When you hop under the covers each night, there's only one person cozying up next to you. But mentally you may be bringing some outsiders into bed, and it's probably not doing your marriage any favors. If you feel the space between you and your partner growing, it may be time to ask yourself if your other relationships are to blame. Here are 6 that may be interfering with your marriage—and how to handle them. (For no-nonsense relationship advice, doable weight loss tips, and more, sign up for Prevention's FREE newsletters!)
Your work spouse
You love that coworker of the opposite sex whom you share inside jokes with and depend on for coffee breaks, but his presence in your life could be putting a snag in your real spousal relationship. "The thing about work colleagues is they get the best of you—you're well-behaved when you're at work. You're in the trenches together, supporting each other, laughing together," says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a NYC-based relationship therapist. But once you get home, the work-life balance hits you—suddenly you have dishes to do and bills to pay (which can put a damper on any relationship), and you're stuck daydreaming of the easygoing banter with your work spouse. (Here are 8 signs of a cheating partner from the private investigators who bust them.)
"You have to be aware that if your work husband was your real husband, you wouldn't get along quite as well," Sussman says. So how do you kick your office partner out of your marriage? Try not talking about him at home quite as much, for starters, she suggests. And then be sure to asses your behavior around him: If you're divulging your deepest, darkest secrets, scale it back—and make sure he's not using you as a therapist either. As for after-work interactions, grabbing a drink among coworkers once in a while is fine, but any regularly scheduled alone time is a definite no-go.
It's a cliché, but perhaps for good reason: Some ladies just don't get along with their guy's mom. "The mother-in-law is clearly a difficult relationship, and people have a really hard time being objective about their own parents," Sussman says. Husbands often feels caught between a rock and a hard place—they want to validate and back up their spouse, but mom will always be mom. Regardless, it's important to let parents know where they stand in the relationship between a husband and a wife—and it's normally on the outskirts of it. So, while being respectful, confront the pushy in-laws as a united front and let them know that your marriage comes first. (These 6 issues will kill a relationship every single time.)
Your guy's female BFF
Unless you're superwoman, chances are you're familiar with jealousy—and a girl who's best friends with your husband can often make that green-eyed monster rear its ugly head (couples who never get jealous do these 5 things). "Women are always thinking, Why does he have a best female friend? Is she secretly in love with him? What are they talking about?" Sussman says. Privacy and commitment are the main issues here—you want to make sure that she isn't privy to knowledge you aren't aware of. But don't take on this issue on your own; the last thing you want to do is create awkward tension with the BFF. Instead, bring up your concerns to your husband, and then he can set some new (more appropriate) ground rules with his female friend.
Flowing endorphins, fitted workout clothes, bodies in motion: The gym is a great place to meet a mate—unless you already have a mate. "A husband or a wife could easily get jealous and want to make sure you're not discussing too much personal stuff with your trainer," Sussman says. But, as always, you want to make sure the relationship stays purely professional—that means no meet-ups outside of the gym (unless you're grabbing a postworkout smoothie or something). "You just want to assure your partner that this is a constructive, professional relationship and that you're not going out of bounds."
Yes, the person you're paying to divulge your deepest, darkest secrets to—possibly even ones about your marriage—can be a source of marital strain. "Sometimes partners are very intimidated by me," Sussman says. Part of this may be that your husband has a slightly heavy conscience. "They're afraid that if they do something bad, then their spouse is going to rat them out, and then the therapist will reprimand them," Sussman says. You can nip this issue in the bud by inviting your partner to an informational session with your therapist, she suggests. It lets them know that you (and your confidant) are on their side.
Your furry friend
You may have taken vows with your significant other, but it's your pet that gives you true unconditional love and asks nothing of you in return. You may not even realize that your pet is getting most of your affection (it's easy to focus more on a dog or cat that isn't leaving socks on the floor or reminding you their mother is visiting this weekend), so be sure you're paying enough attention to your human mate. Signs to look for: "Maybe your dog sleeps in your bed all the time, or maybe your husband tells you you're more affectionate or patient with the dog than you are with him," Sussman says.