Life Health & Wellbeing

Thursday 22 August 2019

Ask Allison: ‘I worry about my husband’s close female friend’

Ask Me Anything: Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

Photo posed
Photo posed

Allison Keating

Q My husband has a female friend that he’s quite close to. They text each other frequently and would meet up about once a month, but she’s ‘his’ friend and not ‘ours’.

She has been going through some difficult times in her work and personal life, and seems to be relying on him increasingly for support. Although I don’t feel threatened by this (there has never been anything romantic between them), I feel that this is encroaching on our relationship. With a recent house move, we have enough on our plates without having to accommodate this, but I’m worried that I’ll sound petty if I say that I don’t like that she’s becoming a larger presence in his life. What should I say or do?

Allison replies: What would it be like to say exactly what you have just written directly to your husband? A lot of times we overthink what needs to be said. Your gut instinct or the primary response in your head of “I’m not too happy or comfortable with this right now, I need my husband,” said in the right tone and with the right intent, is a good place to start. Before you do, though, you could consider the following.

The now infamous debate, popularised in the film When Harry Met Sally, questioning whether women and men can be friends without sex getting in the way may have placed the idea of platonic friendships majorly backwards. Even now, there are numerous male/female friendship plots on film and TV that are often doomed to fail: tales of unrequited love, friends with benefits that never work out, mismatched expectations and being seen only in the “friend zone”, or the inevitable hook-up for a happy ending.

The popular idea that men and women can’t be friends isn’t backed up by research. Men benefit from cross-sex friendships more than women as they enjoy discussing thoughts and feelings and personal sharing more than they may be able to with their male friends. Research by Rosemary Blieszner found that “women confide in women” and “men confide in women”. Don O’Meara’s research on friendship noted that women’s top dislike in platonic cross-sex friendship was sexual tension, whereas men liked the sexual attraction. The people included in the study were not in romantic relationships.

Bringing it back to your husband’s friendship, research shows that women enjoy the lighter side male friendships bring as female friendships can be intense, especially when discussing relationships. Women enjoy the protective, near-brotherly relationship, whilst benefitting from a male perspective.

The issue still remains, though, that other people’s ideas about men and women not being able to be friends may be playing a part in how you feel. You are not threatened by their friendship from a sexual point of view but it can be draining and can influence how you feel when others make insinuations or “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” jokes about their friendship.

A simple question to put this straight is: how would you feel if the woman was a man? Like most things in relationships, nothing is ever black and white and many factors come into play, such as others’ perception of their friendship and how that might make you feel.

A bigger, more important question is: do you feel less emotionally connected to your husband at the moment? Do you miss the friendship and chats with your husband? A house move is always cited as a major life stressor, one I hadn’t fully realised until in the thick of it myself. Your husband meeting with his friend once is month probably isn’t the issue. Are you uncomfortable about their connection by text? Emotional intimacy is such a huge part of relationships.

We are all on a steep learning curve in terms of learning new ways to behave and communicate with technology. Your husband may be sitting next to you on the couch, but if he’s texting his friend, he is mentally with her. The question is: how does this make you feel?

In fairness to him, if you haven’t said anything to him and he knows that you are not threatened by a sexual relationship, he may have no idea that it is upsetting you.

Going deeper into this, do you feel he knows what is going on with you at the minute? As he attends to his friend’s difficulties, do you feel somewhat unattended to? What would it be like to voice these feelings with him? Sometimes saying “I feel petty saying this, but it is upsetting me” is a good soft intro to a productive conversation. You are leaving blame aside, you are letting him see that this is making you feel a little vulnerable and disconnected. This is work you can do together. A simple “I miss you” shows you are not in attack mode but connect mode.

Connection in relationships means having a deep understanding of each other’s inner world. Texting can play a large role in that, as you check in with each other over the course of the day. Communication in all its forms is the glue of relationships. Sharing intimate, vulnerable and private concerns is usual in friendships and romantic relationships and deepens the connection and intimacy between the two.

The conversation is your starting point. Another nice way is to connect physically, starting with the six-second kiss twice a day, when you leave and return — it’s the perfect connector. When it’s all to-do lists and house specs, bringing physicality back into your relationship, where you are more than just friends, is a great connector.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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