Windows and Walls

I just read something really interesting, so of course I thought I'd share with ya'll. The topic happens to be infidelity, and before you ask, no, there isn't any trouble in paradise. I'm not cheating on Tony, he's not cheating on me. Things are good here in the house of Quirk. We're disgustingly happy together. I just happen to enjoy reading a variety of behavioral studies, that's all.

Yes, I know that makes me a dork. But at least I'm an informed dork, so neh.

Anyway, this particular article was from a study done by Dr. Shirley Glass, who literally wrote the book on infidelity. Behavioral studies aside, I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to this one except that the question Dr. Glass was answering was, "How did this [infidelity] start?". (And just to be clear, she's not talking about the serial cheaters...she's talking about your regular couples who love their spouse and have no intention of cheating ever, right up until it happens one day). So the question is, why? How did this happen? And I was like, yeah! Why does that happen? What were they thinking? Because I'm pretty sure no one just wakes up one morning and goes, "You know what? I feel like having an affair today".

According to Glass, the road to most affairs starts when one person makes a new friend. The new co-worker, the gym buddy, the neighbor next door. Now, there's nothing wrong with making a friend of the opposite sex (or even same sex, if that's your thing). The point is, these guy friends are completely normal. (Which is good, because I'd have to say that most of my friends are guys. The people I hung out with in high school were guys, the people I worked with were guys, the people I went hiking with on weekends were guys. I relate to guys. Not only that, but Tony has female friends. He still gets invitations to "Girls night out" with the group of girls he used to work with at the zoo. A table full of girls and Tony, meeting up for margaritas. So when I first read that thing about the new friend being the problem, I was like, what!? That can't be right.)

But the friend is not the issue. Have your guy friends and feel fine. The problem, (and this is the really interesting part), happens when walls and windows start moving around. See, every healthy marriage has what Glass refers to as walls and windows. The windows are the parts of your marriage that are open to other people...friends and family and co-workers and such. Your birthday, what you had for dinner last night, hobbies you enjoy...that kind of stuff. The stuff you'd tell anyone, because they aren't secrets. By contrast, walls are barriers behind which you guard intimate secrets about yourself and your marriage. Your deep dark secrets, your insecurities, the personal parts of your relationship with your spouse. The secrets only they know. And the problem begins when you start moving windows and walls around.

It starts innocently enough. You're having coffee when the conversation accidentally drifts into personal areas. And you find yourself leaning forward to share one of these deep dark secrets about yourself with your new friend. And they totally get it, and they've got your back, and you feel absolutely wonderful! So close with your new friend! Now they know the "real" you, and who doesn't want someone to know the "real" them? Except you've just built a window where a wall used to be. It used to be only your spouse knew X, Y, Z about you or your relationship, and now your friend knows too. And there's a flip side too. Not wanting your spouse to feel jealous of how close you and your friend are, you keep these details of your friendship secret...and suddenly there's a wall with your spouse where a window used to be. You've changed the structure of your marriage without even knowing it.

I'm going to be honest here. I've totally done that before, completely by accident. (Well, not the wall part, but I was a little too honest with a co-worker once and ended up sharing more of my personal life than I meant to. He was telling me about his hopes and dreams, so I shared mine, and it wasn't until the end of the conversation when I was driving home that I realized that I just unloaded a whole bunch of personal stuff with someone I wasn't married to. So it happens. Easily).

The trick, according to Dr. Glass, is to immediately tell your spouse everything. You may have opened that window by accident, but you don't have to wall off your spouse. And yes, if you have a good hubby who cares about you, they're going to be a little worried. (Tony's not the jealous type at all, and he totally trusts me 110%, but when I related what I had accidentally told my co-worker, even he was like, "Not cool, little goose. I'm not liking where this is headed." And while it was completely unintentional on my part, and was nothing worse than us just talking in a parking lot, he was totally right). So I had to make a conscious effort to stop opening windows with my friend. Friends have different boundaries than spouses. There are things only your spouse should know about you. And those intimacies are important. That good feeling because someone knows the "real" you? That's a spouse thing.

The good news is that one accidental window probably won't hurt. You just have to be careful not to keep doing it. I guard my (and Tony's) privacy fiercely now, both in person and on the ol' blog here. I'll tell you about the silly things, the enduring things, the funny things, but there's a wall around the personal things. It may not be as interesting, but I won't weaken the structural integrity of my marriage by filling the walls with holes.

Anywho, something to think about. I read the article (which I think was an except from one of her books, although I forget which one) and went, huh. And I kept coming back to it, because it really resonated with me. So I thought I'd share. Maybe you can use it, maybe you can't. But interesting to know regardless.