QUESTION: Joe, my husband works with several women, and occasionally they will have lunch meetings (usually as a group). I was okay with this until a friend told me recently that she saw my husband and one of his co-workers at lunch (in a very trendy lunch spot) and that they looked "too comfortable" for her liking. She said they laughed, looked at iPhone photos, and seemed to be socializing more than working. Should I be concerned my husband spends time with other women?
ANSWER: There are a couple issues in your question that I would like to address.
First, be careful that you do not let your friend's view of your husband being "too comfortable" with another person weigh too heavily on you. Everyone has her own ideas about how people should behave. Maybe her judgment is valid. Maybe not. Therefore, if you rely on her opinion about your husband's actions, you may wind up in conflict with your husband over nothing. Many times I have witnessed marriage trouble because friends of either spouse cause suspicion by their opinions, innuendos, and, occasionally, malicious gossip.
Second, I personally think that in most situations it is a bad idea for any married person to have lunch with a person of the opposite gender. Groups are one thing; lunch with just one other is another. Every month I conduct a workshop for marriages in trouble. While difficulties range from controlling behavior to in-law problems to fighting over money and more, by far the most common marriage problem we work with is infidelity. Typically, unfaithfulness does not occur because someone looks for a sexual partner, but stems from two good people crossing boundaries. They become friends. Then the friendship deepens as they begin to share their thoughts, histories, frustrations, dreams, and feelings. They erect no barriers because they do not intend to do anything wrong. As I said, good people living good lives. However, somewhere along the line their openness and transparency with each other develops emotions much stronger than friendship. By the time they realize that they are becoming too close, they do not stop because they find fulfillment in the relationship they are developing.
Sometimes it goes no further than the emotional connection, but even then, it crosses boundaries and violates their relationships with their spouses. Much too often, the emotional gradually leads to physical, not because either wishes to commit adultery but because they develop a connection so deep that pulls them together in spite of their values.
Many reach the point where they leave their spouses to be with the paramour. And it all starts with a simple friendship. I am not so draconian that I believe no man or woman can have a friend of the opposite gender. However, I believe strongly that no person should allow him- herself to cultivate that friendship in an environment that allows two people to become deeply emotionally connected. That means no one-on-one conversations – not in person, not by phone, not by text, not by Facebook…well, you get the idea.
In his organization, The Lampo Group, my friend Dave Ramsey refuses to allow one man and one woman to work together without others present. Why? Dave is wise enough to know how many wonderful people wind up in trouble from such seemingly innocent beginnings.
My agreement with my wife is that I never have lunch – or any meeting – with a woman unless Alice approves it. She did not demand that. I did for two reasons. First, I want Alice to feel safe always. Second, Alice has a keen sense of which women I am attracted to – or who are attracted to me – even when I do not.
Therefore, I suggest that rather than worrying about your husband having lunch with a woman, you make an agreement with him that for your peace of mind, he will not meet with any woman for lunch or otherwise. If he replies that he feels you do not trust him, assure him this has nothing to do with trust and everything to do with putting your marriage first over all other relationships. Tell him that you are not making a demand; you are asking for his loving and understanding agreement.