Husband was attracted to a co-worker

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Hello, my husband and I have been married for 5 years, together for 7. We just welcomed a baby in March. Things were always so great – with the minor ups and downs of every relationship, but nothing serious. After the baby I had a little PPD. I was dealing with it on my own and working through it and was feeling better and confident as a mom by 2 months. Things were good. I didn’t want to go back to work, my husband and both wanted me to find another job as I travel quite a bit. So my brother helped me start on a home business. It was going well, but stressful to handle the business and a baby.

We had a birthday dinner planned with my family one night. That day was a busy day, I was a little stressed, baby crying, etc. My husband came home and we got were driving to the restaurant and we started talking about a dinner with a co-worker and her fiance that we were going to the following week. He told me who was going and I asked why a female co-worker was not going, he said she wasn’t invited. I gave him the interrogation of why and asked if he had a crush on her. Don’t ask me why I thought to ask that, I still don’t know. Anyway, after dinner, we were still angry with each other, he was upset that I don’t trust him, etc. But I do trust him. Finally later that night he confessed that he had a crush on a different co-worker, one that we were going to dinner with. She is engaged and I have met her several times.

After that, of course it was question after question. He said that she is just a friend at work. He said that he liked her but put those thoughts in the back of his head. She sits next to him so they would go up to the cafeteria at work once in while and grab coffee, but that was all the one-on-one time they spent together. Everything else was in group settings. He said that she was nice and listed to him about work frustrations and they have a connection on a friendship level. He also said that he was attracted to her and thought of her, but never once intended to act or do anything more than be a friend. He said he thought about telling me he was attracted to her but didn’t know how to say it. He wanted the feelings to go away. He doesn’t love his job and described it as a distraction from work. He said it was like an ego boost as well – he wondered if she liked him too and said it was a nice feeling that she wanted to be his friend. He was trying to get us to hang out more, the four of us, so the feeling would go away. He said he knew he was attracted to right after he started working there – about 1 1/2 ago and the feeling was not constant – it would come and go. I asked him if he ever looked her up on facebook and he said yes he did, out of curiosity. He is too honest with me, I think.

During this time, I got pregnant and we were starting a new phase of our relationship. Not once did I feel any distance or anything wrong between us. I only felt us getting closer. He says the same thing. He said, he loved me more and more and felt very close to me and was looking forward to welcoming our baby and loved the way I looked. He said the feeling he had was completely separate from us and there was nothing I did to make him like her. He also said that there was nothing he was unhappy about in our marriage either. It was just she was friendly, around everyday at work and she was just a different person.

My reaction has been really extreme. He told me this about 2.5 months ago and I’m still having a hard time with it. Since he’s told me he has gone above and beyond in trying to fix things. He has arranged counseling, written love letters, emails basically has poured his heart out to me. I know he is sincere and I do trust him. I just can’t get the thought of him liking and thinking about someone else out of my mind. He said he never felt guilty for having those feelings as he thought they were normal and natural and that everyone experienced them from time to time, he said he never flirted or gave compliments, never went to lunch, never talked outside of work or work functions – he said I never acted and that’s what’s important. He never even thought about acting.

I admitted to him that there was a guy at my work that I was attracted to and could relate to the way he was feeling, but just wouldn’ve never thought to tell him about it becuase it wasn’t a big deal. He said my experience was the same as his. It was totally insignificant and meaningless, just a distraction. Someone catches your eye and you think about it, it’s a normal curiosity. He is not upset at all about my experience. He said, becuase I trust you. He said you could’ve liked him more and flirted, as long as that’s all it was and I still wouldn’t be as hurt as you are. He said the important thing is that “I love you more than anything and being with you and our family is the only thing I have ever wanted, some other feelings may have been there, but they were insignificant compared to us and what we have.”

He regrets telling me. He said the only harm that came out of this situation was him telling me about it. In a way, I would rather not know. It has caused so much distress and insecurity in me and I just don’t know why. I don’t know how to get it out of my head and move on and be secure again. I cannot understand why I’m still thinking about this and why it is bothering me so much. Everyone keeps telling me it is really normal and the only difference is that you know, most men don’t say anything. They say I’m lucky he is so honest as it shows his integrity. I know we all think of other people and wonder what if, but it’s just really hard knowing, I think.

Can you please help me to understand? In your opinion was his experience wrong or was it just wrong to tell me? How do I move on and be happy again? I want so badly for us to be happy…he does too! He feels so terrible to have hurt me so badly. I feel terrible to hurt him too, he’s hurting too. he hardly talks to anyone at his work anymore and has cut off all personal communication with this girl. I do feel bad, becuase I know he just enjoyed talking with her and that was it. I don’t know why I can’t be mature and just trust he will always do the right thing. I mean I do trust him. I just feel insecure, I guess. I just need to get over it! Please help.
Thank you!

A: I’m very glad you wrote. You are in danger of creating the very situation you fear. By obsessively calling your husband’s integrity and love into question, you are rocking your relationship and making him wonder if he should be honest with you. You’re miserable. He’s miserable. You have two small children who are undoubtedly sensing that something is wrong between you. Not good.

Let’s get back to basics: It is perfectly normal for friends to feel attraction for each other. As we get to know people well and like them more and more, we see more and more of their attractive qualities. Even people who were not initially attractive to us physically become attractive when we develop the affection and caring of a true friendship. Attraction is an affirmation of that deepening relationship.

Attraction, though, is not the issue. When people are committed to a marriage or a romantic partner, the attraction to a friend or acquaintance is simply noted, perhaps with the passing thought of “if things were different . . .” We go on and simply enjoy our friend and hope that someday someone special will also appreciate her or him. Such friendships are not a threat to a committed relationship.

Your husband wasn’t wrong to acknowledge his attraction to his female friend. You weren’t wrong to see something in your male friend either. Your husband wasn’t wrong to tell you about it. In fact, in a healthy relationship, appreciation for the attractiveness of each other’s friends is often shared — followed up with a hug or a comment that says “but I’m glad I’m with you.”

As you suspect, the problem in your marriage is your extreme reaction to a normal situation. There is no “just” to your level of insecurity. It’s threatening your family. Please consider seeing a therapist to get to the bottom of this. It’s too hard for you – and for your husband – to live this way. Apologize to your husband. Let him know that you do understand that he’s entitled to have his friendships and to be at ease at work. Then ask for his support as you focus on settling your own issues so that the two of you, and your children, can enjoy the loving family that is possible for all of you.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Sep 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Husband was attracted to a co-worker. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/09/19/husband-was-attracted-to-a-co-worker/