When we think about affairs, most of us jump immediately to thoughts of physical infidelity, of a partner cheating by way of romantic physical contact with another person, but this isn’t the only kind of affair people have, and the other “type” can actually be more damaging to the health of your marriage.
What we’re talking about here are emotional affairs, and they are a little harder to define. Basically, an emotional affair is taking place when one member of a marriage is relying on someone else for the emotional support of a spouse. This can happen in person, among friends or coworkers, it can happen via email, text message, or through a social networking site. It can happen with old flames and new friends alike – and it’s a slippery slope to severely damaging the strength of your marriage.
When people become involved in emotional affairs, it usually happens gradually, just like making a new friend or the earliest stages of dating someone new. You simply start talking with someone, buti for before you know it, you’re talking about more and more personal topics, and you’re forming an emotional connection.
Now, this is not to say that all emotional connections beyond your marriage are bad – we share emotional relationships with our friends and family, and feel closely connected to all kinds of people in our lives, but when those connections start to replace or reduce the connection you have with your spouse, it’s crossing into the territory of an emotional affair.
It often begins because emotional needs aren’t being met the in marriage. It’s easy to understand the scenarios that could lead down this path – getting attention from someone new if your spouse is neglectful, talking to someone who understands and offers advice or consolation about problems in your marriage, or sensing genuine interest from someone when it feels like your spouse takes you for granted.
Those examples, and many more like them, can tempt people to slip into emotionally charged conversations with someone outside the marriage. The real problem, though, is that having those conversations with someone else means you’re NOT having them with your spouse.
Eventually, it can cause people withdraw from their spouses even further, and what began as a purely emotional connection can become physical infidelity as well.
In many ways, it comes down to intent. You can feel it when you’re attracted to someone, when you’re forming an emotional connection, when you’re doing something that would hurt your spouse. If it feels wrong, it probably is.
We could go on at great length describing the nuances of emotional affairs, how people are tempted into them, and the lasting damage that they can do to relationships, but it’s also important to discuss how to deal with the problems once they’ve happened – and how to stop them before they start.
First and foremost: communicate. The major causes of emotional affairs are unspoken issues in the relationship. If you keep your channels of communication open and honest, you won’t feel the need to reach out to another for your emotional needs. Instead, you’ll be able to let your spouse know what you need or what might feel missing from the marriage.
If, however, an emotional affair is already happening, it’s up to you to stop it before it gets any further. You have a choice about all of your actions, and if you find yourself choosing (even unconsciously) to communicate with someone other than your spouse about your emotional needs, you are allowing a rift to form in your relationship.
If you truly want to get things back on track, you need to admit to yourself that it’s not just about the other person, or even the connection you may feel with them, but about problems in your marriage that you haven’t been willing to address and emotional needs that you haven’t communicated to your spouse.
Similarly, if you suspect (or know for certain) that your spouse is involved in an emotional affair, the first step is to discuss communication – and find out what’s missing that caused them to seek comfort from someone else.
Understand that no one is immune to temptation, but we are in control of our choices. We choose to succumb to temptation, we choose to emotionally invest in people other than our spouses, and ultimately, we make a choice each time communicate with anyone – there are simply some things that should be reserved for your spouse and your spouse alone.
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