Working relationships

Working relationships

Another person’s interest is a good reason to get closer to your mate

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 11/13/2013

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Dear Patti,
My name is Crystal. I’ve been married for eight years and actually things are going pretty well in my life. My husband John is an architect, has his own firm with multiple architects working for him, and I’m very proud of him.   

The only thing that bothers me is Jennifer, one of the architects working for him. It’s clear that she looks up to John and sees him as her mentor. I can also tell John likes the admiration as much as he enjoys teaching her. I know their relationship is normal and a good thing, but somehow it still really bothers me. 

I know my husband loves me very much and he doesn’t have the kind of chemistry with her that would go beyond a strictly business relationship. They’re not having an affair nor are they having an emotional affair. The energy between them isn’t like that and in my heart I know John isn’t doing anything wrong. Still, it upsets me.

What I can’t help resent is how familiar Jennifer is – calling him Johnny (previously, only his mother and I called him Johnny) – and the way she consistently use the pronoun “we” as in “We are having a difficult time on this project,” or “We don’t respect the client’s values.” They do a lot together, side by side, and seem like such intimate good friends that I feel left out. Sometimes when Johnny comes home tired and we don’t talk much, it seems humdrum in comparison. Sometimes I also wish he was more responsive and sharing with me and it seems like we’re in a rut.

Their relationship is actually a normal one and so is mine, so how do I get over this resentment?

— Crystal

Dear Crystal,
It sounds like you feel left out, watching the two of them have a good friendship and a good working relationship and not being a part of it. It hurts and you resent being hurt. If you’re positive that their relationship holds no threat, and that Jennifer’s familiarity with John is harmless and  you believe that John’s relationship with Jennifer isn’t the core issue, let’s explore what’s really hurting you.  

Is there a possibility that an old hurt from the past is resurfacing? Does the relationship between John and Jennifer remind you of a past situation where someone you wanted to be closer to was instead giving attention to someone else? Did either of your parents favor a sibling? As a teenager, were you ever emotionally caught up in a triad involving you, a boy and another girl? In school did you often feel left out and on the sidelines? 

If a past situation or incident comes to mind from reading these questions, you might want to journal your thoughts and feelings down and explore where this might be coming from. This could be an opportunity to heal an old wound. If you discover that it’s significant, you might want to get the support from counseling for a few sessions.

While your relationship with John sounds solid, it also sounds like you would like to experience more connectedness. One way to revive his responsiveness toward you is to model such behavior. When a spouse feels threatened or left out, it’s common to shut down when, in actuality, it’s the opposite that’s called for. If you and John become closer in a special way that only the two of you can be, the relationship he has with Jennifer might not seem so bothersome to you.

Strengthen your relationship with John by expressing your love in different ways. Give positive verbal communication through compliments, words of appreciation, encouragement, kindness and affirmation. Increase your expression of love by kissing, hugging, showing physical affection and giving more sexual contact as well. Make an effort to spend more quality time with John by giving him your undivided attention. Give him the attention and friendship that you desire from him. At first it might seem difficult to do so but it will become easier when his responsiveness starts to increase.

Lastly, without interfering with John’s work you might want to strengthen your own relationship with Jennifer as well. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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