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Dear Christine, Angry in Ann Arbor

  • Posted on December 24, 2017 at 9:22 am

Dear Christine

About two months ago my partner went to First Wednesday (at Rosie O’Donnell Bar) with some friends. I couldn’t go because I had to work late. Anyhow, the group met a new young woman who is just coming out as a lesbian. After getting to know this person, the friends and I are seeing something just a bit off about her. My partner, however, has taken quite a shine to her. I think it’s a crush even though this person is 18 years younger than her. I’ve told my partner that I am not happy about it and she says I’m wrong about the crush and she just sees someone who needs her help. There has been quite a bit of communication between them and I’m angry. Do I sit quietly and let this play out? Do I have a choice? We’ve had some heated arguments about this with no resolution. Just when things seemed so great!

Thanks, Angry in Ann Arbor

Dear Angry, Many couples I work with never really have a complete conversation about what the boundaries are in their relationship. They might agree if one of them “cheated” that the relationship would be over. But rarely is “cheated” defined clearly. They might also agree if one “hits” the other, it’s over. But what level of abuse is intolerable?

Women have close emotional relationships with friends and that can lead to “emotional cheating” which may not involve any physical or sexual contact, but can lead to a sense of violation for the partner (you). In this day of social media, people can have long distance affairs through text, FB, DM, Snapchat, etc, etc and never be in the same state! And long term relationships have suffered and even ended from such “emotional cheating.”

Your partner may be in denial about her crush and has reframed the interaction as helping her friend. You can’t “make” her see the emotional violation. You can keep flagging it and discussing boundaries and what consequences follow. You may not have included this sort of behavior as being a violation of your couple’s boundaries, but you can now. And then you need to let her know this is your new non–negotiable. And tell her the consequence of crossing a non–negotiable. And let her decide whether or not she agrees. Worst comes to worst, you may end up ending your relationship over this, if you two cannot see eye–to–eye about what is a boundary and what is a violation. I worked with a couple of lesbians together 20 years, who always agreed that if either one was going to cheat, they would respect the other enough to call and tell that one “I’m not coming home tonight.” One saw her partner fall in love with a younger woman at work over 3 months time. She tried to talk to her partner about it and was rebuffed. Then that call came one evening. The partner left at home was done and made it clear that their relationship was over. After a month, the other partner came to her senses and asked to get into therapy to repair their 20 year relationship. They came to a couple of sessions, but the one used therapy to be clear with the other that a non–negotiable was violated and their relationship was over. They sold their house and went their separate ways.

Another couple would stay in therapy and try to figure out where their relationship went south and mend the issues that allowed for one to become emotionally involved with someone outside the relationship. So, you need to do what is in integrity to you. Suggest neutral support, like a therapist, to help you two communicate with each other through this. Schedule time together as a couple in which you can talk seriously, but also time to have fun, too.

Christine C Cantrell, PhD
Licensed Psychologist