Not Just Friends: Emotional Affairs and Infidelity

By | November 9, 2013

affair-cheating- spouse-emotional-affair-trust-cheaterOverly friendly e-mails. Txts messages that are ‘off record’. Hidden Facebook dialogues. Just friends, right? No, there’s not sex, but these relationships damage marriages and are a slippery slope. Is it infidelity? You bet it is.

Traditionally, the work environment has provided the most ideal context and potential for extramarital affairs. But, old flames or new ‘friends’ on Facebook or other electronic media have opened a channel of opportunity for both men and women to foster relationships and create complicated entangled affairs. These electronic communications are justified as harmless, but if honestly reviewed are attempts to connect and get emotional needs met–needs which may not be met in the current marriage. Most affairs happening today, whether emotional or physical, begin with conversations on computer, phone or in person. Affairs are often fostered by infatuation and titilating messages exchanged on phones building a false notion of love, but which is most often a shallow pool of secrecy, lust, and neediness.

How do you know if you or your spouse is in an emotional affair?

Top Three Most Significant Emotional Affair Indicators

1. Have you recently locked your phone and/or do you hide or delete texts or messages or call history to prevent your spouse from seeing them?

2. Are your conversations with your friend about things that should be kept between you and your spouse?

3. Do you lie or deceive to cover up time you spend with your friend when or if your spouse asks or becomes aware?

Other Indicators

1. Do you often find yourself daydreaming or longing to talk to your friend?

2. Do you share thoughts, feelings and problems with your friend that you don’t share with your spouse?

3. Do you tell your friend that they understand you better than your spouse understands you?

4. Are you seeing a change, a withdrawal from your spouse sexually or emotionally?

5. Do you feel eager to visit ‘off line’?

6. Is their any kind of sexual tension between you and this friend?

7. Do you look for ‘harmless’ ways to help or engage with his friend? (helping out, looking for reasons you have to visit, etc.)

8. Have you paid more attention to your appearance before you meet up with this friend?

9.Do you fantasize about what it would look like to take a trip or spend your life together with this person?

I’ll tell you about someone I know whom I’ll call David. He was lonely in his marriage. At one time he was quite committed and enjoyed his relationship but over time things changed. They had several children, and after 16 years of marriage he felt distant and like the spark with his wife was waning. His wife who I’ll call Jean was busy with the kids at home and running them to soccer games and gymnastics while trying to stay on top of homework. David and Jean didn’t fight or argue much but seemed to be living parallel lives, not really spending time together rather trying in their respective roles to keep the family moving along with all the day-to-day grind.

David found himself spending more time at work attempting to create conversations with a co-worker. Eventually small flirty comments at work would be exchanged on occasion. This ‘harmless’ dialogue continued for several weeks until his co-worker, began to reciprocate and began texting him after work. He pass-coded his phone and began chatting often about his feelings and loneliness in his marriage. Occasional lunches at work ensued and David fell head long into an emotional affair that started wreaking havoc on his marriage. His co-worker seemed so alive, so carefree, and fun. David enjoyed their light-hearted conversations and the attention she gave him. He made her feel important and she helped him feel wanted and attractive.

Emotional cheating avoids hotel rooms and fake work trips which are hallmark elements of traditional affairs, but it does involve the similar secrecy, deception, and therefore betrayal. Relationships move from platonic to romantic by shifts in tone and dialogue. People enmeshed in nonsexual affairs preserve their “deniability,” convincing themselves they don’t have to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong. If we are honest with ourselves and others about it, it’s the breach of trust, more than the sex, that’s the most painful aspect of an affair. From my work as a therapist, it is often the case that the breach of trust is more difficult to recover from than sexual violation. It is the loss of trust, the ability to lean on and emotionally predict the fidelity of one’s partner that is most painful once fractured.

Many couples I have worked with who find themselves in these type of affairs are in denial. The offending spouse often reports their behavior is all in fun and “it’s not like I am having sex or anything, I am not cheating on you” or “you’re just so insecure, we are just friends what’s the big deal, relax.” The offending spouse justifies, spins, and otherwise rationalizes the behavior to minimize their knowledge and feelings for the extramarital partner. The key element here is not necessarily the offending behavior, though that is significant.  It is the condition of the offending spouse’ heart. The emotional disclosure, the flirting, and the thought processes are what constitute the betrayal, the root of eventual pain for the spouse unaware.

So why do these affairs happen? It depends on the couple.  I find it is often from unmet and undisclosed emotional or sexual needs. These couples, typically both partners, have significant needs that are not met. These couples often have weak emotional bonds and are not nurturing or protecting their marriages. Couples that have weak or poor boundaries with others outside their marriage are the most likely to have an affair. Often the offending spouse attempts to get their emotional and/or physical needs met by reaching outside of the relationship. They often feel like the affair is some kind of solution, yet the very solution and opportunity they create actually becomes the far more serious problem.

You can protect your marriage.

Here are some key ways you can enhance your marriage and avoid the potential for any type of affair.

I.  Solidify and Nurture the Marriage. 

1. Be your spouse’s greatest protector—always.

2. Ensure that your relationship with your wife/husband is your main priority.

3. Make sure you are aware of and meeting your spouse’s most significant needs. If you are unsure, have a long conversation with your spouse.

4. Compliment, validate, give and sacrifice for your spouse.

5.  Make time to nurture your marriage. Regular recreation together, sexual connection and deep intimacy (not just sex), healthy verbal communication, etc., must be occurring to keep a strong foundation to the marriage.

5. Lower unrealistic expectations about beauty, romance and sexuality, often generated by media and personal fantasies.

II. Commit To Actions That Will Help Prevent An Affair.

1. First and foremost be committed to your marriage–be committed to your spouse.

2. Be honest and candid with your spouse.

3. If you find yourself in potential situation that might threaten your marriage begin avoiding the situations that put you in their presence.

4. Ask yourself, would my wife or husband be ok with me right now? Would the conversation I am having be seen as appropriate by them? How would he or she feel about what I am doing?

5. Avoid teasing and flirting. Almost all affairs begin with this sort of dialogue. Flirting is not harmless, it is the first step into an possible affair.

6. Set and support boundaries about how both you and your spouse will interact and deal with members of the opposite sex.

If you or your spouse are engaged in or has been damaged by an emotional and/or physical affair you may need to seek professional help. Many couples try and work out their complicated situation and pain on their own only to end up more resentful, angry, and hurt. Couples counseling can be a relief to each party by offering an objective and wise perspective, working through understanding and healing in a judicious and effective way.  If your relationship has been impacted by an affair or any level of infidelity, you ought to consider couples counseling. I am licensed and trained to work specifically with couples and help many couples recover, heal, and become whole again. You and your spouse deserve to begin the journey of healing and recovery in your marriage relationship.

Copyright: No part of this article in section or full may be reproduced without permission from the author Justin Stum, MS LMFT. The one and only exception is for educational purposes and only if the contact information below for the author is fully cited here in article. Justin Stum, MS LMFT, 640 E. 700 S. Suite 103, St. George Utah 84770, 435-574-9193

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