Emotional affairs (EAs) are sneaky and it is common to find out you are in one without really understanding when and how it happened. Facebook, instant messaging, texting, and tweeting have opened doors for emotional affairs to storm in and have also built the walls necessary to keep it secret. These are two of the absolutes for an emotional affair to exist. EAs begin innocently enough. They take place at work, school, happy hours, and coffee hours, almost anywhere whenever two lonely people can meet up one on one and talk. They begin with conversations about interests, their ex’s or spouses, their kids, TV shows (American Idol was one of the hottest topics discussed by EA couples), and music. People are looking for a sense of belonging, understanding, and appreciation. They may not be getting that from their marriage or current relationships and turn to someone else who may have the potential to provide them with this. They usually don’t begin an emotional affair on purpose and they may not be seeking physical closeness. They are lonely and feel vulnerable or unappreciated. Having someone validate that they are special and wonderful becomes a “drug” to them and before they know it they would rather spend time with this person than anyone else including their spouse, children, or close friends.
The key word that keeps an emotional affair in place is the title people call the person they are having an EA with. They call them “a friend.” Due to this title, it is almost impossible to get too concerned with the relationship as they are after all “just a friend.” It is confusing to the person having the EA also because Friend and Affair are in two different categories. However, when this “friend” begins to cause fighting in your own marriage, feelings of lust in you, and intense feelings that you have to see them right now or you will die, then you know they are no longer a friend, they are an EA. Why do we call this person a friend at all? That’s an interesting question and one that is important to understand. When you are in love with your partner you share yourself when you talk. You express yourself in a way that your spouse understands as love even if it’s talking about the bills, the kids, or your parents. Your partner and you share at an intimate level. When you take this same energy and focus it on another person, you lose the ability to continue sharing this intimacy with your partner. So the relationship you have with your partner begins to look more distant, more dry and brittle and the one you are having with your “friend” begins to blossom and get fuller. It begins to look like your true love. You begin to see faults in your partner that you may have overlooked before. At this point, you may not have physical relations with your friend, but they aren’t far away if you continue this pattern.
How do you stop and notice if you are having an EA? Below are a few of the warning signs. If you have more than one of these in your current relationship, it is time to step back and make a sharp turn.
- You begin to feel closer to your friend than you do your partner.
- You keep it a secret from your partner (whenever there is something you need to keep secret from your partner, this is a red flag).
- You begin to think of your friend all the time. You begin having sexual fantasies and you notice there is a sexual tension with the two of you.
- You pay extra attention to how you look when you see this friend.
- You try to find ways to be alone with this person.
- You begin to lie for this person so no one will find out what is really going on.
- Time of day is not important as long as you can see this person.
Stopping an EA is a lot easier said than done. Many people report taking small strides by eliminating their Facebook conversations or emails, but there is still the phone, and text. This makes the emotional affair even stronger as you are now building an additional risk trying to cut it off. Most experts in the field of marital therapy suggest cutting it off completely and fast. The reason this method works best is you get a chance to grieve it, and redirect your energy and time back into your relationship and partner. As long as there is even one form of communication open, the threat is still there. People have quit jobs, moved and changed passwords on email accounts as well as Facebook. After you cut off the affair, your life will feel empty and alone. Filling it with close friends, family and new hobbies will bring back stability in your life and relationship. The following are some quick tips to get you back and help you heal.
- Take a class with your partner/spouse. Dance classes, financial classes, or a martial enrichment course are all good ideas. A new class or activity will help distract your thoughts from your friend, add novelty to your relationship and refocus attention to your marriage and/or relationship where it needs to be.
- Make dates to get together with your friends. Filling your life with friends is marriage friendly and also helps prevent feeling isolated and lonely.
- Do something for yourself. Get more involved in your spiritual activities, or exercise program. Taking care of you will reinforce your health and a healthy lifestyle (which will also exclude the EA).
Being involved in an EA does not cause divorce. Not ending one will. Noticing the signs and acting on them is the surest cure.