Good morning. Thanks for writing to JA.
I'm sorry to hear that your daughter is struggling right now in her marriage.
There are several things that I would recommend:
1. If your daughter and son-in-law already have two children, I might predict that they have entered the "maintenance phase" of the relationship - where focus shifts from the couple to the children. The first transition (from individuals to a couple) is often difficult, but nowhere near as difficult as this second transition. Many couples experience growing pains... and some may actually commit affairs (or fear that the other spouse has committed one). The sense that "I'm attractive and loved by my spouse" has been replaced with "I hardly know my spouse at all any more - all I am is a parent and/or breadwinner." Re-establishing the couple-ties will be essential to bringing them back together. In some cases this can be done with couples counseling through church (you mentioned that your son-in-law is a Christian, for example) of just by setting aside every Friday night as "couple date-night, no kids allowed." In some cases, couples therapy with a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP) may also be warranted.
2. Your daughter may be in need of counseling herself. Whether it is with a clergyman at church or an LMHP really depends upon her level of comfort with either. She may want to explore how she is adjusting to this phase in her life - both as an individual and as a couple. She may be need to clarify some of her own life goals in order to be more fulfilled, and less concerned with her husband's work life. That is, if her life has become more limited than she would like (tending to kids), she may be interefering with her husband's life because she needs to develop one of her own. She may need to take a break from the kids, pursue her own career or life goals, or at least establish better boundaries about "her time" versus "her husband's time" and "everybody else's time."
3. Your son-in-law may need to reconsider what/if he shares at home and what kind of boundaries he has established at work with female colleagues. It is very difficult to know about this for certain given what you have reported... but this is a possibility. He may also find himself drawn to others at work if he finds life at home uncomfortable or unsatisfactory... or he may be struggling with adjusting to this "maintenance phase" in his life. I would not suggest you share this point (#3) with your daughter as she needs to establish stronger boundaries with her husband, not more porous ones.
It's unclear if there is an affair happening here, as you suggest. Your daughter has a right to explore her feelings with someone INDEPENDENT of her husband. A clergy-member or LMHP can do this. Also, whether there is an affair or not, it makes sense for them to spend at least one night a week alone with one another... perhaps seeing a LMHP for couples counseling... or perhaps just to reaffirm their identity as a loving couple.
Finally, I appreciate your concern for your daughter and her family (as well as your grandchildren)... but this is now your daughter's journey. You can guide her and hope and pray for her, but you can't necessarily "fix" this problem (as much as you would like to). Your role now is simply to recommend that she find that "someone" who can listen objectively to her and provide support and suggestions. It shouldn't be you - not only for your sake - but for your relationship as well. Just be supportive - and guide her to talk with someone OUTSIDE THE FAMILY who can help her untangle her feelings and gain better understanding of her needs and wants.
Best of luck to you and your whole family.
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