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The Vine: September 26, 2012

Submitted by on September 26, 2012 – 11:56 AM8 Comments

I have suddenly found myself in a situation that requires some objectivity from helpful outsiders. I live in a smallish town and, regardless of the city's size, the lesbian community is always small and too gossipy, so I can't take this to my usual suspects for advice.

My partner Jen and I have been together for five years (we're in our 30s, and moved to a new city three years ago) and just bought a house together. We've had our struggles, but it's been largely wonderful. We're different enough that we push each other to grow in ways we probably wouldn't otherwise, and we strive to communicate and understand each other better as we go. And until now, we have been honest with each other.

The situation I need some help with is this: Jen has been emotionally cheating with her new assistant coach Ann (who is married to her partner, Deb) for the past four months.

It's…messy. Jen has had some difficulty finding a good assistant coach, and we were acquainted with Ann and Deb through other friends, who had suggested that Ann might be interested in the job. Jen and Ann met to discuss the possibility in February, and it seemed to be a great match coaching-philosophy-wise. They started working on a plan for next season and going on some recruiting trips together, as well as working out and playing golf, so they were seeing each other quite a bit. From my view, it was becoming a great friendship/working relationship. We're still trying to develop some solid friendships in our area, so I was happy that Jen had found both a good assistant and a good friend. I probably should mention here that Deb was jealous of the new arrangement and suspicious from the beginning — to the point where, I just learned, Ann would lie to her about how much time she was spending with Jen. Not that this makes Jen better, but she never lied to me about the times she was with Ann.

Also, the four of us have been hanging out probably once a week and having a really great time. Felt like we were finally meeting good people and putting down some roots. Fast forward to last week. I don't know what made my intuition finally kick in, but I suddenly realized that I had been feeling disconnected from Jen. All of the time and texts and phone calls with Ann now seemed more intrusive than I thought. So I did something I've never done in my life: looked at Jen's text messages, seeking reassurance that they were just friendly. Instead I saw a very short text chain that wasn't sexual, but definitely intimate.

So I confronted Jen, admitted what I had done and asked if she was cheating. She immediately broke down and said nothing had "happened," but when I asked if she was cheating emotionally, she said yes. Apparently they bonded over the fact that while they were very much in love with Deb and me, they were feeling neglected; both Deb and I have had stressful job issues for about a year now. The attraction that sprang up was more from being around someone who was in a positive place and had more time and energy for fun and flirtation. Jen said they had acknowledged this attraction and that they didn't want to be together or leave their partners, but they enjoyed the attention and didn't really do anything to put a stop to it. They thought that it would just phase itself out. Jen agreed that she would not like me to be engaging in the same kind of behavior she had been and knew she was lying to me.

Jen has owned up to this being all kinds of wrong and wants us to work this out, through therapy if need be. She says she will do anything to regain my trust, including fire Ann and never talk to her again. Ann, meanwhile, is apparently just as remorseful for their behavior and wants to talk to me if and when I choose to do so.

And I am torn, because I have never been in this situation before. I am grown-up enough to know that we will be attracted to other people in our lives, but I simply never expected to be deceived in such a fashion – and for months! I am deeply hurt and feel like such the fool. How do I begin to rebuild my trust in her? And maybe this sounds naïve, but a part of me hopes we can get past this and keep Ann and Deb as friends, and Ann as her assistant, as it's not like they went looking for this to happen. Yet when it did, they chose to talk to each other instead of their partners and still hung out all the time instead of backing off…right now, I can't stomach the thought of Jen ever talking to Ann again.

Next week they are supposed to go on another recruiting trip, one that Jen can't cover by herself (she says if I don't want Ann to go, she will handle it herself). Adding to the muddiness is the fact that Ann has not told Deb a thing and has no plans to do so. I can't see us all just hanging out with three of us knowing the score and Deb left to her suspicions; I would then be a party to the lie.

I apologize for the length of this diatribe. I'm likely overthinking everything. If I just need a smack to the head and to be told that Ann needs to hit the road and Deb with her, let me know.


Dear Muse,

I'll skip the smack to the head, but yes, Ann and Deb need to hit the road. You can't unknow things, you can't unfeel things, and once a friendship has progressed, for one or more of the friends, into more-than-friendly territory, it's not a friendship anymore — and everyone involved has to face that, and not pretend everything's the same as it was.

