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Friday, July 1, 2016
Ending Friendships Based on Sexual Advances
The husband of a couple I used to be friends with on several occasions tried to initiate sexual contact. This went on sporadically for years (from before I was married) until I finally ended the friendship. The issue would seem to "go away" and just when I thought that my husband and I could have a normal friendship with the couple, the man would try to do something more. I never told the wife, the man conveniently made most of his attempts when she was pregnant and I never wanted to harm the baby by dropping that kind of bombshell. It took me years to tell my husband, despite me maintaining my fidelity. I have always wondered why it took me so long to tell the man off. I was not attracted to him and grew to hate him. Is it normal to let things go on like that, to just hide it? I hated myself for not telling the wife, and for pretending everything was just fine. My husband and I no longer have any contact with the man or his wife.
Your response to this situation is not at all unusual. As you indicated in your message, you wanted to protect the relationship, you wanted to protect the baby, and you desired a healthy relationship with a couple. There are typically many responses to this kind of situation: (1) you may immediately address the issue and assert that such behavior is inappropriate and that you want it to stop; (2) you may share the information with another person such as a spouse or partner and work collaboratively on stopping the unwanted behavior; or (3) you may believe that “it” [the behavior] will go away or stop. Unfortunately when one chooses not to address a harassing or abusive situation, the perpetrator either believes that the behavior is o.k., because he is not getting feedback that it is not, or he may think “Oh, I can get away with this—s/he is not going to say anything to anyone.” When there is silence, the perpetrator remains unaware that his behavior is offensive. He is learning through the silence that it is o.k.—there are no consequences. The silence may in some occasions lead to an escalation in offensive behavior. The goal here is to learn and to educate yourself and to think of protecting yourself the same way you protected the wife and her unborn baby—you are important too. Do not spend time beating up on yourself for not sharing this information earlier. Take the time to learn other more effective ways of communicating your wishes and desires to others.
Cathy McDaniels-Wilson, PhD
Department of Sociology
The Ohio State University