This month Douglas Holwerda, American trained and licensed mental health counsellor, advises readers how to handle a spouse who is developing a relationship with someone else

 

Dear Douglas,

 

I am very confused and don’t know what to do. My husband and I have two young children and have been living in Hanoi for four years. He is a teacher. Four months ago I discovered he has been writing text messages to a female Vietnamese worker at the school who is part of the office staff. When I confronted him, he was most upset that I looked in his phone and told me it was all very innocent friendly chatting. I wasn’t really convinced, but decided to let it go, thinking maybe I was over-reacting. But, a week before school ended and we were to go back to England, I found an unfinished email that he left open that was addressed to her and was saying how he would “miss her” while we were gone. He also referred to me as “S”, the first letter of my name. This upset me and now I am waiting for the right time to talk to him again. I don’t want to ruin our summer plans, but I have to know the truth of what is going on. Am I paranoid? What can I do?

 

—Lizzy

 

Dear Lizzy,

 

There are two aspects to what you may want to consider.

 

The first one is something you have not written about in your letter… the current way you feel about how your husband and you are relating to one another.

 

All long-term relationships go through ups and downs. Often it is after a couple has children and roles change that intimacy, sex and emotional closeness tend to wane. So the first question is: how are the two of you doing in your relationship?

 

The second part is about relationships married people have with friends and colleagues. In some cultures it is very common for people to maintain cross-gender friendships of old and new friends, even when a person is married. Some cultures are much less open to that kind of friendship and would deem it inappropriate for a married woman or man to have a close friend of the opposite gender. There is no right or wrong, and you may have to decide what is OK with you when you feel like your husband is getting too close to another woman.

 

I have found that the “condition” of the marriage or how well the couple is relating is the most important determiner of what is OK or not. Men and women are less threatened and fearful when they feel a strong connection, they feel openness and honesty, and feel secure in the trust they have in one another. If you are feeling distant from your husband and he is seemingly interested in another woman, it may be setting off red flags for you.

 

So, first assess your feelings about your relationship and be prepared to speak honestly about it. Often the involvement of another, innocent or not, is really pointing to something that is happening inside the marriage. Secondly, be prepared to speak about how you are challenged by his communication with another woman and specifically what you feel when he refers to you by an initial rather than your whole name. You are responsible for your feelings, but he needs to know how you feel. If you are relating and connecting you will be able to navigate a way for both of you to be true to yourselves.

 

I agree with taking some time to decide what to say and when to say it. Letting him know how you feel rather than attacking him is more likely to find a result that will improve the situation and bring more understanding to both of you.

 

Enjoy your summer vacation,

 

— Douglas

 

Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Cuong Cuong Aug 24, 2015

    For asean countries in general and specially Vietnam, hold a hand or saying i miss you between a man and a woman is considered as very very special relationship and very close to the meaning of love.

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