Dear Margo: Emotional Affairs Do Count

My wife is hiding her (nonsexual) relationship with another man. What should I do? Margo Howard’s advice

Emotional Affairs Do Count

Dear Margo: My wife of 21 years is an attractive woman. Our relationship has not been the greatest, but then I discovered text messages from another man on her cell. She met him at the gym. One of the texts I saw said, “I really liked your lingerie.” She claims he was commenting on the edges of her bra, which he saw through her shirt while having coffee. I became irate, called him in front of her and threatened him. I am a respected professional in the community, but I just snapped. He called the police, who then called me and told me not to contact him again.

My wife was very upset with the way I handled the situation, but said she wanted to stay married and work on our relationship. They had no contact for four months, but then they started texting again. I obtained access to her phone records. When confronted with this, she wanted to throw me out of the house. I also found evidence on the computer that she looks at his love horoscope every week. She said this was just an infatuation. The texting stopped for a few weeks when he moved, but has now begun again in earnest.

I cannot confront her directly because I don’t want her to know that I have access to her phone records. I have good evidence that he now lives 1,000 miles away, so they can’t be seeing each other. I’ve confronted her indirectly, and she lies, saying there’s no contact. She repeatedly tells me she wants to stay married and that if she really wanted to be with him, she would have left me. We have three teenage children. This is putting an incredible strain on our relationship. I can’t even look at her, and I definitely can’t move forward with working on our marriage when I know about this “emotional affair.” They text each other 10 to 20 times daily. What do you recommend I do? –Betrayed in Boston

Dear Be: The “love horoscope” thing sounds kind of teen-agey, and the supposedly secret texting reveals your wife’s dissatisfaction with her real life … and, of course, you. If your wish is to hold this thing together, I would arrange counseling, since you two can’t seem to make any progress on your own and since you say you can’t even look at her. I’m sure she has complaints about and wishes for this marriage, so hashing them out with a therapist is your best bet. Bring everything to the table, even your possibly illegal access to her phone records. It’s worth a try, and I wish you luck. –Margo, experimentally

Calling All Cads

Dear Margo: I will make this short (though it’s not sweet). I realize I have to be treated by a doctor for an STD. I desperately don’t want my wife to know. It would make endless trouble because you don’t get these things from, well, toilet seats. I am hoping this is one of those situations where patient confidentiality kicks in. Is it? –Nervous

Dear Nerve: It is not, because it is a matter of health policy. A physician is obliged, by law, to inform all sexual partners of “anything that endangers the health of another.” And while we’re on the subject, you might want to think about what kind of man would risk infecting his wife as the price for keeping his philandering secret. Along with the Acyclovir or penicillin or whatever you may be given, I suggest you take a good long look at the way you’re living and the possible consequences thereof. You sound like a skunk to me. –Margo, distastefully

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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119 Responses so far.

  1. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: “She repeatedly tells me she wants to stay married and that if she really wanted to be with him, she would have left me.”

    It sounds like you’re trapped in a nightmare. Perhaps it’s time to wake up.

    LW2: From the CDC website:

    “Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, chancroid, HIV infection, and AIDS are reportable diseases in every state. Because the requirements for reporting other STDs differ by state, clinicians should be familiar with the reporting requirements applicable within their jurisdictions.”

    So let’s hope you have herpes, and then you’ll be good to go.

    • avatar Sweet Dream says:

      And genital warts

    • avatar Mandy McNalis says:

      I hope you were being sarcastic when you said: “So let’s hope you have herpes, and then you’ll be good to go.”

      Considering how this guy is probably NEVER going to open his mouth and tell, you’re basically hoping that he has something that doesn’t need to be reported that he can now pass on to his wife and affect her for the rest of her life. That’s not cool.

      Like I said, I hope you were being sarcastic. It’s hard to tell in text.

      • avatar moonrevenge says:

        I’m sure he’s joking, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the LW tried to blame his wife if she got herpes. “You must be cheating! I wouldn’t have herpes if it wasn’t for you!”