I can't speak to the logistics of having Ann fired, because that's a completely different minefield, and if Jen is her boss, and if bad feelings might lead Ann to couching it as a harassment issue…I just don't know the HR particulars. I do think you should speak honestly to Jen about what you want to happen. Certainly the two of them should not go on out-of-town trips together anymore, so you should drop the hammer on the recruiting jaunt pronto — but if your ideal scenario is that Jen and Ann don't work together, at all, you need to tell Jen that. "I don't want the two of you to see each other. In any capacity. Ever."

And you should do it in a therapist's office. The relationship's future is far from hopeless, based on what you've told me, but it's clear the two of you have stopped communicating on a deep level. A relationship counselor can help you talk to each other constructively about destructive feelings that brought you as a couple to this point, and not get bogged down in resentments. This is a great opportunity to course-correct for both of you; I think you should see a therapist on your own as well, to have a safe space to rant about this (and also for help in managing work stress), and Jen should too.

Your holding on to the idea of Ann and Deb as friends is understandable; it's a sort of nostalgic denial that I think is normal. But it shouldn't happen, because there's just too much potential for it to get awkward and ugly if anyone but Deb has one too many beers. The emotional cheating with Ann isn't so much about Ann herself, of course; it's a symptom of something else — but it needs treating. Again, I don't know what's doable as far as the workplace and Jen not having contact with Ann, but if she hasn't heard, in so many words, "I can't stomach the thought of [you] ever talking to Ann again," she needs to.

Find a therapist ASAP, and hang in there. You're going to hear some things you won't like. It's going to get yelly. This is the suckiest part; don't lose hope.

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  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Wow; in a wierd awful way it would have been better if it was just physical cheating–that has the kind of boundries our society is more used to dealing with, but this is just–everywhere, all over the house, your social life, your life as a couple. I'm so sorry.

    My only advice (besides listening to Sars about everything) is try not to take on the burden of Deb and Ann's relationship. It may feel like you should: should tell Deb, should empathize with Ann,should try to patch things together between the four of you, because all this emotional brohaha is taking in place in that space.

    But even though you have DebandAnn in your headspace so much it may feel like they live at your house, they don't. And their relationship–where it goes, what Ann chooses to say to Deb or not, whether they break up–isn't up to you or Jen. Even if you want it to be, or think circumstances have made it be, it's not.

    It may kill you, sometimes, to NOT talk about DebandAnn in the therapist's office, or with Jen, or with your best freind you just called because you CANNOT take all this work and empathy shit for one more second and just need to rant–but try. It will lead to much clearer skies in the end, I promise.

  • attica says:

    I have nothing to add about the relationshippy parts of this question. I will weigh in on the coaching bits. If Ann is to keep her job (and there are probably a ton of factors in play as to whether she wants to, whether she can leave without being fired, whether there's a harrassment complaint waiting in the wings, and so on), the fact that recruiting trips will no longer be done in tandem has to be viewed as a good thing for the organization.

    Sure it's fun to travel with a buddy, but separate encounters of prospects makes it easier to form good opinions, without all the emotional overlap. You know what I mean: the 'gosh, Ann's so excited about Player X, and I think so much of Ann, that I can't help feeling the same' when, if viewed separately, you might well feel differently. And can compare and contrast opinions when not On The Road, and all that that implies.

    Dividing up the labor of coaching (Ann does drills, Jen does playbook, or whatev) so there's less combined face time will also be a good defense from the whatever's fraught about the situation, including the gossip of the players. The fewer awkward pauses and/or icy glares exchanged, the better for everyone.

  • Megan says:

    Man. What a hard place to be in. I'm sorry that you have such a painful reality to face right now. I'd say a couple things. You can recover as a couple, and be stronger than you were with work and therapy.

    One thing to keep in mind… I just spent a year listening to a very good friend who was in Jen's position. Her wife used their therapy time to be the victim of cheating, and never acknowledged her role in the marriage weakening. Of course she felt like the righteous one who hadn't done anything wrong, but eventually my good friend couldn't take the entire blame forever. She left (partially) because she was tired of being the only bad guy. If you were over-attentive to work, or took Jen for granted, you can learn ways to prevent that from happening again. Not because you are equally at fault, but because therapy is such a good place for self-improvement for both of you together and separately. You can use this chance to be a better wife.

    I'll also second the complete break with Ann and Deb. Changing intentions and emotions through therapy is great, but changing circumstances is a very powerful manifestation of changed intentions.

    All comfort to you.

  • kaps says:

    IMO, when two people are committed to a relationship and to each other, and both are willing to do whatever it takes to make things work and move forward in a healthy way, there are no problems you can't overcome. It sounds like that's what you two have with each other.

