Dear Carolyn • I got married pretty young, and have spent the past decade putting great effort into keeping my marriage fresh and growing. Our kids have reached an age of some independence, which helps, so I’m able to focus more on my husband. However, my husband has told me he has been developing feelings for an attractive, single co-worker. He has not acted on his feelings and doesn’t plan to, but (he says) he felt like he was being dishonest by not talking to me about this. I appreciate his honesty and don’t want to punish him for it. But what exactly am I supposed to do? We already have fairly regular date nights and a good sex life. Some trusted friends have suggested that all he’s looking for is a new challenge, so what I should do is withdraw a little bit to give him back the feeling of pursuing me. I’m afraid that might be equal to standing by while my marriage dies. What do you suggest?
Dear Maryland • I think reading "The Rules" in the ‘90s caused your trusted friends to suffer permanent brain damage. These friends are partly on to something, but in a disastrous package. The advantages you have are intimacy, transparency and trust — which are exactly what you torch by "withdrawing," i.e., playing games. If you’ve found an attentive but non-smothering place to be in your marriage, then stay put. The useful kernel your friends offered is the focus on a "new challenge." Everyone needs those — but they don’t have to be emotional or sexual. Research into bullying (stay with me here) has shown that the most effective way to combat it among kids is to get all kids working together toward a group goal. Extrapolate a bit, and it makes sense that a group goal is the way to keep a marriage close, too. Child-rearing is often just that, but the intensity diminishes over time. That’s when it helps to develop something else you and your husband can pursue together. The "what" is wide open — a cause, charity,bucket list — because what matters is that both of you are fully aboard. That will tighten your bond while also scratching the itch for something new.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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