My niece is dealing with what I define as an "emotional affair" despite being what is the ideal marriage, and I don't know what advice to give her or what, if any, actions I should take.
My niece and "Lloyd" met at her workplace about two years ago. She told me they had an instant connection, and it wasn't long until she felt a passionate attraction to him. While they no longer work in the same office, they regularly communicate on the telephone and see each other for regional staff events about once a month.
They both define their relationship as a "deep friendship with mutual physical attraction." They both don't do anything extraordinary to encourage an intimate relationship, but both admit they frequently think about the possibility of it happening at some point.
My niece told me despite being married for 10 years and being the apple in the eyes of a devoted husband and father who she has loved since they were both 19 years old, she has found herself numb and depressed when she's not at work. She told me that she "hates being at home" and is always excited to get called into work early or have to work late because that means there's always a chance she may interact with Lloyd.
I'm concerned that this is going to end catastrophically for my niece, her husband, and their children.
What advice can you give me to pass along to my niece?
Being an aunt is a super important role. Done right, you become a mother, a sister, and a friend rolled into an incredibly wonderful package. The fact that your niece has confided in you leads me to believe three important details: 1. She trusts you and values you. 2. She recognizes this relationship with "Lloyd" has potential ramifications. 3. Her marriage is important to her. Stand on 1. and 3. to help her bring 2. into full focus.
Let me clarify because she trusts and values you, and her marriage is important to her; you can be open with her about the inappropriate relationship blooming with "Lloyd." The draw to "Lloyd" is most likely due to the excitement of the secret nature of the relationship and the "new" factor. Although it has not become physical, it could move in that direction if the situation is not managed. Your concern is warranted, and her confiding in you is every indication she recognizes that as well.
Remind her of her love for her husband, the history they have shared, and encourage her to do things with him. Bring back the "spark." They have children. Maybe you could offer to take care of the children. Possibly make the children dinner while your niece and husband go for a dinner date on their own after work. If they are not ready for restaurants (due to COVID concerns), the weather is getting warmer, help plan a picnic for them to enjoy outside.
Encourage her to be honest about her needs. What is she getting from the relationship with "Lloyd" that is missing with her husband? And how can she change the behavior, so she is being fulfilled in her marriage? Encourage her to communicate with her husband. Marriage is work. That isn't a bad thing. Work reminds us that something has value. If everything were easy, we would hardly take notice of anything.
You mention that "they both [Lloyd and your niece] define their relationship," and "they both don't do anything extraordinary to encourage an intimate relationship, but both admit they frequently think about the possibility of it happening at some point." Is this what she has told you, or have you spoken to "Lloyd" yourself? If it is the latter, having a candid conversation with "Lloyd" would not be intrusive as they have included you in the conversation. That being said, being frank with "Lloyd," telling him he should "back off" certainly might be the wake-up call he needs to remind himself that your niece is taken. He should not be selfish and should find "a deep friendship with mutual physical attraction" elsewhere. There are plenty of fish in the sea, as it has been said.
Your niece admits that she is the "apple of [her husband's] eye," and he is a devoted husband and father; they've been together for a decade. She owes it to herself to give her marriage the attention and devotion it deserves. Relationships of length go through rough patches. They do not need to linger, or worse, get stuck there.
Love Lots; Smile Often