Ask Amy: Secret phone friend is sign of emotional affair

March 2, 2012

DEAR AMY: My spouse developed a telephone addiction for a childhood friend. This relationship has been going on for several years but my husband has never mentioned it to me.

I learned of this by accident from a friend of the family. When I approached him, he downplayed it as minimal casual contact. Later, he admitted he had a special connection with her and said that they are in touch often. He also says they are “just friends” and refuses to cut ties with her and her family.

If they are “just friends,” I cannot understand the total secrecy of this relationship (her husband was equally clueless). I am having a difficult time with this. It is as if they had conducted an intimate physical affair. The emotional distress has been devastating to me psychologically and it has devastated our marriage.

I am made out to be the villain by my husband and the other woman for demanding an end to it. I have been a faithful wife and do not know how to deal with this. What should I do? -- Devastated Wife

DEAR DEVASTATED: Judging from the contents of my inbox, emotional affairs are the new infidelity.

I don’t want to make it seem like these nonsexual affairs are some sort of fad-of-the-heart. They are very real, tangible and painful, as your story illustrates.

Marriage is like a house built by two people; the house’s function is to contain the intimate relationship.

Your husband has opened a window onto this other relationship without your knowledge or consent.

I borrow the “open window” metaphor from the important book on this subject, “Not ‘Just Friends’: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity,” by Shirley P. Glass and Jean Coppock Staeheli (2004, Free Press). The authors’ research on infidelity shows that for many people, emotional infidelity is actually far worse than a sexual affair.

You and your husband can mediate your way through this with the help of a marriage counselor. I agree that if he continues to maintain this secret and exclusive relationship it will seriously impair, if not destroy, your marriage.

DEAR AMY: I recently posted my profile on a few dating sites. I’m 18 years old and would love to meet a nice guy. A day after I posted my profile I connected with a “match.” He expressed interest in e-mailing, but I didn’t want to use my personal address so I created a new address with a fake last name for my own personal safety.

We have chatted almost every night since, and today I felt that it was time to tell him my real name, and I wrote him an explanatory e-mail, giving my reasons and apologizing profusely.

He is upset now, and said he doesn’t feel like he can trust me because he was honest with me from the beginning. I told him that any contact would have to be initiated by him, but I feel like I’ve lost my best friend.

I feel so bad that I hurt him. Was I wrong to create this e-mail with a fake name, or is he overreacting? -- Unsure

DEAR UNSURE: You didn’t need to assume a secret identity, you only needed to leave off your last name on any communication until you wanted to disclose it. That having been said, this guy is overreacting.

Please, always proceed very cautiously when it comes to forming relationships online. Don’t get too wrapped up in an online relationship before you meet the person, and always meet for coffee (no alcohol) in a public place.

DEAR AMY: I can empathize with “Upset Mother,” who lent her daughter money and has yet to be paid back.

I also lent my daughter money, which she never repaid. On her birthday, Christmas and other special occasions her gift is a “coupon” for a certain value amount toward the loan. We will do this until the loan is paid off. She needs to learn that this is her responsibility.

Although I am sure she would rather receive a gift (or more money), she accepts the coupon graciously. -- Solvent Mother

DEAR MOTHER: I like this idea very much.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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