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I’m not “basically” doing anything, other than parroting off the diseases that the CDC says that they are required to report. Herpes wasn’t on the list—hence, if he has herpes it won’t be reported to his wife. If you continue to read the thread, you’ll see that someone gave me oral herpes and made me extremely ill.


  2. avatar Jody says:

    LW#1: To a point I get it. Only because I know that at some point every woman sits back and takes inventory of her life. My guess is she feels stuck in a life where she gave up her dreams in order to see to it that you and the kids were taken care of, etc. etc. She may be looking for something new… fresh. Can you become that for her? Encourage her to go back to school or pursue a dream she had that she let go long ago. This is NOT about you at all… it’s about her and what she’s realizing she’s missing. She’s searching for her own happiness again. You’re either in… or you’re out. If you love her… be in… and go to counseling. Good luck!

    LW#2: Wow at your narcissism! The fact that you’re messing around on your wife AND willing to let her contract the nasty-ness from it…. You don’t deserve her.

    • avatar TheTexasMom says:

      Jody, if the wife in LW1 needs to search for happiness by texting and going out to have coffee with another guy behind her husband’s back she needs to do it post divorce.  And she is the one who needs to “be in” the marriage by not inviting another party  into the marriage.

      • avatar Jody says:

        I don’t disagree with you, TexasMom. I’m not saying she should do it during her marriage at all. I’m just conveying to the husband what I hear from a lot of women. I am perfectly okay with the fact that I could be wrong. But, it was her “high school” behavior that gave it away for me. She’s bummed… she’s bored… she’s wishing for something ‘different’. By no means am I giving her a free pass. SHE didn’t write to Margo… HE did. So, I can only speak to him. He sounds confused. What most men don’t understand is that when we women make up our minds… that’s it. It’s too late. We don’t change our mind later. That’s all I’m saying to him. This is his chance to see what’s going on right now, or lose the marriage. Who knows? This could all be a mute point already. But, that’s what I meant when I asked if he was in or if he was out. Because if he’s in… he needs to act NOW (or it could be too late by now). Does that mean I’m condoning her behavior? HELL-to-the-NO! But she didn’t write… he did. If it’s not too late, they need counseling. She’s obviously going through something. Maybe she’s “trying” to make him ask for a divorce so she doesn’t look like the “bad guy”. Who knows??? I could gloss over a million theories here. It doesn’t really matter. Either way… it’s time for both parties to sit down and figure out what they want and what their happiness looks like to them. I hope they can figure it out… TOGETHER.

  3. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: I’d get my finances shielded and dump this woman pronto if she refuses counseling.

    LW2: Hopefully your wife dumps you pronto if and when she finds out you’ve infected her without warning her to get treatment.

  4. avatar Lisa Cornell says:

    LW#1 Skip counseling and put the money toward a good attorney. It isn’t going to work and more to the point, why would you want to. She has moved on but is too dishonest to say so. Time for you to man-up and protect your kids.

    LW#2 Words do not even begin to describe this creep.

  5. avatar Indigo Moon says:

    LW1: Anyone who hacks his or her spouse’s phone and/mail records has issues. You want to know why she’s so determined to keep channels open with that guy? It’s because you’re too obsessive and jealous and she secretly wants an escape route if things get violent with you, if they haven’t already. Yeah, she’s typing at someone else, because she already has one foot out the door, because she’s too freaked to stay for much longer. Of course she’s going to tell you everything is okay. She’s afraid you’ll stop her when she does finally make her move to get out.

    LW#2 What a champ. If you’re going to play around on your spouse the least you can do is WEAR A CONDOM. Ooops, too late, so now YES you DO have to fess up. You think she’s not going to notice you infected her with something? I sincerely doubt it. The burn “down there” will tell her soon enough, and if you think telling her now is bad? Wait till she has an STD report in her hand and see how it goes then.

    • avatar Carrie A says:

      She was texting the guy for a long time before he ever hacked into her account.  It had nothing to do with him being jealous, she just wanted some fun and didn’t care who she hurt.  And him doing that does not change the fact that what she’s doing is wrong.  I think if he was really such a violent person he would have probably done something to her when he found out she was still texting this guy (despite repeated lies to the contrary), not written to Margo for advice.  She should have the decency to just move out and let him find someone better.

