Dear Dr Shari,

I am in a relationship and have been together for years but many of (multiple) women at his work, do not know that he is in a relationship. That means he does not speak of me and means he wants people to think he is single. One time he got a text, from a coworker, that seemed flirtatious, like she might be interested in him. That means he’s on the market in some way. And when I asked him, he did tell me that he does find some women in his company attractive. I was pretty appalled, and angry, because in his potential position in the company, that would be unacceptable.

I am upset by these things, and wanted to write to you to see if I should even stay with him. — Kara K

Dear Kara,

You listed some scenarios, then you told me what they mean. You also did not identify any redeeming qualities about the guy. So, maybe you should just end the relationship. That’s one option, Kara.

But, I am responding to this letter, to demonstrate a point. Often we search for an interpretation to a situation that is congruent with our emotional reactivity. One that JUSTIFIES our attitude, and even though it is negative, it feels “ good” in a way. Your letter is the perfect example of this phenomenon.

YOU are frustrated, so you slapped an interpretation on a scenario, to match your agitation. Here’s your formula: Women in the company don’t know about me, therefore, this can ONLY mean that he wants people to think he is single, therefore my anger is justified.

And here is the kicker: The only way this relationship is worthwhile is if you are wrong. Could you possibly be wrong? Are you willing to consider that you are wrong? Only you have this answer.

Kara, I don’t know if this guy is a player not. I have limited information and would suggest reviewing your “years” of relationship, to determine if he has proven to be respectful and honest with you over that time. However, I do see a problem with your interpretations. From this angle, it seems to me that you are drawing absolute conclusions about things that do not necessarily warrant those interpretations.

First, there could be a lot of reasons that coworkers do not know each other’s relationship status. To know details of a person’s life, you must establish some level of connection, and have conversed to a degree beyond what is required for the job. If you are telling me that he frequently hangs out with these people, and no one knows he is in a relationship, then, that is suspicious. But, if he does not have a social relationship with these people and ONLY discusses business with them (or does not speak with them) then you are way out of line in your accusation.

Getting a “flirtatious” text might be the result of an implied invitation, true. It also might the result of an aggressive woman who is throwing a line in the pond to see what she can catch. And one other possibility is that what is considered flirtatious to one person, might be considered “normal communication” to another. Your phrases: “seemed fliratious” and “might be interested” tell me that the text was not so overt as to implicate him. You don’t mention his response, or any kind of thread, but again, only YOU can color in this picture, Kara. Is he a lying cheat, or an innocent man being unfairly accused? This is a question that I cannot answer.

And finally, finding women attractive is not against the law. This was the line that told me the most about you, Kara, as it makes me wonder if you are just really looking to make this guy wrong, at all costs. The reality is that he told you the truth. YOU ASKED, and he answered honestly. That gave him a lot of points in my book. I would be more skeptical of him if he said he did not, ever, find other women attractive. Does that mean that he is going to take any kind of action? No. It means he answered your question, clearly and honestly, and perhaps you could not handle the answer.

Do you want this relationship Kara? If so, stop complaining and do something about it. Open your mind, share (without accusation) what bothers you and open a conversation that can provide some comfort and understanding or clarity that he is not for you. You are within your respectful rights to, for example, tell him that you are concerned that women do not know that he is in a relationship, and discuss that. But you MUST be willing to drop your absolute interpretations. Be open to hearing his response and feelings, or, it is not a conversation, it is an accusation.

Kara, if the relationship is going to work, you need to be willing to consider that your protective interpretations are harming the relationship, but if you assess that you have been disrespected and dishonored in this relationship, you need to leave it.

My best,

Dr. Shari

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