Make your home a place where the truth is welcome
Q: In your opinion, what is the difference between a "close friendship" and an "emotional affair"? Is it simply sexual preference?
A: I don't think it's that simple.
If it's just about preference, then you're essentially saying that no straight man and straight woman, for example, can ever be close friends without it qualifying as an emotional affair. That, of course, is just silly.
You're also essentially saying that a mere buddy — i.e., someone ruled out by sexual preference from ever being a romantic interest — can never be a threat to a relationship. That's a dangerous if common assumption to make.
That's because the issue isn't the nature, gender, hotness or even intent of the extramarital confidant. It's the fact of one.
Certainly married people need friends, and certainly they will need to confide in those friends occasionally to help them make sense of something at home.
But when you're saying things to outsiders that you'd never admit to a mate — when you put on an act at home, and save your true feelings for when you're safely out of marital earshot — then the marriage is in trouble. Period. This is true when the recipient of your outpouring of honesty is a close friend, an emerging love interest, your next-cube neighbor or some stranger on a train.
It also doesn't necessarily matter what you're being honest about. It can be his mom or her eating habits. It's still a declaration that you no longer see the truth as an option at home. That's when spouses are just roommates with matching jewelry.
If this is your relationship, then keeping your mate from his or her outlet isn't going to work. S/he'll just find another. The only answer is to encourage the truth at home, by not punishing people who speak it.
Take steps to end the power struggle with your friend
Q: For my British, tea-drinking girlfriend's 46th birthday, I bought her an electric kettle that shuts off when the water is boiled. She burnt/melted the last two kettles after leaving them on the stove too long. She is upset that I would buy her a practical present. We're both creative people, but I often play the straight man to her. She complains the world is "too practical." Is our dispute about the practical gift a disguised attempt to control each other, and isn't she a little old to be upset about her birthday present? Should I come up with another whimsical gift, or is that feeding a bad dynamic?
A: She may just not appreciate a gift from her straight man that dubs her the resident airhead.
If the tempest really is contained to the teakettle, then there's no harm in spotting her this one tantrum.
But a power struggle demands a different approach. You can tell it's one by the familiarity — when you've had this fight before, these frustrations before. You can tell when you're keeping score.
If this is one, then your options are just to accept it, break up with it, or change your contribution to it. They're all surprisingly effective, though, since each begins with your dropping your end of the rope.