    • avatar MB T says:

      First of all, they probably have a shared cell phone account or she is under his name.  It is not illegal to check the past phone bills and see calls or texts on the phone.  It is not hacking.  She is lying and he has every right to confirm his suspicions. 

      • avatar Phillip Koons says:

        I disagree completely. He IS snooping. It’s not some sort of ‘just checking the bill’ thing. He knows exactly what he’s looking for and the fact that he won’t admit to the wife that he can see her call records only reaffirms that he’s snooping. If not, why hide it?

        Personally, I don’t think snooping is ever warranted. If you have suspicions, then other signs tend to pop up without needing to snoop. However, once you reach that point, you could easily be creating things in your head to rationalize the snooping. What’s this number….why did she talk for an hour….etc. If you don’t find anything, then you’re going to be wracked with guilt. If you do find something (or create something in your head), then the relationship is already on rocky grounds.

        What she is doing is wrong…True. However, 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Once you reach the point of snooping, then you’ve taken a problem and magnified by 10. You won’t trust her, she won’t trust you and it could easily become an insurmountable problem.

        • avatar Carrie A says:

          He had way more than suspicions.  He had already caught her once so she obviously isn’t trustworthy.  Part of him knew she was lying to him so he had to find out for himself.  What else should he have done?  She wouldn’t admit it so it was either than or sit around like an idiot while his wife has an affair.

          • avatar Phillip Koons says:

            Then the relationship is already over.

            If he had suspicions, he should have spoken to her about it. He should have been clear that he was suspicious, felt that their own emotional connection was off and taken it from there. If he thought she was lying about it, he should have simply said that. If after all this talk, he still felt she was doing it or lying about it, then it’s time to leave. Regardless of whether she is or isn’t, the trust is already smashed to bits at that point.

            Open, honest communication is far better than snooping. If you feel your partner isn’t being open and honest…then you say so.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Phillip: He found the texts (and it doesn’t sound as if he was “snooping”…as I stated, I’ve found texts remaining on my son’s and my husband’s phones just by borrowing them to make a call) and was initially surprised and angry…especially when she went straight to denial. She promised to stop her cyber-romance.

            She lied. He didn’t hack into her phone records…if he was on the same account, he probably simply requested them (this is still legal in most states, although I’ve discovered the laws are rapidly changing). He ***did*** confront her, and she threatened to throw him out of ***their*** house. She promised to cease and desist again.

            But here she is, back at it again. He knows, but he doesn’t want to confront her because he knows it will lead to yet another drama bomb and more threats of eviction. It was never about “suspicions”. He knew. All she does is deny, deny, deny…and threaten, threaten, threaten. And lie her attractive head off. Why should she be worrying about trusting him…unless she is viewing him through the lens of her own self regard?

            My own personal opinion is that he should split all available money fairly…and secretly, and obtain an excellent lawyer who is very cognizant of all modern divorce laws, and won’t give up on his chances because he is the male…and the female always wins. And get out.

          • avatar Katie themick says:

            Forest for the trees … who cares how he got the phone records? This guy threatened some dude to the point where the police intervened and has been snooping around his wife’s phone both finding something accidentally and then obsessively checking them and googlestalking the guy she was/is texting. He’s got some issues and so does she. They need either counseling or a couple attorneys, because something is really wrong with the relationship.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            In modern society, in which parents call the police over kindergarten and pre-school playground pushes…and sue for sexual harassment because a teacher innocently hugs a small child…I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that LW1’s phone call to his wife’s cyber-paramour was necessarily all that violent. The police only told LW1 not to contact the man again…and he complied…so I’m not certain how you made the leap from “no further contact” to “googlestalking”. I fairly certain his wife, who keeps promising to break off her involvement with the object of her infatuation, and keeps lying and going back, told him that Mr. Wonderful had moved 1000 miles away, as LW1 never stated that he checked out the man on the Internet at all, nor actually viewed the content of her or his texts.

            I don’t think he is obsessing…after all, this is his wife of 21 years, who refuses to break off her emotional affair with her romantic interest. I do think that he should get out of the marriage…sooner rather than later so that he can move on with his life.

