Advice

My spouse’s relationship with a coworker has dredged up old trauma. I’m in counseling. Should he be joining me?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

My husband is an awesome, slightly shy man whom I was his first everything with. We have been married for a year and a half and together for two and a half. Recently we moved to a new state and landed awesome jobs.

He’s become close to a woman coworker who started right before him. Last week they went out several times for happy hours with coworkers. Both he and his friend texted me to join, but I had to work and then check on the dog. The woman flew in from a different state to be at these events. I found out they tried each other’s drinks — same straws! — and shared car rides alone. Making it worse, my husband has said some very hurtful things since becoming close to this woman. For example, he kept saying how tall she is, and he wishes I had legs like hers; or how hot she is and how smart she is and how much more money she makes than me.

My first love cheated on me, and I thought I healed from that as it was seven years ago. But I think that trauma has come back and with a vengeance. I value that my husband and his friend both invited me to the happy hours and I know he’s not hiding anything. That’s not the problem. But I couldn’t stop having panic attacks and crying and obsessively checking Life360, a locator app, to see where he was after work.

We finally talked and he apologized, but not without saying what I was feeling was unflattering and not normal. We have made up since then but I have this lingering feeling of sadness and doubt. I thought my best friend, the love of my life, would be a little more reassuring during a crisis, but he took it as me overreacting and it just made me feel worse.

I’m seeking counseling again and unsure if I should ask him join me. Meanwhile my husband keeps joking about his female friend liking him, despite me telling him I can’t take the jokes right now. Where do I go from here?

Wanda says:

This is a lot for a young marriage and relatively young relationship to stand up to and you appear to be doing the best you can. You’re holding a mirror up to your reactions and emotions, taking a hard look at your past and present self; you’re having hard-but-honest conversations with your husband about the impact of his actions; you’re even taking the brave step in returning to counseling, an experience that can be incredibly rewarding but absolutely difficult too.

First off, cut yourself some slack and know that despite what your husband said, the jealousy you have felt in the shadow of your husband’s rosy new relationship is not abnormal. Most normal people would react similarly. Your chosen romantic partner is spending an exorbitant amount with this woman while constantly commenting on her looks and accomplishments, holding you in a comparably disparaging light. The fact that he continues to make these verbal jabs is tone deaf at best, and at worst seems to suggest he enjoys both tormenting you and wielding this role of power in your relationship, taking cruel advantage of your vulnerabilities.

I vote yes: your husband should come along to counseling! If your marriage is going to last, you both need to understand how to communicate in good and bad times, how to navigate each other’s vulnerabilities and needs, and how to protect and strengthen your marriage.

Wayne says:

Echoing Wanda’s comments, you’re doing everything you can, and you’re doing it all the right way. Being thoughtfully introspective, reflecting on the trauma of your past while looking clearly at the present situation. Calmly communicating your feelings to your partner. Sensing a rising anxiety and seeking assistance; sensing tension and working toward peace.

Your husband, not so much. But you almost have to give him a little extra emotional wiggle room for his suddenly crass and clueless behavior. I mean, you are his “first everything,” as you noted. So, while kind and caring, he also likely does not appreciate the fine points of maintaining and sustaining a happy, healthy long-term relationship — or even how to respectfully and reliably communicate with his partner. He also probably has no idea how to handle a woman who is not his wife actually paying attention to him, finding him interesting, and seemingly enjoying spending time around him. Basically, he’s still learning and thus still making rookie mistakes. Like running his mouth and letting his ego override restraint.

He has to understand that his boneheaded behavior has real, painful impacts on you and on the stability of the relationship. So yes, please take him to counseling, even if you also choose to take individual counseling sessions for your self-care. If he’s half as great as you claim he is, hearing a new voice explain the power of his words and actions on you and your emotions will carry some serious weight, elevate his emotional intelligence, and hopefully ground him again as a solid partner.

[I have no reason to be suspicious of my husband’s working relationship with a colleague. Why am I jealous?]

[I’m a successful businesswoman and love to travel. But my accomplishments seems to be a put-off for potential partners.]

Wayne and Wanda

Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at wanda@adn.com.

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