3rd-party-marriage intruders (for brevity, I will say 3PI for 3rd party intruder) come in all forms and relations. I have typically found them to be friends, relatives, or even an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. A good tell-tale sign is if their toast at a wedding focuses solely on their relationship with the bride or groom, not about the couple. Or they make attempts to maintain a private relationship with your spouse clearly requesting your partner does not share something with you (asking your partner to keep secrets for them, especially keeping it from you is a big no-no in my book and a giant red flag). They are trying to hold onto their position of importance in your partner’s life, but the catch is now you have filled their role.
These folks are usually easy to identify and they all have one thing in common: before you entered the life of your significant other, the 3PI was your partner’s “person” and oftentimes the “person” for your partner too. Your 3PI was probably the person your partner went to for help, advice, or support of some sort and vice versa before you entered the scene. Now, you are in the picture and you have become your partner’s “person.” The other person is no longer #1 and this transition can be painful for them, stressful for your partner and full of tension for you. You have replaced the 3PI (as you should) but the 3PI may not be happy about this and (consciously or subconsciously) behave in such a way as to create a wedge between you and your partner. Instead of gracefully stepping into the background of your spouse’s life, they are fighting to remain center stage and it’s just not going to work.
When faced with a potentially stressful situation involving a 3PI, I take a step back. I’m almost waiting for them to make the first move because truthfully, I don’t want to be involved. Their interactions are mostly directed to my husband all while undermining our marriage. This is not cool, but I cannot control what others do. By being non-reactive, the 3PI inevitably exposes their insecurities and neediness, and these are very unappealing qualities. Who wants to hang out with someone who clings and never feels emotionally satisfied?
Tactics may be subtle, but as the wife and supportive partner, I am super sensitive to any actions threatening the sanctity of my relationship with my husband. It would be easy to say, “Step off!” but it would not accomplish much. Chances are the 3PI is not even aware of their behavior and if confronted will become overly dramatic, immature, and claim no knowledge of causing strife and plea their motives are innocent. (Riiiiiight.) In truth, 3PIs are well-meaning, but their behavior is damaging. So what do you do?
Step 1: Do not play an active role and just let the scene play out.
Step 2: Try to find empathy in your heart and see the situation from the 3PI’s point of view.
The 3PI is sad because they no longer have their “person” and they do not have a suitable replacement. They do not mean to be destructive and annoying, but it’s just something they cannot help. Having impulse control and clear boundaries are two key qualities most 3PIs do not possess. It’s not up to me to correct their behavior and point out where they are being ridiculous. As long as my relationship is solid, their tactics will self-implode.
Step 2a: Do not attack the 3PI
Launching an assault against the 3PI will do no good. I am already the winner because I have my husband. There is nothing to gain from behaving in the same manner as the 3PI (again, neediness is not an attractive quality).
Step 3: Address the situation with my husband
This is where a solid foundation of communication is important. If you feel like you and your partner do not communicate as best as possible, this is a great opportunity to practice!
My husband and I have always talked about keeping communication open. We are not able to read one another’s minds, so figuring out what the other is thinking/feeling is impossible (try as we might). This is the most important piece of my “3-step-Third-Party-Intruder-Action-Plan” and the most important part of my marriage overall.
I usually begin this step by uncorking a bottle of wine to pour glasses of what I consider “red liquid easy conversation starter” for me and my hubby. I recognize the stickiness of the situation because we don’t want to offend the 3PI (especially if they are in your lives indefinitely), but we have to address the situation. The key to this step is addressing this together. We address what WE want to see happen together as a couple. For example, my husband emphasized he wants our interactions and relationship to remain unfazed by the 3PI’s actions.
Miraculously, the conversation shifts. Instead of talking about how to handle the 3PI, we are talking about each other and the state of our relationship. This was a revelation to me because what can I really impact: the actions of a 3PI or my marriage? You guessed it! My marriage takes precedence and this becomes the topic of conversation, not “what are we going to do about so-and-so?” There is nothing to do about them, but we can do something to strengthen our partnership as a couple. By discussing how we want to behave together (with respect, honor and understanding) the 3PI’s efforts to inadvertently drive a wedge between us has actually united us more and brought us closer together! What a boon (and a foil to their intrusive efforts)!
CONFESSION: I have been a 3rd-Party-Intruder
Now I must out myself because I have been a 3PI. <<insert gasp and shocked expression!>>
As a teenager, I had an unrequited love. Let’s call him Toby. My love for Toby was epic in the style of Dawson and Joey (before they finally got together and it was a disaster). Toby and I were really tight (at least in my hormonal teenage mind where reality is probably not what it seems, similar to adult 3PIs).
I would play out my massive crush by spending hours sitting on AOL just hoping Toby would sign on (I can still remember his screen name and it’s literally 20 years later). Seeing Toby’s name pop up on the screen would take my breath away (oh the drama!) and I would wait with such anticipation for him to message me, but I think I usually ended up being the first to message him anyway. (Do you see my pathetic neediness?) This is back when the internet was dial-up and we used AOL Instant Messenger (remember AIM?!). My family was pretty annoyed with me for always blocking the phone line!
And then, Toby got an actual girlfriend (I guess she could be considered Jen in this analogy). Toby’s real girlfriend caught on pretty quick to what I was doing and she actually CALLED ME ON THE PHONE one afternoon. The conversation was polite and chit-chatty, but she was essentially marking her territory. She was rather pleasant, but I heard “Stay away from Toby, he’s mine now!” I got the message loud and clear (because you know I was just waiting in the wings to step in as his girlfriend).
This was just a teenage crush, so I (hopefully gracefully) bowed out and I never really talked much to Toby again. I hope I took the high road as a teenage 3PI, but adult 3PIs may not be as self-aware and they often are an integral part of your life (like family). So, I have learned the best way to handle these situations is not address the 3PI, but keep it positive and focus on your partner. How you behave as a couple matters most, not the actions of others.
For another take on 3PI’s, check out on of my absolute favorite bloggers, “Dear Gefilte” on Kveller.com.