    As is true with so many things in life, there is good to the bad. This situation, as much as it sucks and hurts right now, can still be looked at as a bit of a blessing. It has presented an opportunity for you two to address issues, reconnect, recommit, grow as individuals, and work together on reinforcing the foundation of your couplehood. This is ultimately good and necessary stuff, and it'll help make sure you're never in this place again. This may sound impossible right now, but you may someday find yourself in a place where you can also see the positives in this, because it allowed so many wonderful changes to take place.

    I totally agree about therapy, and think it's essential for dealing with things as big and as painful as this is. Find someone you both feel comfortable with and dig in.

    Believe that there is life – a good, happy, and loving life – on the other side of a betrayal. My hope for you two is that a year from now you'll be able look back on this from a much better place and see that your relationship has traveled farther and grown stronger than you dared dream.

    Finally, you may want to check out Marriage Builders online…you might find some useful stuff there.

    Good luck! I hope you post an update sometime.

  • Maria says:

    Wow, I'm really sorry for the pain of this situation. I think you've gotten good advice. I would just hope you could not take this super personally. People form attractions in the workplace. It's a thing that can happen. I think there was some vulnerability from having relocated. Clicking with somebody can take on more resonance when you don't have any other friends in a new area.

    I think the fact that it went on for 4 months is the larger issue to be dealt with against her feelings of being neglected. I would treat it as more of a relationship hygiene issue so you can make a plan for going forward. I think though that you have to ask yourself if you are somebody that a partner can talk to about feelings of attraction, because it might happen again sometime.

    My feeling on the other couple is to disengage socially and force them to ask and answer the question of why the four of you aren't doing things together anymore. That way it keeps it in their relationship without you having to be the messenger. I don't see how to go forward in a foursome friendship, though. I just don't.

    I would work on the therapy sessions before you work too hard on finding new friends in your area. It would be good to get this behind you first. Good luck to you both.

  • Beth C. says:

    I'm so sorry you're going through this. It really is sucky. The only thing I would have to add to both Sars great advice as well as the others' input is in regard to Deb and Ann. While I agree with everyone that their relationship is non of your mind, and the best thing to do is separate yourself from them completely, I would make it very clear to both Jen and Ann that Ann can tell Deb what she wants, you won't seek Deb out and tell her what's up, but you will not lie for them either. If Deb seeks you out and asks you point blank what is going on, you are going to tell her the truth. Like you said yourself, you do not need to be complicit in their lying and they shouldn't expect you to be.

  • anon says:

    I was in Jen's position once about five years ago. It was the most gut-wrenchingly awful time of my life. I loved my then-partner very much, and I still miss her. But there were a lot problems in our relationship that we both had shied away from addressing for a number of years. We went to extensive couples therapy, but much like Megan noted, it was very difficult to get beyond how awful I had been–and I totally admit that I did so much wrong.

    If my then-partner had even eventually reached Bemused's perspective, I have no doubt we'd be together today. I think the willingness to admit fault on both sides goes a long way to reforging a new, potentially stronger relationship. FWIW, I grew up a lot in the years since my last relationship fell apart, and I think the experience, as awful as it was, gave me the tools and the self-awareness to ensure that I'd never put a relationship in jeopardy that way again. (I'm sure I'll screw up in a million ways, but I'm positive it won't be that one again.)

  • Muse says:

    Hi everyone — Muse here. Thank you Sars, and everyone who posted with such thoughtful words.

    I'm happy to report that Jen and I found a great therapist and yes, I took full responsibility for my part in letting our communication go south. We did a lot of hard work together and separately, and things are so much better between us already that I'm sort of grateful it happened, odd as that sounds.

    Ann is still working for Jen, as that seemed to be the safest option HR-wise; we don't know her well enough to be certain no harassment suit would result. But Jen has another assistant coach and she is making sure she and Ann are never alone together. Since this is Ann's first year, it's technically a trial period, so if things don't work out she could not be asked to come back after this season and no one would raise an eyebrow.

    I've spoken with Ann, who did finally tell Deb about a month after the fact. Deb met with Jen to talk with her, as well. We all seem to be on the same page with making the season as drama-free as possible, so that's something. I agree with everyone's assessment that a friendship is not something we can hope for, however.

    It's not optimal, but with continued therapy and more honest communication, I feel secure that Jen and I will get through it. Thanks again for all your kind words and encouragement — they are much appreciated!

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