behavior is a huge red flag. He honestly doesn't sound mature enough or having enough emotional intelligence to be in a relationship. Choose not to break up with him if you want, but refusing to set any kind of limit for yourself, to identify when enough is enough for you, is how you lose years of your life chasing someone who cannot be what you need.

My limit, with someone like this, would be: just go fix your shit, dude. Go get therapy, go talk to your dad, do whatever the hell it takes but if we have another situation where it turns out you've failed to disclose an escalating relationship (or an escalating *anything* - criminal charges, financial trouble, uncontrolled bleeding, threats from a neighbor or coworker, whatever) in real time, we're done. Don't make me police you.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:01 PM on October 6 [21 favorites]


I mean, it is a red flag, but red flags aren't always actually red flags.

I think he was 1) so close with his female friends and 2) hiding them from you both out of insecurity. He thought he needed other women as a cheat to understand you, and he probably got a lot of having other women dote on him and give him good advice. Which is a thing insecure men like.

A good way to get over the insecurity is to focus entirely on being intimate and open with you, take some emotional risks, get a feel for what and how he should be telling you instead of them. It might take time to calibrate; better to be too in your face for awhile and then have the discussion where you say "y'know I really appreciate this, but maybe you want to start spending more time with friends?"

He is kind of immature but he can change and it sounds like he can and wants to. If he were already mature enough to know that cutting off contact with all female friends was excessive, he wouldn't have done any of the other shit and you wouldn't be having a problem. So he's immature, but it could work out.

I'd just be clear to him that #1 is not as important or necessary to you but if he feels like he needs that reboot, you support him and are ready to talk about it as his feelings change.

If you find all of this too exhausting, or if things like this keep happening and driving you insane, it's fine to want a more mature boyfriend or one who makes these self discoveries and opportunities for growth on his own/not your problem.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:01 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why you think he was having an affair with woman #2? I have male friends that I talk to about relationships to get their opinion or advice and they talk to me. This is normal, isn't it? Everyone I know does it.

The fact that he hid it from you might be because you categorize all interaction with other women as cheating. That's not fair. He is going to need friends to talk to and yes, sometimes you tell your friends things you don't tell your partner or you vent a bit to them about your partner. That is normal, completely and utterly normal and healthy. You demanding that he not discuss your relationship with outsiders is not normal though, it's weird.
posted by fshgrl at 12:40 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]


I have no idea how you sustain a relationship where he's not allowed to talk about you, where he has no contact with other women and has to check in when when he does. It sounds like a soul sucking grind where you're his jailer and I imagine it's only a matter of time before the resentment builds on his end that he's not allowed to have conversations about his life with his friends.

If I was trying to slowly eke the life and joy out of two people until they eventually broke up, I'd do something like this. If these are the kind of actions you've got to do to keep someone, is it really a relationship worth having? Seriously, it shouldn't be this hard.
posted by Jubey at 2:23 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]


This probably isn't very helpful, but as soon as I read rules 1 and 3, and realized he was setting them, not you, my first reaction was: he's trying to make this your fault. I doubt it's conscious, but his subconscious is setting you up to be his killjoy. Even though he's the one that proposed the rules, even though you don't like them, they're going to become your fault. He's going to get sympathy and attention for having a jealous unreasonable girlfriend *even though you didn't do it*.

I don't know what to tell you to say, because if I were having that conversation, it would have started on presentation of the rules with DUDE WTF and devolved from there. But I do think the important bit here is, what is he really trying to accomplish? Why rules?
posted by dust.wind.dude at 2:54 PM on October 6 [17 favorites]


To be clear about a few things:

- I didn't ask him to never confide in other females. I specifically said I understand if he wants to confides in others/and or get the female perspective sometimes. Daily confiding in a woman I have never heard of is an issue for me Jubey.

- I said it would be helpful to discuss boundaries going forward. I gave him mine and then asked for his (hence his imparting of 'rules'). My boundaries consist of not talking to any other guy daily/super frequently on an ongoing basis/having a close emotional relationship with them to that extent. I said I will catch up every so often, go out to coffee or occasionally lunch with them - my boyfriend said he would not currently feel comfortable going out with a female friend to lunch, but maybe later down the line.

To those saying it shouldn't be so hard - perhaps not. But I think Frowner is right about his emotional toolbox and feel he has the capacity to expand it through experience. Secondly, I sadly admit I was the OW in an emotional affair once - through counselling & thinking about boundaries for the first time, I changed my interactions and hopefully became a better person.
posted by Willow251 at 3:25 PM on October 6


Rules 1 and 3 are setting you guys up to fail. If he doesn't have contact with any women and only speaks to his female friends every three months, like it's some kind of treat, these will become special interactions. Instead of giving him the tools to have normal, platonic interactions with women in his daily life, the rules will elevate the status of those forbidden relationships to something very desirable. And wanting to comply with the rules might lead him to lie about any slip-ups.

