Ask Manjot is a monthly advice column by 5X Press writer and therapist Manjot Mann that tackles all things womanhood, relationships, mental health and more. Submit your questions here.
I have been married for one year now. In this year of marriage, I found out that my husband is still very much in touch with his ex-girlfriend. They are actually friends. I had no idea of this throughout the course of our relationship, pre and post marriage, until recently. I feel uncomfortable with the relationship and I've brought it up with him. He thinks it's no big deal and that I'm overthinking it.
To give you context—they talk on the phone regularly (when i'm not around), text daily and communicate via Snapchat. I've asked him to stop, he's told me that he doesn't think he should need to. I've lost trust in him because he never told me about it in the first place. When asked why he never told me, he put it on me and said I should have asked him more about his past and then maybe it would have come up. I just feel completely blindsided.
On top of that I've noticed a shift between us. It's almost like we are living as roommates. The intimacy has reduced, there is no spark left. I should be a priority in this relationship and if I'm feeling a certain way about something there should be a degree of importance on his end to try and compromise or come to some agreement.
How do I go about dealing with this? How do I ensure that there are boundaries there?
I am so sorry you are going through this. The first year of marriage is often challenging—it may be the first time you're living together and it can be tough to navigate this new stage in your relationship. It sounds like the first year has been especially hard for you since finding out your husband is still speaking with his ex-girlfriend. I imagine it’s also difficult because secretive behaviour in a relationship can feel like a deal breaker. If this is something you witnessed in your life growing up, for example, reliving this in your own relationship can be extremely triggering.
Before we get into it I want to say that all healthy relationships have ups and downs, this is very normal. In therapy sessions with clients who are struggling in their relationships, we often talk about how resolving conflict can be more important than the conflict itself.
How you resolve your problems as a couple and build your trust and communication with each other is a necessary part of growing together, rather than apart.
The hard part about this growth is that many of us didn’t witness healthy relationships growing up. Many of us bore witness to the ruptures in our parents’ relationship—the lying, cheating and deception. We may not have had the privilege of seeing two people actively trying to make their relationship work.
Reader, what you are doing right now, acknowledging the problem and figuring out how to make it work, is hard work and I want to commend you for entering this space. It’s not easy to say “hey we need to fix this” but you're here and I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggle. You’re navigating a difficult chapter in your relationship and this chapter is still being written.
You mentioned in your post that your husband has been speaking to his ex-girlfriend and that this has been happening for quite some time. It sounds like there are two issues here: your husband's secrecy around his relationship and the growing distance between the two of you as a result of this relationship.
You may not like what you hear next but it sounds like your husband may be having an emotional affair. An emotional affair is defined as “ having non-sexual emotional intimacy with someone who is not the individual's romantic partner. Someone having an emotional affair may hide it from their partner or even use deception to keep the relationship a secret.”
When we think of infidelity most of us think of physical affairs but an emotional one can be just as difficult and sometimes even more damaging to a relationship.
From your submission it sounds like your husband and his ex aren't just speaking here and there, they're communicating daily.
If he’s sharing details of his life with her that indicates a level of intimacy in their relationship. It’s important for you, as his partner, to know what exactly he is sharing with her and why he felt the need to navigate this with such secrecy.
The tricky part about an emotional affair is that it can be brushed off as just a friendship. But if it makes you uncomfortable and your husband is choosing to dismiss how you feel, then that is a red flag that needs to be addressed.
I also want to acknowledge that it is not your responsibility to quiz him on every sexual or romantic partner he has ever had prior to getting married in order to predict who he may or may not speak to in the future. Your husband’s assertion that “you should have asked him more about his past and then maybe it would have come up” sounds like he’s gaslighting you into thinking this is no big deal.
But it is a big deal to you and that’s something he absolutely needs to acknowledge.
Most of us have a past when it comes to relationships. It sounds like the issue is that your partner’s ex has become the third person in your relationship and not just a remnant of the past.
You mentioned that you would like to set boundaries with your partner. However, it’s difficult to set a boundary in a situation where you don’t have all the facts. Are they talking about work? Family? Deeper issues? It’s important for you to know the scope and depth of their relationship.
It’s also important to remember that while you can ask him to set a boundary with his female friend, the boundary won’t be effective unless he acknowledges that his behaviour needs to change because his relationship with his friend is making you uncomfortable. If he doesn’t see his actions as a problem the boundary won't be effective. He will likely keep doing what he is doing and you will continue to feel like this is somehow your fault.
I know this is hard but something else to think about is what boundaries you want to set with yourself.
Where are you going to draw the line? At what point have you had enough?
It sounds like you are trying to save a relationship where the other person might have already checked out. I don’t have all the information but in this case setting a boundary might look like you articulating exactly what you need to your partner and letting them know what is at stake.
He does have options. You both can attend couples counselling. He can also go to individual counselling. There’s also the option that if nothing is going on he can simply have these conversations with this other woman in the open with you. The more secretive he is the less transparency in the relationship and the more anxiety for you. The ball is really in his court. If he wants to make the relationship work, if he wants to show that he is trustworthy, there are a multitude of things he can and should be doing.
Reader, this is not your fault. Repeat after me: this is not your fault.
You are doing all you can. Trust your gut, if you’re presenting options and communicating your needs but your partner is not willing to listen then there might be bigger problems to look at in the relationship.
Relationships are hard and it takes two people to work things out. It can’t just be you doing all the work.
Sending you all the love and positivity,
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