Emotional Affairs

With the explosion of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, as well as the increase in our dependence on technology like cell phones, the internet and computers, we are seeing a rather drastic increase in emotional infidelity in relationships. Educating yourself and developing good boundaries are the keys to safeguarding your relationships against emotional affairs. In this article, we will address some of the most common questions we hear in relationship and marriage counseling about emotional infidelity.

What is an emotional affair and how is it different than a friendship? 

An emotional affair is similar to a physical affair in that it includes the components of secrecy and deception, intimacy, and chemistry. Often times, the person having an emotional affair will insist that the person they are involved with is “just a friend”, oblivious to the destructive nature the relationship is having on their marriage or relationship. Friendships that are platonic do not have the element of attraction or chemistry. If you are finding yourself physically attracted to your friend, or fantasize about what it would be like to touch or be intimate with them, you are most likely on the slippery slope of emotional infidelity. Emotional affairs also begin when you start sharing personal, intimate information with your friend instead of your spouse. Relaying personal information about your spouse to a friend of the opposite sex is a betrayal of trust to your spouse, and is one of the first warning signs of an emotional affair. This kind of sharing can cause you to begin longing for your friend instead of your partner, which creates emotional distance in your relationship. Emotional affairs are shrouded in secrecy: Secret emails, secret phone calls, secret text messages and meetings. If your spouse is unaware of your contact with this individual, or if you are doing or saying things around this person you wouldn’t do or say if your spouse was present, it is most likely an emotional affair.

Is an emotional affair less devastating to a relationship than a physical affair? 

An emotional affair IS an affair, and can be just as devastating and painful to heal. Whether or not sex is involved is not what constitutes infidelity. Affairs happen when there is secrecy and a betrayal of trust. It is this betrayal of trust that causes so much pain for the person who finds out about the infidelity. 

What makes emotional affairs so dangerous? Emotional affairs are typically affairs that have not yet become sexual, which makes them very dangerous. Once the boundaries of inappropriateness have been crossed, you have knowingly or unknowingly cut off intimacy from your spouse and have given it to another person outside of your marriage or relationship. In her book “Not Just Friends”, Shirley Glass uses the concept of windows and walls to explain how intimacy with another person outside of the marriage creates a window of opportunity to the affair partner, while using a wall to shut out your spouse. Marital issues cannot be addressed if there isn’t an open channel of communication to working through problems—and you can’t work through problems with three people present in the relationship!

How can I safeguard my relationship against emotional infidelity? 

Committing to not keeping destructive secrets from each other in any area of the relationship creates strong levels of trust in the marriage. With social media, if you don’t have anything to hide, then secrecy shouldn’t be an issue. All relationships need to have healthy levels of individuality and freedom, however, sharing your passwords for email and Facebook with each other can keep you both accountable and trustworthy. Share conversations with opposite sex friends and co-workers with your spouse, and make sure to not share intimate details about your relationship with opposite sex friends. Opposite sex friends should be friends of the relationship, not friends of the individual. Don’t accept Facebook or MySpace friend requests from old flames and crushes in your past. Each person in the relationship should be aware of the messages they are intentionally or unintentionally sending to members of the opposite sex, and correcting any misperceptions that take place. 

How can my partner and I begin healing from emotional infidelity?

The first step in beginning the healing process for emotional infidelity includes directly ending the relationship with the affair partner (including your spouse in the process) and the re-building of trust. This step includes quite a bit of sacrifice for both people, especially the person who has strayed. Set clear boundaries about what is expected or needed to start the process of re-building trust, and commit to following through. Trust is earned not only through the big things, but with the follow through in little things, as well. For example, if you say you are going to be home at 7:00, make sure you show up at 7:00! Work on the issues that caused the relationship to grow distant or break down in the first place. Be willing to take ownership of any changes that need to be made, with both people accepting their role in improving the relationship. Focus on making your communication stronger and safer for both people to share openly and honestly. And finally, if you are struggling with working through these issues on your own, contact a professional counselor who has knowledge of emotional infidelity and the process of how to help couples heal from it.

Imagine Hope Counseling Group specializes in affair recovery, as well as individual, family, relationship and marriage counseling for the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Westfield, Noblesville, Fishers and Zionsville.

Resources:

“Not Just Friends” by Shirley Glass

www.dearpeggy.com -Articles on emotional infidelity and Beyond Affairs Network Support group information