As a couples mediator, my practice specializes in trust issues and tech-based infidelity. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s infidelity that begins via technology — in most cases, as texting between opposite-sex friends that eventually leads to an emotional and/or sexual affair.
While many couples enjoy healthy opposite-sex friendships within their marriage or relationship, any professional who works with couples will tell you that inappropriate opposite-sex friendships are the gateway to all kinds of relationship problems, from feelings of divided loyalty to full-blown infidelity.
Why? Well, I think there’s something about the “arm’s length” feel of technology that makes people behave in ways they wouldn’t if they were face to face. Too often, texts or messages between opposite-sex friends can escalate quickly, especially because of the false sense of intimacy they create. They also provide a fun “rush” during an otherwise boring or predictable day. And that can be very compelling. If a person’s primary relationship happens to be going through a rough spot or dry spell, it is even easier for opposite-sex friendships to spiral into something more serious.
Before you know it, one partner is locking his or her cell phone, deleting messages or going into the next room to text. When his or her partner asks, “Who are you texting?” that partner is met with an angry response such as “That’s none of your business” or “That’s private.” When a suspicious or hurt partner asks, “Why are you texting him/her so often? I’m worried he/she is coming between us,” that partner is met with an indignant, “We’re just friends. You’re crazy. Stop being so controlling and paranoid.”
And therein lies the problem: many people who suspect their partner is having an inappropriate opposite sex friendship — and who fear it is leading to infidelity — often end up questioning themselves or worrying that they are being jealous, paranoid or controlling. After all, no one wants to be “that” spouse.
The flip side of that, however, is that those who are indeed behaving in untrustworthy ways often use these very expressions — You’re crazy! We’re just friends! Stop being so jealous or controlling! Get over it! — to essentially bully their partner into silence. That way, they can continue to engage in what they know is a disrespectful and dangerous situation without having to deal with their partner’s “nagging” questions. In the end, people are people — we want to keep doing what’s fun and we grow irritated when someone steps between us and the fun.
Of course, this is a very superficial look at inappropriate opposite-sex friendships. There is no doubt that some partners are controlling or suspicious by nature and misinterpret innocent opposite-sex friendships. There is no doubt that some committed relationships are deeply troubled to begin with. Inappropriate opposite-sex friendships is a complicated issue, and one that affects countless couples.
It’s why I wrote my book COUPLES IN CRISIS: OVERCOMING AFFAIRS & OPPOSITE-SEX FRIENDSHIPS
That being said, I have been in this business long enough to know one thing: those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. If a partner is locking his or her phone, deleting messages or engaging in secretive behaviour, it is likely that your concerns are founded to some extent. Similarly, if your partner tends to belligerently downplay your concerns or turn the focus on you by using these kinds of phrases — You’re crazy! You’re controlling! You’re jealous! We’re just friends, deal with it! — it may be time to stop listening to his or her accusations and instead start listening to your own gut.