Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Husband's badly delivered good news leaves wife wondering
Q: Last night my husband of 15 years, and father to my three kids, told me it had taken him a long time to figure out how he felt about his flirty, hot (and newly single!) female work friend, but he knows now that I am the only woman he wants.
He thought this was a loving thing to say to me, and tried to smooth things over when he saw my shocked reaction, and then he went to sleep.
Meanwhile, I stayed up half the night sad and angry that apparently he feels no commitment at all to me. If he meets the right woman, he'll be out the door, but in the meantime I should be perfectly happy to be the placeholder.
I pretended to be asleep when he left for work this morning, because this is too big to talk about before work, but tonight I need to explain to him why I'm not okay with washing his underwear and cooking his meals while he mulls over dating other women. My definition of marriage means that decision is already made. If he's shopping for other women, he needs to get his own apartment, and I need a lawyer.
Any tips for how to have the conversation we need to have?
Keeping a Place Warm for My Husband's Next Woman
A: He does demonstrate a commitment to you, he just ran up against a crisis — one that many if not most married people have — and came away recommitted to you. I see it as some badly delivered good news.
But you'll need to ask followup questions for your own peace of mind, so have your conversation tonight, ideally opened with your (I think) accurate observation: "I know you thought this was a loving thing to say to me, but what I took away from it is a new, profound fear that ... you're going to leave me."
Again — I don't think he was shopping for other women, as you say, but instead wrestling with feelings for one. Even when the "decision is already made," there can still be feelings for people outside the marriage; please don't deny either of you that bit of humanity.
Instead, concentrate on the way you hope he will approach a situation like this if it happens again. Even better, consider how you'd handle such unwelcome feelings for another man, since you're hardly immune, and you will think most productively about this if you're able to envision all sides.
Anonymous: It might also be worth exploring whether the husband was merely oversharing about a crush that was confined to his head, or whether there were things that happened that made an affair/abandonment actually a possibility.
We ALL entertain crushes in our heads, but actually taking steps that could lead to the end of a marriage is a warning sign about what might happen down the road. In a healthy marriage, it's fine (and probably preferable) to keep the former to oneself; secrets about the latter are doom.
Carolyn: Nicely said, thanks. Though I don't think it's binary, where imagining = harmless and steps = doom. Imagination can escalate, and "taking steps" can spook someone out of ever taking steps again.