            I would be fascinated to see this same letter, but with the gender roles reversed, appear a few months from now. I have a feeling that the responses would be very, very different, and that Mr. Cyber-Cheat would be feeling the burn to his very core.

          • avatar georgi says:

            Before completely condeming her for being the one who ruined this marriage (and I agree with the readers, it is ruined), consider what behaviour HE has admitted too.  He called the other man and “talked to him”.  Regardless of whether he threatened the person or not, calling the other party is never going to be productive.  The only message it sends to his wife is “I am the man and I am going to control this”  He also admits to getting access to her phone records.  My guess is that there are more things he is not admitting too.  He sounds like a bully and probably has been for a long time.  She found a way, for a while, to escape being control.  It is not right but it is not altogether unheard of.  Notice the husband never said he wanted to save the marriage because he loved her.  It may be a control issue or a desire to maintain the status quo.  Counseling is probably, because it may give them each the strength to let go. 

          • avatar Phillip Koons says:

            He may have not been snooping the first time (I’m not quite sure how much I believe this) but he’s most definitely snooping now regardless. If he thinks she is lying than he should SAY that…not continue to snoop. Regardless, now that the snooping has already happened, it’s time to move on. Couples counseling might save the marriage but it doesn’t sound like she wants to save it.

            I think you’re thinking that I’m going easy on the wife. I’m most definitely not. She’s certainly a big fault in the issue now but he’s not innocent either. I’ve read your posts and you’ve made it obvious that you don’t have an issue with snooping but it’s a huge indication of a bigger issue. I’ve ended relationships in the past over snooping. Trust is a delicate entity and once it’s crushed, chances are the relationship is on it’s way out the door.

          • avatar Phillip Koons says:

            And if she gets all defensive when her husband expresses a problem, then just another reason for him to leave.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Phillip: I think you and I have a very different idea as to what constitutes “snooping” (which, unfortunately, is a term that completely sounds alarm bells when I hear it) because every time when I’ve heard an individual complain about someone “snooping”, that person has had something to hide. And I’ve heard it for simply balancing the checkbook against the bank statement, and discovering that we were nearly overdrawn because of a check that was never written down. Or for finding a charge on the credit card bill that I had no idea had been made, and put us over our limit, and subject to a fee. When you pay the bills, and uncover hidden things such as these, and ask about them…is that “snooping”? When you are paying the phone bill, and find a list of lengthy calls, and numerous texts to a completely unknown number, is it “snooping” to ask your partner, who has never mentioned them, who they’re calling or texting so often?

            I don’t need to know where Rusty is every hour of every day, and the reverse is true as well. We only check in with each other to say hello. I don’t read his emails, nor he mine…but we could. We use each others’ phones. Frankly, Phillip, if you, and some of the others, think something as basic as looking at a phone record is snooping when you’re in a serious relationship with someone…then I think you have issues with a need to maintain a secretive distance from your partners…and possibly with control yourselves.

            Because it’s very controlling to demand a high level of secrecy in a relationship. To ask for privacy, time to yourself, activities separate from a partner…those are all natural. But to absolutely demand secrecy, and to consider it snooping if a partner in any way questions your actions…especially due to legitimate concerns…that is extremely controlling. I would back out of a relationship with someone that paranoid immediately…and I am far from a controlling person. I never check up on Rusty…nor did I do that with my ex-husbands (though they did it with me…and not by checking phone records…and ended up looking very foolish…which is also how I know what real surveillance feels like).

            Passive control, like passive aggression, is a very subtle and terrible thing. Something you might want to consider.

          • avatar Phillip Koons says:

            Well I think we will have to agree to disagree on a few things.

            He may not have been snooping the first time but he is now. No…I don’t think stumbling on a foreign number in a call log while paying the bill is snooping. However, returning to the call log with the intent to check all numbers IS snooping.

