What should I do if my boyfriend says ‘I love you’ to his work friend?

I’ve been with my partner for coming up to 4 years now. Our relationship has been largely calm and stable, but recently, he’s been working a lot more and home a lot less. In passing, he’s mentioned a new work colleague (obviously female) who he will occasionally tell me work stories about, sometimes just venting about her and saying she irritates him. I didn’t think much of this until I saw a message come up on his phone in which she had written ‘I love you lots’. I opened the message thread as I have his passcode, and the chat was generally fairly platonic, but they had exchanges a good few ‘I love you’ type messages. This really surprises me as my boyfriend is if anything quite cool and aloof, almost never saying those words to me. I brought the messages up to him and he was pretty surprised and defensive, but told me that they’re purely work friends and it’s something she initiated. I don’t really know where to draw the line as my boyfriend telling someone else repeatedly he loves her (even if it’s just in a friendly manner) seems quite strange – or am I overreacting?

Hi there – it sounds like you’re in a situation that’s both confusing and concerning for you, and you’re by no means overreacting. If anything, I would say underreacting!

It’s completely natural to feel unsettled upon discovering that your partner, who is typically reserved in expressing affection, is exchanging “I love you” messages with a colleague. Trust and communication are foundational in any relationship, and when something happens to challenge these, it can feel quite disorienting.

First and foremost, good for you for bringing the issue directly to him. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings, and stand by the fact that feeling uncomfortable or upset in this scenario doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overreacting. Different people have different boundaries regarding what is acceptable in friendships outside of the relationship, and it’s okay to feel that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed.

Your boyfriend’s reaction to your concerns is also a key part of this. While it’s understandable that someone might be defensive if they feel accused, it’s important for partners to be able to discuss concerns openly and honestly. The fact that he mentioned the messages were initiated by his colleague and implied there’s nothing more to it suggests he may not have considered how this might affect you or the relationship. In any case, here are a few steps you could consider taking to address this situation:

Reflect on your own boundaries: Before engaging in a deeper conversation, take some time to understand exactly what you’re feeling and why. Are you worried about potential infidelity, or is it the intimacy of the language that’s troubling you? How ideally would you like him to behave, and what standards do you offer him in return? Knowing this will help you communicate more clearly.
Communicate these boundaries & your feelings: Once you have a clearer idea of your own boundaries, approach your partner with the intent of sharing feelings rather than accusing. You might say something like, “When I saw those messages, I felt upset, because in our relationship, we don’t often use those words. Can we talk about what those exchanges mean to you?”
Discuss boundaries together: It’s important that you both are on the same page regarding what is and isn’t acceptable in interactions with others. This conversation can include discussions about emotional fidelity, transparency, and what constitutes an appropriate friendship outside of the relationship. It’s all good and well knowing your own boundaries, but if your partner isn’t aware of these, disagreements become muckier.
Seek understanding: Try to understand his perspective and what the relationship with this colleague means to him. Is it a way of venting? A friendship that developed out of spending a lot of time together at work? Understanding his viewpoint can help you assess the situation more clearly and hopefully unite to work on a way through this, together.

You’re more than valid to seek clarity and reassurance in your relationship, especially when confronted with something that makes you feel uneasy. How your partner responds to your concerns and his willingness to work through them with you will be key in determining how you move forward together.

Good luck!

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Ask Evie

Evie is on a mission to revolutionize relationships and help you sort through your emotional woes. Her popular column helps readers break free from societal restraints and create empowering relationships - both with their inner selves and with those around them. With a wealth of experience in relationship counseling, backed by several professional certifications, she’s open-minded, big-hearted, and extremely compassionate… But she’ll also be completely honest in telling you the (sometimes) brutal truth, so you can get straight to the heart of the matter. Maybe you’re trying to save a marriage that currently feels like a sinking ship? Or worrying that your new friend isn’t quite as nice as they seem? Perhaps you’ve accidentally killed your partner’s goldfish and are weighing up the pros and cons of going to the pet store and finding a doppelganger, or fessing up? Whatever the dilemma, Evie’s at the ready to help sort through the emotional turmoil and guide you towards the next best step. To get in touch with Evie, click here.

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