Meanwhile, you'll be cast in the role of same ol' girlfriend he speaks to every day. Whether or not he can see it now, he'll eventually become resentful of the self-imposed restrictions and start to associate their imposition with you.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 3:52 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]


Although my boyfriend is going to attending counselling on his own - I kind of think I would like to attend a few sessions of couple's counselling. I feel like there is a bit of a stigma with this, as though having to go means failure. But I feel as though it could help both of us...
posted by Willow251 at 3:58 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Excellent idea.
posted by Jubey at 4:05 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]


these will become special interactions.

not if he actually does this, because the interactions won't happen. being dropped down from what sounds like a genuine close friendship to the status of a special tri-monthly treat is more high-handed unilateral degradation than most women will put up with from friends. to our credit (?), most of us will only excuse this kind of contempt from our boyfriends.

OP:

I personally would miss my male friends if I only spoke to them once every quarter of the year!? Secondly, I want these boundaries to improve the health of the relationship long-term. His don't seem realistic to me and I didn't ask him to cut anyone off, just reduce the contact and closeness.


Me too. you sound like a person who has real, healthy, and sincere friendships, who is confused by people who take their own friends lightly. you also sound like what you wanted was to be his friend and confidante, not just his lover; to know about his thoughts and feelings and friendships -- to be part of his private life, on at least the level his longtime friend was. His counteroffer was to shut down his private life. I think you are right that you can't dictate what he does -- though you should also not allow yourself to be blamed for his bonkers resolution -- but you can, and should, tell him that this is the opposite of what you asked for. You were shut out from his secrets, and you wanted to be let in. instead, he is proposing to blow up his secrets. that is him saying No, not Yes.

he doesn't necessarily have to do what you want or ask, but he has to understand that he's proposing a completely different thing that doesn't address your concerns. that is fair for you to insist on: not his compliance, but his understanding. I don't think he does understand.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:23 PM on October 6 [9 favorites]


"My boundaries consist of not talking to any other guy daily/super frequently on an ongoing basis/having a close emotional relationship with them to that extent. I said I will catch up every so often, go out to coffee or occasionally lunch with them - my boyfriend said he would not currently feel comfortable going out with a female friend to lunch, but maybe later down the line."

Gently, these are not your boundaries. These are the actions you are proposing to take yourself that you really wish your partner would take. And although you frame these actions as things you're willing to do for your partner, there's no indication here or elsewhere that these actions are designed to respond to your partner's needs/boundaries. For all we know, your partner may be fine with you exchanging daily texts with a member of the opposite sex. I don't know. You should ask your partner.

Try this: "My boundaries consist of very clear, bright lines that my partner draws between my partner and my partner's opposite friendships. This means that my partner does not talk to a member of the opposite sex daily/super frequently on an ongoing basis/have a close emotional with members of the opposite sex. However, my partner can catch up every so often with a member of the opposite sex or occasionally go out to lunch with them, and that would be fine with me. If my partner talks to a member of the opposite sex daily or super frequently or has an ongoing or close emotional relationship with them, I would consider that a violation of my boundaries, and I would end the relationship."
posted by pinkacademic at 7:50 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Me too. you sound like a person who has real, healthy, and sincere friendships, who is confused by people who take their own friends lightly. you also sound like what you wanted was to be his friend and confidante, not just his lover; to know about his thoughts and feelings and friendships -- to be part of his private life, on at least the level his longtime friend was. His counteroffer was to shut down his private life.

This. I had the same situation, although whether an emotional affair was going on, who knows (more than likely a few "but what ifs" that remained unresolved that our relationship triggered). Instead of meeting these women he talked to daily (at least the ones that lived locally) and sometimes would call him ridiculously late at night, basically the resolution was to "stop speaking to them." I found that bizarre and definitely disconcerting, considering I had no problem introducing him to my friends, male and female alike, and because the problem wasn't the communication but rather the fact that I wasn't known to them and they weren't known to me.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:26 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]


You're using the word 'boundaries' in a way I don't understand. What about what he did is unacceptable to you? That's what a boundary is - if you do this, hey you're an adult, do what you want, but I can't live with that.

He's told you ways that he's going to attempt to not violate your boundaries, but he's guessing what they are, and it sounds like guessing wrong. Have you told him your boundaries? Telling him what you're going to do is not that.

If he wants to do #1 and #3, you need to make it clear to him that he's free to do that, but you're not asking for that. You're only asking for him not to X.
posted by ctmf at 3:29 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]


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