            I don’t have anything to hide from my partners. However, I do expect my privacy to be respected all the same. If someone is curious about something, then I tell them to just ask. However, I provide the same level of privacy with the other person. I won’t go hunting through call logs, read emails, facebook stalk, dig through drawers, etc. Just because I expect privacy doesn’t mean I have something to hide. The point is that if we are together, we should be communicating about our problems. Not trying to play Nancy Drew. If you don’t feel comfortable coming to me and saying your problems or suspicions without violating my own personal need for privacy, then we’ve got bigger communication issues. Yes…the particular letter writer has said something to the wife. Either let go of the suspicion and really give her a chance to fix things or move on. Don’t make the problem worse by aggravating it.

          • avatar Phillip Koons says:

            Also, it’s not exactly wise to make psychological assessments of strangers on forum boards. 😉

      • avatar bright eyes says:

        I agree that they might have a shared telephone account. I had one with my boyfriend when they still itemized your bills and I could see who he was calling -if I’d wanted to. Now I have one with my child, I can see who is calling and who he’s calling – just to keep up with what’s going on. BUT the thing that got my attention was he says “I obtained access to her phone records.” That may be the way he normally talks – I’ve had friends who call it a vehicle rather than a car, and Fuel rather than gas, etc. So it might be that but I take it to mean he got them somehow – in a way he shouldn’t have. And that he accessed her computer logs… But then – thoe whole thing seems off to me. I’m not sure I’d want to stay married with someone who wishes she were with someone else. I’m not for limiting a spouses friends, but it should be enough for her hubby (or if he were the one with the friend, for her to say) this person makes me feel uncomfortable – and that should be enough that she stays away…

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      Actually, LW1 sounds like a silver plated jerk. Keeping a spouse under constant surveillance is what abusers do, not so-called “loving” husbands.

      She needs to get away from this toad. Far, far away.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Again, Messy, define “Surveillance”. I am married. I see all of the phone records. so does my husband. No reason to hide them. We have access to each other’s emails and phones, and all of our mutual credit card accounts. I don’t know where he is all of the time, and the same applies to his knowledge of my whereabouts…but that’s okay…we don’t need to keep each other marked with tracking devices.

        My idea of surveillance, as a married woman, would be him putting GPS tracking on her cell phone (yes, it can be done), a tracking device on her car (easily obtained), reading her texts on a regular basis (he doesn’t), accessing all of her credit card statements (I saw no mention of this here), refusing to let her have any friends (why are so many people extrapolating from him being angry over sexual/romantic conversations with another man to him refusing to allow her any contact with the outside world? Projecting much?), hiring a private investigator to have her followed (yes, people also do this), accessing her email without her permission (he hasn’t done this, apparently, or even touched anything related to her computer), and continually harassing her cyber-cutie (he called him once. Once. That’s it. No googlestalking. No harassment. No hacking.). Locking her in the house. Threatening to take the children away if she doesn’t behave. Monitoring her every movement. Even taking away her cell phone and computer and car.

        That, people, is surveillance. Not looking at phone records. This is a marriage, and there shouldn’t be an issue with him looking at phone records…unless she has something to hide. Her extreme reaction to his looking, and confronting her (he knew she was texting Mr, Wonderful…and she keeps denying it…that’s why he looked)…which was telling him he had to leave his own house says a lot about precisely who is abusive, controlling and dishonest.

        And, by the way, I’ve dealt with surveillance. My ex-MIL had me followed by a sleazy PI. She had me cheating with every man I came into contact with (including a crack-head I worked with who I took to the gates of his apartment complex in a driving rainstorm…but only after I made him turn his pockets out. I didn’t need any crack in my car) and claimed she had pictures. I don’t know of who…I wasn’t with anyone at all, including her wretched son. She also tried to have our phones tapped. Why, for some people, does the man always have to be the one driving the short bus?

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    @ Jody and Indigo Moon: Excuse me, but regarding L#1, did I miss something significant here? LW1 did not initially obtain access to her phone records…it sounds more as if he accidentally discovered the other man’s texts on the phone (not all that difficult to do…I’ve borrowed both my husband’s and son’s phones when texts have been left open on them…though nothing suspicious). If I were a man, and found a text to my wife from another man admiring her lingerie, plus additional texts, I do believe I might be