Question

My husband recently took pictures with his son and his son’s mother, all three of them, without talking with me about it first. Should I be worried? I haven’t approached him about these photos yet. I don’t want to overreact.

Answer

Your question certainly raises more questions and suspicions that are hard to ignore. While there aren’t additional details that may change the context of your question, I still think it’s helpful to explore the different ways you might respond. You’re not sure if you should be worried, so let me talk through some different considerations that might help you make up your mind. My hope is that these points might guide your response to your husband.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that in our marriages, we should have “uncompromising loyalty one to another.”[i] This doesn’t mean that we can’t have relationships with other people besides our spouse. However, it does mean that our spouse has a full understanding of our intentions and actions as it relates to other people. This is especially true when we’re in relationships with people who could potentially undermine the marriage.

Blended families are especially vulnerable to competing loyalties. Children, stepchildren, ex-spouses, extended family, and even shared friends can bring up loyalty concerns in surprising ways. I’ve noticed over the years that these competing loyalties require a level of communication and clarity that most people don’t possess. While this isn’t an excuse for harmful behaviors, it is an invitation to make sure there is healthy consideration and communication when dealing with these relationships.

I’m guessing your biggest concern is the complete absence of communication from your husband around taking pictures with his son and ex-wife. I have questions about why he would want a picture with the three of them. This isn’t something commonly done, especially after a remarriage. Is this the first time this has happened? Is this something he’s talked about with you in the past? Is there a special reason they needed to come together for their son? I also don’t know what kind of relationship you both have with her. Is she a friend to your marriage? Do you all co-parent well together? This could have been a thoughtless oversight or an act of deception to keep you from knowing the truth. Either way, it wasn’t communicated to you and raised concerns for you.

If you’re wondering if you should be worried about this, then it sounds like you need more information from him. Not only do you need to know why he needed to have this picture of the three of them, but also why he wouldn’t talk to you about it. Asking a sincere question to increase understanding isn’t overreacting. It’s healthy communication. Of course, if you come at him with accusations and tell him you know exactly what he was doing, it’s not going to be a productive conversation.

Even though I know it will be difficult to manage your fears and suspicions, I recommend you keep it straightforward by telling him you want to talk about him taking a photo with his ex-wife and son. You can let him know how it impacted you. You ask him why he did it. You can ask him why he didn’t talk to you about it. Give him time and space to answer your questions so you can better understand what was going on for him. Regardless of what you hear, I think it’s important for you to clarify what loyalty to your marriage looks like. This moment is an excellent opportunity to clarify boundaries with other people, especially around someone with whom he was romantically involved.

If he refuses to have a mature, calm, and accountable conversation with you about this, then let him know you want to revisit this when he’s had time to think about it. It’s not unreasonable to take the time you need to feel clear about what’s happening. If it gets so stuck that it can’t be discussed at all, I recommend you meet with a marriage therapist who can help you talk through this with support. His loyalty to you will not only help you feel more relaxed in the relationship, but it will also give both of you the freedom to deal with other relationships in a more secure way.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com  

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.

[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2003/04/loyalty?lang=eng