The 2nd definition of collateral damage from dictionary.com is “any damage incidental to an activity.”
In war, collateral damage is somewhat clear. Cities, villages, and towns get bombed. Innocent men, women, and children lose their lives. The lives of those who are left behind are forever changed, and it is not always the intention of those fighting in the war for those things to happen. While the term seems cold and distant, collateral damage in times of turmoil is very real and oftentimes quite regrettable.
What you don’t always hear about is the damage done to those who caused the collateral damage. Those men and women who are in the thick of war, who unintentionally cause the loss of lives and homes, are also negatively affected. They are left with those images of devastation and those feelings of guilt and remorse.
While a marriage is not comparable to war, and the damage that can be done during the marriage may not result in the loss of life or livelihood, there can still be unintentional hurt.
I had friends before I got married – many of them, but some were closer than others. I had some who are female and some who are male. Truth be told, I had more male friends than female friends. Growing up a tomboy, around mostly male cousins, I never made female friends very easily. Girls tended to be jealous, temperamental, and more difficult to please. Boys were always easier to deal with, to have fun with, and to get to know. That didn’t change when I became an adult. Male friends were easier to talk to – about anything. They were less judgemental and able to be so honest that it hurt at times. I valued that, and I always clung to those friends who could maintain a reciprocal friendship with me despite the “girl of the month” they may have been dating.
I developed a friendship with a guy during year 4 of my relationship with my then-boyfriend. My boyfriend and I were not in the best of circumstances. Our relationship had become distant, and I was the only one who noticed. I wasn’t sure the trajectory of our relationship – if marriage was ever going to be a reality, but I did know that I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem…
The new friendship began innocently enough. This friend and I quickly bonded over being in the same profession. Being the only one at our workplaces who performed the tasks we performed was like being on an island. There was no one at our workplaces who understood what our jobs entailed, no one to complain to who would get it, and our mates at home were even more clueless. I would leave work having dealt with issues that brought me to tears throughout the day, and I received no comfort once I got home. My boyfriend didn’t understand. He didn’t ask for details. I offered no information, and even though I lived with the man I loved, I began to exist as a very lonely person.
I clung to the new friendship. I finally had someone who understood all of my work-related issues.We began to talk every day about everything. This new friend became the person I called throughout the day for advice and to help me brainstorm ways to solve my problems. Work-related conversations quickly turned into personal conversations. We figured out that we had actually met years before at a computer store. We had a great deal in common. We shared details about our lives and our relationships at home. I told him about my boyfriend – how we met, how I’d fallen in love, and how we didn’t communicate anymore. He told me about his wife – how they’d met, how he married sooner than he’d liked, and how they had become distant. We were sounding boards for one another…
…and that became an issue, particularly in my relationship with my boyfriend.
No matter how much I explained the text messages, the phone calls, or the emails, my boyfriend was suspicious. There was nothing I could do to change his mind. He accused me of cheating time and time again. He huffed and puffed when the phone rang, and even when I was texting other friends or family members, the tension in the room would grow just because my boyfriend would think I was texting my newest friend. My boyfriend started checking up on me at work because he thought my friend may have been stopping by for late night visits. Had my boyfriend paid any attention he would have known that my job was so demanding that those late nights at work were not fun for me and were very necessary.
The suspicion wasn’t present all the time. The relationship between my boyfriend and I actually progressed over time. One of the many things I gained from the new friendship I had formed was how to communicate better with my boyfriend. It’s amazing how much male friends can help a woman understand her mate. My friend would help me realize what my boyfriend may have been thinking or feeling in various situations, and I valued that advice. It helped me get through many issues that I may have otherwise given up on. The friendship hadn’t become a deal-breaker for our relationship. On the contrary, the friendship had helped my relationship with my boyfriend in ways that neither guy even realized. My boyfriend and I got married, and time went on…
But even though the issues didn’t arise all the time, they were still there – lying in wait to creep back to the forefront and have a devastating effect.
On that devastating day, my phone rang. It was my friend, who I hadn’t spoken to in a week or so. Our communication had diminished drastically from texting throughout the day early in our friendship to texting or talking just once or twice a week. I no longer shared intimate details or called on him for advice. I kept the conversations neutral, work-specific and nonchalant. When my phone rang that particular day, my husband couldn’t take it. The suspicion came flooding back, and I had had enough. I couldn’t go through one more evening of him stomping through the house, huffing and puffing, pretending that he was okay and that nothing was wrong. I couldn’t go to bed knowing that he wasn’t sure if he could trust me in that moment. We had the argument one last time.
I was tired of not being trusted.
My husband was tired of feeling like there was someone else waiting to steal me from him.
I just wanted the suspicion to go away.
My husband couldn’t let it go. In his mind, I still talked to my friend about intimate details, and I still talked and texted and emailed my friend every day.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I asked why my husband had decided to marry me. I thought the issue was no longer an issue.
My husband said he married me because he loved me, but the friendship still bothered him.
I asked why the marriage wasn’t enough. Clearly, I had chosen to marry the man I loved and not the man who was just my friend.
And then my husband, completely missing the point of my statement, said, “Did that mean that [my friend] was an option?”
At that point, I drew the line in the sand. We were never going to see eye-to-eye, and I never wanted to have that conversation ever again.
My Text: idk how to say this…but our friendship is taking a toll on my marriage. [My husband] is never going to be okay with it. He doesn’t believe anything I say when it comes to you. I’ll never be able to convince him that we are just friends.
Friend’s Text: I’m really sorry to hear that being my friend is causing a problem, I will fall back…gotta keep home happy
That really sucks
My Text: I know
Friend’s Text: I do understand
My Text: Thank you.
Friend’s Text: I apologize for any strain or stress, just don’t have any other dependable friends like you, people think you can’t have friends of the opposite sex, but you have been the best friend I have had.
My Text: I’m sorry. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time and I want to do the right thing. He’s my husband and I love him so he has to be my priority now. I can no longer just think about what I want. I appreciate your friendship and your honesty. If he knew how our friendship really is, he would probably be proud. But it is what it is.
That’s the last time I spoke to that friend. What I regretted most about the situation is that he became the collateral damage in my marriage. I cried for that friendship, but I mostly cried because my friend was a good guy, and he deserved more than a quick, out-of-the-blue goodbye.
While I don’t regret the friendship, I do regret how that friendship affected my relationship and my household. There was a great deal of tension that could have been avoided. There are many things I would have done differently. I would have made an effort to introduce them sooner. I would have worked harder on communicating with my husband as opposed to embracing a new friend as my sounding board for personal issues.
I never thought I would have to compromise my friendships for a relationship, and I was able to get away with that when I just had boyfriends. But this is marriage. The stakes are so much higher, and thus, the incidental damage is nearly unavoidable. I know that’s not the first sacrifice I’ve made for my marriage, but it is one that I’ll never forget.
The feelings of guilt, sadness, regret, and confusion that come along with the presence of collateral damage are hard to move beyond, but in the end, I know that it was the right thing to do.