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Dear Dating Coach,
I am a thirty something professional female who is planning to be married in several weeks. I don't know why I did it, but I accessed my fiance's email the other day and found some very disturbing correspondence that he had with "Kim," an ex-girlfriend. In his emails to her he states that he wants to get together and even shared that he misses her kisses and other aspects of their relationship.
He has never given me any verbal clues about being dissatisfied with our relationship or about wanting an involvement with someone else. Even though I was wrong to violate his privacy and read his personal emails without his knowledge, I feel I must deal with this in some way. I know it would be a big mistake to try and ignore this, yet I don't want to lose the relationship because of what I did. Not only are we to be married soon, we also bought a house together about a month ago.
Should I confront him? How do I handle telling him what I did?
Dear Desperate Soon to be Housewife--
Your second sentence is significant because it explains why you did what you did. While I would not have recommended the method you used to get this information, it is important and needs to be acted on. You went into his emails because your instincts were telling you that something wasn't right in your relationship. Even though he never "verbally" told you that he was dissatisfied, you felt it on some level. Apparently, you never addressed your feelings or concerns with him or had any of those important discussions that all couples should have as they grow their relationship and move toward commitment. My guess is that you hoped that any problem issues would (magically) get resolved through marriage. This is a mistake that contributes heavily to the divorce rate.
Now you know that your fiance is having thoughts about another woman and is clearly not ready to take the big marriage step with you. You have the proof of feelings that he has been unable/unwilling to share with you. You need to arrange a quiet, uninterrupted time immediately to sit down and have a much overdo discussion. Begin by telling him that you know he is unhappy and how you know it. Don't make your behavior the focal point of your discussion, as this will shift the focus away from the key issue. Instead, make it clear you are telling him, not asking him about his unhappiness. Then apologize for the means you took to get this information. Make sure you communicate an openness to really hear what he has to say and give him the opportunity to say it.
Maintain good eye contact and listen deeply to what he tells you. Try using "I" statements throughout. For instance, "I know you are unhappy with our relationship and I am concerned that we have some serious issues that we have been avoiding." When you tell him about what you did, try something like; "I must have known there was a problem and so I made a poor decision and read your emails." When you use I statements, you will help him to hear what you have to say and to react less defensively to it.
This will not be an easy task and he may try to deny or negate the seriousness of the problem. Be prepared for this and don't let it deter you from what you need to do in order to avoid what could be one of the biggest mistakes of your life. At the very least, you two need to step back and do some serious work before moving forward with this big step.
Marriage is the beginning, not the end. Make sure you choose a partner who is fully able and ready to make the commitment that a stable and long-term relationship requires.
(from January 2006)
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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