Q:My husband has been staying late at work recently. I believe he is developing a relationship, or even having an affair, with his office manager who is 23 years old. I am 53 and he is 56. He has been very successful in his corporate career, and has recently had a big promotion and pay raise.
Many of his colleagues at work, even though they are married, see nothing wrong with having outside affairs when they travel out of town, or even in town. He says I am being ridiculous and paranoid. However, last week my cousin saw them together at lunch and said they were acting pretty cozy. What should I do?
A:It is certainly distressing to believe that one's spouse is having an affair. At this point, you have suspicions, but no proof, because it is hard to tell what your cousin meant by "cozy."
However, even the fact that you are suspicious is a problem for the marriage.
In this case, it is probably best to bring in third party intervention, either a psychologist or pastor trained in marital counseling, to help you sort things out.
In counseling, one thing to determine is whether or not your husband's behavior is a message to you that he is unhappy with the marriage, or if he is just seeking over the top goodies for himself and his life.
If it is a message about the marriage, and he truly wants the marriage to be sustained in a healthy way, then counseling can help examine if he has experienced himself as being excluded from the marital structure for whatever reason.
Common reasons cited for this include wife too busy for me with kids/work/sick parents/friends/workout schedule/class work, etc.
The feeling of being excluded and left out of a loved one's life can propel people into meeting their needs outside of the marriage. While this is not condonable, considering the traditional marriage vows most people take, it can be understandable and reversible with immediate help.
Do a fierce moral inventory on yourself to see if you feel there has been a marital contribution to the problem. If so, then counseling can help to rectify your husband's feeling of exclusion by making more room for him within the marital love relationship and with his family. Spending more time doing things together, being intimate, talking, doing adult activities, etc., can help.
Learning to communicate without toxic fighting, hurtful words and put downs can also contribute to the healing process.
However, it is possible that the problem doesn't lie in the marriage at all. Rather, the problem is an individual issue, where he feels entitled to be married and act like a single person when it is convenient.
These individuals are always wondering whether there is something better for them out there, someone who will be as young, vibrant, beautiful and spirited as they really deserve.
Oftentimes, they base what they feel they deserve on images of women seen on TV, movies or magazines.
Some subcultures do condone and justify the idea, "I'm a good provider. I should be able to do what I want. So as long as she doesn't know about it, it won't hurt her."
These people feel entitled to feed their growing ego with outside liaisons, no matter how wonderful their marital partner is. Their stance is "deny, deny, deny" if caught. They get mad at their partner for "snooping" if backed into a corner.
If this is the case, you may want to seek individual counseling to help you sort out your options. It is possible that in the face of losing his family, he also can be motivated to change through psychotherapy. Try this, as best you can.
Janet Hibel has a diplomate in counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.