How should my husband relate to his female boss? Occasionally, she needs to discuss a business matter with him that requires privacy and so she will schedule a lunch appointment with him alone. I'm uncomfortable with this, but he sees no alternative since this kind of practice is common and expected in his line of work. In fact, to raise this as a concern would make things difficult for him professionally. What are your thoughts and what should he do?
Before saying anything else we want to commend you on your zeal for protecting your marriage. It's obvious that you care deeply about preserving the integrity of your relationship with your husband. We wish more husbands and wives had this kind of commitment to marital purity. Too many people nowadays seem content to accept the status quo. They go along with what's "common and expected" without much thought or resistance. If we want to live God's way, there are going to be times when we will have to be willing to push back against the culture.
For better or for worse, circumstances like those you've described have become a normal part of contemporary life. A hundred years ago men and women rarely mingled in the workplace. Nowadays they labor side by side on a daily basis. What's more, many companies employ just as many females as males in middle- and upper-management positions. If you, your husband, and your marriage are going to survive and thrive in the modern world, you're going to have to find ways to deal with these inescapable realities.
There is, of course, one thing these cultural changes haven't altered or eliminated. We're talking about the importance of establishing meaningful boundaries. These boundaries are needed to protect a couple's relationship against outside threats. You're right to be thinking in terms of maintaining such "hedges."
There are a number of ways you and your husband can do this. The first step is to make sure that he's on the same page with you. If he isn't, you'll have to sit down and discuss your concerns with him in earnest. If he agrees that something needs to be done about the situation, you might suggest that he assume responsibility for starting the process. He could begin by speaking openly and honestly with his boss. Once she understands where he's coming from, she might be willing to make some appropriate changes. For example, wherever possible she might make an effort to include other employees in offsite business luncheons. Matters that must be kept strictly private could be discussed at the office, behind closed doors if necessary, but in close proximity to other co-workers.
Meanwhile, it may be worth your while to examine your motives. Make sure you're not operating on the basis of unwarranted fears or an unhealthy need for control. A great deal depends upon the underlying reasons for your uneasiness about your husband's work environment. Is there a history of infidelity in your marriage? Are there any other reasons to suppose that your husband's luncheons with the boss might pose a threat to the stability of your relationship? What about the circumstances under which these business meetings are conducted? Is there anything unusual about them? For instance, have any of these conferences been scheduled after working hours? Do they take place in locations (like a cocktail lounge) that might be considered inappropriate?
If not, is it possible that some part of your concern stems from previous hurts and difficult experiences? Is there something in your family background that might account for your anxiety -a divorce, an affair, abuse or neglect of some kind? Do you struggle with feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem? Do you and your husband find it hard to talk about your deepest thoughts and emotions?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, we'd urge you to seek professional assistance. A trained therapist can help you and your husband perform an assessment of your marriage and point out both the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship. If you'd like to call, Focus on the Family's staff counselors will be happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone. They can also provide referrals to qualified Christian marriage and family therapists practicing in your area. You can contact them for a free consultation Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). The Family Help Center staff member who answers the phone will arrange for a licensed counselor to call you back. One of them will be in touch just as soon as they're able.
It may also be to your advantage to seek out the guidance and support of a larger community. This will allow you to make yourself accountable to others who can hold both you and your spouse to a high standard of marital commitment. Many churches offer support groups or adult Sunday school classes designed specifically to help couples build stronger marriages. It would be a good idea to get connected with a class or group of this nature and make it a regular part of your lives.
One last suggestion: Focus on the Family has developed an online Couple Checkup to help folks like you find new ways to strengthen their marriages. This assessment tool takes about 30 minutes to complete (both husband and wife need to participate). When you're finished you'll receive a feedback report that identifies your strengths and growth areas as a couple. It will also provide discussion starters and guidelines and suggest recommended resources for further investment in your relationship. For about the price of dinner for two, you'll receive a unique snapshot of your relationship and recommendations for ways to help your marriage thrive.
Remember, the bottom line is communication. The process of building healthy boundaries and protective hedges in marriage begins at home. The key to success is your willingness to talk openly and honestly about your respective wants, needs, desires, and concerns. Our advice to the two of you, then, is to get on the same team. Do everything you can to prevent the enemy of your souls from driving a wedge between you. You'll be glad you did.