Dear Annie: You get a lot of letters about people whose partners fell in love with someone else, causing a rift in their partnership. I find a lot of these partners lacked communication, so I thought I’d share my story of what can happen when you just talk.

My husband and I celebrated nine years of marriage this year. During COVID-19, he worked from home and developed a lot of online friendships with people of all genders. One in particular, “Ellen,” became especially close with him, and they consider each other best friends.

I noticed, though, that he seemed quite smitten with her.

So, I talked with him about it. Calmly. No judgment. No accusations. Just a simple question: “Do you have feelings for Ellen?”

He admitted he did, and we had a long discussion about what that meant. I never raised my voice. In fact, I was sympathetic, listening as he explained his worries, his guilt, his hatred of himself for falling for another woman. And I just listened. He needed a sympathetic ear, not an angry, jealous wife. I was still open about the fact that it hurt, but we talked about it calmly, like adults.

Since that initial conversation, we’ve continued talking about it. My husband and Ellen are very dear to each other, and I don’t want to rip that from him, so I’ve made it clear that if he’s trying to work through feelings for her, he can and should talk with me about it rather than hide it. I’ve also befriended Ellen since then (she knows nothing about his feelings for her) and made it clear that she can talk to me about anything, too.

It’s made a massive difference while he works through this, and in the long run, it’s actually made us closer. He talks to me about it when necessary, no judgment, and I can tell it takes a weight off his shoulders to do so, because of those guilty feelings. While we’ve never used counseling, we’ve both said we’re open to the idea if it becomes necessary. I realize this isn’t an option for everyone, but I thought you’d appreciate what communication can do in difficult situations.

— Sympathetic, Not Jealous

Dear Sympathetic: You are a candidate for sainthood, and you are being rewarded with an unusually close relationship with your husband. Thank you for sharing your experience about what honest, compassionate communication can do in a relationship — especially when you hit a rough patch.

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