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Originally published Monday, November 18, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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Are husband and female co-worker really ‘just friends’?

Carolyn Hax advises a woman whose husband is sending numerous secret messages to a female co-worker.


Syndicated columnist

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband of more than nine years has become “friends” with a female employee. He has texted this girl sometimes 50-100 times in a day, 200-300 times a week and 1,500 or more texts in a month. I have seen some of the texts. They talk about everything from music to movies to her boyfriend problems. He once spent more than an hour on the phone with her while we were away visiting our friend, discussing her cheating boyfriend.

Of course, he maintains they are still “just friends.” I have asked him multiple times to develop a more professional relationship with her. Finally he got fed up with me asking, I guess, and did quit texting.

However, I found out that he started chatting with her on Facebook, telling her it was a “safer” option. I know he deletes some of their conversations (both text and Facebook) that he doesn’t want me to see because he has admitted to that. He says it’s nothing, but I would take it the wrong way because of “how I am” about their relationship. He says I am overreacting and need to see a counselor over my jealousy and “daddy issues” (my dad cheated on my mom) because he’s at home “spending time” with me (as he texts).

I say he needs to stop this “relationship” before it ends our marriage by becoming something he says it’s not — or by my becoming fed up with asking him to stop contacting her. Who’s right here?

– Overreacting?

DEAR OVERREACTING?: This pretty much defines an emotional affair. His intimacy is with her now, and his role for you is of obstacle to that intimacy. Add to that, he’s being openly dismissive of your concerns by connecting them to your dad’s behavior, which is not only a red herring, it’s mean. It’s gaslighting. It’s digging his fingernails, purposefully, into your old emotional wounds.

You do need to make clear that this isn’t about whether physical cheating has or hasn’t happened or will happen. It’s about what he fully admits is happening: His time with you is spent talking to her. He’s taking his best self (such as it is, but you can omit that part) outside the marriage. That’s what you’re objecting to.

Well, that and his utterly loveless response to your concerns.

I type all this out knowing the chances are slim to none that he’ll look inward, fall to his knees with remorse over his self-indulgence, and recommit himself to your marriage. But, the part where you state your feelings clearly is important.

Then you say yes, you would like to see a counselor, with him.

Wait — I’m getting ahead of myself. The first step is actually to talk to a lawyer. You want to document, to the extent the law allows, these husband-employee exchanges, and to make sure your finances and property are ready for a storm.

Also be ready for your next step by deciding how you’ll respond to him. If he continues to defend his actions, are you at the “Please move out” point? If not, what will it take for you to get there? Conversely, what will it take for you to feel your husband is invested in your marriage?

Then you take this on. Good luck.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living



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