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Relationships Has my husband moved from the ‘friend’ zone to the ‘cheat’ zone?

The question

My guidelines for a marital partner's friendship with a member of the opposite sex are simple: the "friendship" must be transparent in every way, and the circle of "friendship" must extend to include (at least occasionally) the individual whose partner is doing the befriending. Past history indicates that my husband's rules are very different from mine. A "female friend" is the source of the current problem. He admits that he sees her four times a week for various sporting activities, and frequently exchanges lengthy, philosophical, cozy e-mail messages.

Our discussions about this have gotten us nowhere; he says that the friendship is platonic and he's not doing anything wrong. Perhaps technically so, but the frequency of the connection is making me feel truly uncomfortable.

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His lies and omissions and forgetfulness when it comes to sharing information about the friendship (as he easily would if this were a male friend) are undermining the stability of our relationship, causing me serious doubt about his proclaimed interest in preserving our marriage, and at this juncture even giving me cause to doubt his sanity.

I seriously doubt that I'll ever be able to trust him again. Please help.

The answer

On the one hand, I think extramarital, opposite-sex friendships are great, and can be part of a healthy all-around dynamic for all parties.

I have several female friends. My relationships with them bring me great joy, and although we might have long chinwags on the phone and the occasional cozy tête-à-tête, they are in no way a threat to my marriage.

In fact, it's often been the opposite. My female friends advise me on marital protocols – e.g. what to do when your wife calls and you can't talk (hint: don't answer the phone and brusquely tell her it's not a good time), what to buy her for a birthday or anniversary present (jewellery), and when to wear nice stuff, even if it's just you two hanging around the house (e.g. nice shirt, not a white undershirt).

Having said that, there are too many red flags in your description of your husband's activities to ignore: "Lies"? "Omissions"? "Forgetfulness"? These words all jump out at me from your question like frogs on pogo sticks.

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And also, odd as it may sound: "philosophical." That's a total red flag. In fact, it makes me laugh. Men – pardon the sweeping generalization, obviously I mean "some men" – suddenly turn into poets, troubadours and great thinkers when their intentions are amorous.

(On my first date with the woman who would later become my wife, I was like Socrates, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Jean-Paul Sartre rolled into one.)

They muse, speculate, ask the big questions: Why are we here? What is the purpose of our brief sojourn on this planet? Why must mankind eternally be shackled by conventional notions of so-called "monogamy"?

Basically, you need to put your foot down on your husband's cozy little arrangement pronto and posthaste.

He may already be having an affair, from the sounds of things, but even if he isn't, I can certainly see – and hear (choo-choo, he's going to cheat on you) – that train coming down the track.

Remember, most affairs begin in these "friendships" (your air quotes, not mine).

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Of course they do. Of course there's a period of doubt, testing the waters, both parties wondering if they're going to take the plunge – if they're going to get their tickets punched to "the cheating side of town."

A period invariably characterized by little tete-a-tetes, frequent e-mail/text communication (which is how so many get caught) and cute little gifts. I remember one previous Damage Control – about a guy describing his married friend giving a woman he wanted to sleep with a compass – and I could just see it all so clearly: "So you can always find your way to me in life's confusion" or some such b.s.

I said then and reiterate now: men in that position are not poets, troubadours or philosophers. They're schnauzers, great Danes, Rottweilers … dogs, in other words. Your husband's actions are giving off a distinctly canine aroma – you need to put a leash on that puppy immediately.

Your protocols sound about right to me – in fact, they are the protocols of extramarital opposite-sex friendships: transparency, including the spouses, and so on – and, I might add, observing a decent amount of infrequency in the encounters.

I mean, seriously, four times a week? Maybe it's not his sanity you should question, but your own credulity.

But I shouldn't be mean. You know what to do. You have your rules: just enforce them. He once promised to love, honour and respect you. If he refuses to do those things now, tell him you'll have to find someone else who will.

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