Emotional affair? I thought affairs meant extramarital sex!
He tells me they’re just friends. Am I being too possessive?
Can’t I have friends of the opposite sex?
Isn’t it better to give him a long leash?
Emotional affairs have become a hot topic in the last several years, resulting in much needed clarity for some and complete confusion for others. Conflicts arise in couples where one person’s friendship with someone else leaves their partner feeling neglected and angry , but also confused and uncertain about how to respond. “After all, they’re just business associates having lunch. I shouldn’t be so possessive.” If you’ve been telling yourself something like this, it probably has been relieving to learn that there is such a thing as an emotional affair. Identifiable patterns of behavior between “friends” that frequently end up in full blown sexual affairs have come to light.
Most of these relationships start at work, on the internet, or in some kind of intimate group experience, such as a spiritual community. The initial attraction is not sexual. Rather, it is the feeling that “this is someone who I can really talk to;” “this person gets me and I get her;” “we are great supports for each other;” “we are helping each other to be better people.”
Fueling the connection is the shared interest, for example, work or spiritual growth. However, the conversations eventually become very personal and the talk turns toward relationships, specifically the primary relationship that one or both partners are currently in. Suddenly you find yourself sharing aspects of your marriage or primary relationship that you have never talked about with anyone other than your partner. That may seem a bit strange, but you tell yourself you’re just talking so it is okay. And there is such a need to talk, one that hasn’t been satisfied in a long time.
Gradually the intensity of these conversations grows; whether in person, on the phone or on line, and so does the anticipation of these conversations. The conversations become the thing you look forward to more than anything else during the day, more than seeing your partner, even. And by the way, you are not sharing much about this friendship with your partner, certainly not the intimate things you talk about. But you do find yourself less “into” your primary relationship. After all, you need time to talk to this friend, or check your e-mail or text messages and compose your responses. And this is starting to take more and more time and energy. Never mind that your partner is alone in the kitchen trying to do the dishes and tend to a screaming baby at the same time. Or maybe you’re there in the kitchen but then later sneak out of bed to check your e-mail.
Your partner asks what is wrong and you say everything’s fine. He or she asks about your friendship with this person and you brush off her concerns or get defensive. The distance between the two of you grows, there is less and less chance that the two of you will address what you can now so easily talk about with your new friend. The stage is now completely set for the friendship to become more than friendship.
It’s an Emotional Affair If…
You are talking about intimate aspects of your primary relationship that you are not talking about with your primary partner.
Time and energy are being siphoned from the primary relationship into this new friendship.
Aspects of the “friendship” are kept secret.
You are not comfortable sharing this friend with your partner.
You would be uncomfortable if your primary partner was having this kind of relationship with someone else.
You have more excitement about contact with your friend than you do about contact with your primary partner.
The Surprising Truth About Emotional Affairs
What seems so innocent in the beginning can end up being more damaging to a relationship than some other types of affairs. The most damaging affairs are ones in which the connection is primarily emotional rather than sexual. One-time anonymous sexual encounters are the least difficult for a couple to work through and heal. Some studies show that this varies according to gender. Statistically, women have more trouble getting over the emotional connection their partner had with the lover while men have more trouble getting over the affair if there was sex involved. However, an emotional connection can leave the person involved in the affair more confused about where his or her loyalties lie.
What To Do if You Think
Your Partner Is Having an Emotional Affair
Whether or not you give your partner “a long leash” is not the deciding factor in whether an affair will occur. If the affair is occurring because of relationship problems (and not all affairs occur for that reason,) it is almost always because channels of communication have either broken down or were never developed in the first place.
If you feel uncomfortable about a friendship your partner is having with someone else, it is important to bring up these concerns. Invite him or her to talk about feelings about the relationship between the two of you, specifically, things that he or she previously may have felt uncomfortable talking about. Get clear on what is happening in your relationship that is making you uncomfortable, both in terms of your partner’s withdrawal, refusal to open up, and relationship with the other person. Be clear about what is okay and not okay with you. Ask him or her to read something about emotional affairs. If you are Asian American, you might want to read “Asian Americans and Affairs.” If you cannot get through to him or her, advocate strongly for couple’s therapy.