Tell Me About It: My husband is too friendly with a female colleague

In principle I see nothing wrong with married people having friends of the opposite sex, but now I fear it’s more

Illustration: Getty Images

Illustration: Getty Images

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 10:18

Q My husband took a female colleague under his w ing after she was abandoned by her husband. She has panic attacks, in part due to the financial mess she ha s been left with, and she has also recently lost her father. I’m sympathetic to her situation .

My husband has invited her to our home on several occasions, and I have tried to be supportive. She seems very depressed, and increasingly relies on my husband. I have probably let this go on too long, because in principle I see nothing wrong with married people having friends of the opposite sex, but now I fear it’s more. She phones my husband constantly, even in the early hours, and seems to have one crisis after the next.

The children need their father and I need my husband. I feel like she’s intruding on our time.

He says she’s “our” friend but she and I haven’t clicked in that way. It’s awkward, like she and my husband are on another planet.

He is a good person and I know he means well, but last weekend I’d finally had enough. I told him that she was too demanding and that I was tired of her constant helplessness. He got angry and said that I was behaving selfishly and jealously. Am I?

A You’re in a bind, because when you ask him to end his involvement with this woman, he gets angry and accuses you of something none of us want to be called: selfish and jealous. You’re not, by the way, but cannot help but appear to be so as long as the pretence is maintained that your husband and his damsel in distress are “just friends”.

Rather, you’ve been too understanding and accommodating while your husband plays the hero. I imagine you suspect the worst – and if you don’t, maybe you should. Perhaps you’re trying to keep a lid on things by telling yourself your husband is generously supporting this vulnerable person.

While I agree that married people can have healthy friendships with members of the opposite sex, what do such friendships look like if they’re healthy? And when is a friend more than just a friend?

In his new book, My Husband Doesn’t Love Me: And He’s Texting Someone Else , Andrew G Marshall, a psychotherapist who has counselled many couples in trouble due to infidelity, writes extensively about how defensive men can be when carrying on affairs. When the wife confronts the husband, it backfires, making the wife seem like the problem and reinforcing the value of the other woman. Marshall gives women who suspect their husbands of infidelity a checklist that you might find useful. Among the points are that “real friendships are open to public scrutiny” and “real friends socialise with each other’s partners”.

Your husband is being open to a degree, in that he has brought this woman into your life, yet you feel awkward and understandably so. This isn’t like one couple socialising with another. This woman has no partner and is using your husband as a substitute.

Do you have male friends who phone you in the early hours and text you constantly? If you had a male colleague demanding as much of you, would your husband put up with it?

Spouses “instinctively know where the boundaries lie”, says Marshall. Trust your instincts, even though, as Marshall says, “a particularly articulate or stubborn man can make you question your judgment.”

You would love a quarter of the attention this woman is getting, so one suggestion Marshall makes is to ask your husband why he’s not helping or texting you. Is there a problem?

Also ask him how he is going to encourage this woman to stand on her own two feet. Does she need counselling, a solicitor and financial advice? He should refer her to professionals. Your husband can’t argue with his “friend” needing professional help and, if this doesn’t resolve it, you and your husband may need counselling too. You deserve to be your husband’s first priority.

Email your questions to tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com or contact Kate on Twitter, @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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