Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 62 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take your questions on life and give you an answer to them on the show.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
We’ve got a good old fashioned relationship question for ya today, folks. Mysterious, suspicious behavior from a partner is something most of us have or will deal with at some point, and today we’ll look at an example and how to handle it.
QUESTION: “I’ve recently discovered on accident that my boyfriend has been in touch with at least one other woman online. Instead of getting mad, I asked him about it politely and he admitted it. He said nothing was happening, that she was just an old friend, and I believe him because to my knowledge, he has never gone outside of our relationship. Since then, he’s been very secretive with his phone and computer and not very good at communicating about anything not to mention this other woman/women. I love him and I believe in sticking things out, but I don’t think it’s right for him to be doing this. Is this relationship coming to an end, or do I keep trying to make it work?”
Mindfulness and Keeping Your Cool
And there we have it. First of all, just want to give you major props for how you’re handling all this. It seems you’ve taken a very mindful and communicative approach to suspicious behavior, not acted in an overly aggressive way and are more willing to find the facts and give a second chance rather than letting your ego take over and drive your brain off a cliff. No easy task indeed. I do wish I know how that conversation you had with him left off, but alas.
Where to begin? I guess I’ll start by just issuing a few reminders to you, or a few “just make sures” before I get into the meat of everything.
So two things: First, you say he hasn’t gone outside of the relationship and you also said “to your knowledge.” It’s so great that you’re looking at his track record and looking for patterns before jumping to strong conclusions. If he’s not gone out of the relationship thus far, that works to his advantage right now.
But just remember a) that you don’t know that for sure, like you said, and b) that doesn’t mean the trend can’t start at some point.
Being Objective with Suspicious Behavior
I remind you of this because a lot of the time, when we feel so in love and are so committed to sticking things out, we’ll stick too much to our partner's good qualities in times of turmoil. It's something that helps us to believe what we want or need to believe for our own health. It’s denial for the sake of our own sanity and while it makes sense, it’s destructive if we don’t get objective about things when we need to.
The second reminder, or the second “just make sure” I want to issue is about your feeling that his communication has started to dwindle since the initial confrontation. This could very well be true, especially if he’s guilty of something that he’s not coming forward with. And should he be guilty, it’s in this behavior between the cracks that you’ll need to look for changes if he’s not going to come forward with it now or ever.
That’s why it’s especially important to pay attention to this subtext of his behavior for hints, and if you’re going to do that correctly, you’re going to need to do it with a clear mind.
So “just make sure” your suspicion or uneasiness in this potentially devastating situation isn’t clouding your thinking enough that you’re seeking out ways for him to be guilty and that you’re more looking to pounce on a mistake rather than assess things with a level head. One way to get some reliable analysis on this would be to try communicating with him about something he’s predictably very communicative about; something where you know what his reaction or level of engagement will be. If there’s a difference there, you could be on to something.
Be Clear on Boundaries
But let’s get to the point. You said you don’t think it’s right for him to be doing this — whether “this” be engaging in inappropriate behavior with someone online, keeping a secret from you, not communicating, or some blend of the three.
There’s a difference between doing something wrong and doing something wrong for the relationship the two of you have. I’m not saying you feel this way, but I want to remind you that you do not own this man, nor would you if you were married. He can do what he wants.
You two DO have a commitment together which comes with boundaries, however.
So it’s HIS prerogative to violate that boundary, but more importantly, it’s YOUR prerogative to decide just how many boundaries he can violate before you decide to do something about it. He can behave how he wants, he’s going to anyway. That doesn’t mean that you have to or should put up with it, though. So this is really about whether or not you choose to keep him and his behavior in your life. It’s about your boundaries with yourself, not your boundaries with him, if that makes sense.
What Are You Willing to Accept?
My advice to you right now is to focus more on your willingness to stick things out than you do on his behavior, because he doesn’t owe you anything as one person to another. Making a commitment and owing someone something are a bit different to me.
I understand there is a commitment in place, and it would be nice if that commitment took precedent and any urge to violate said commitment were to be discussed openly, but we don’t always have that luxury in our partnerships and thus we do need to look after ourselves. And it’s especially important for you to look after YOURself if you’ve identified yourself as someone who goes out of their way to stick things out. That’s a great quality, but if it’s done bullheadedly and there is no line in sight, it also makes you very susceptible to being strung along.
I encourage you to keep looking for signs and keep trying to communicate openly with him. Maybe that communication is about mundane things, or maybe it’s about the concerns you’re having that we’ve discussed in this episode. Regardless of whether or not your, or any, relationship is in limbo, a lack of communication will only spell trouble. Maybe your suspicions will be wrong, and maybe they’ll be right.
Either way, he’s looking out for himself and you must do the same. It’s not to say you can’t have a loving relationship with this mentality should you decide to stay with this man, but if he is unwilling to communicate better and unwilling to bend on being in touch with this woman or women in a way that you feel is inappropriate and violates your boundaries too much, then all you can do is either encourage couple’s counseling or end this relationship before he exploits your kindness more than he already has.
Okie doke, friends. I hope you enjoyed this episode and took something from it.
To the asker, as always, thank you for sending it in and everyone on the team here hopes that you have a new perspective, some inspiration and feelings of support.
For those of you who would like to send your own questions in, we encourage them. Feel free to send us your questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay safe, everyone. We’ll look forward to talking to you next time, and we hope you look forward to listening!