When it comes to infidelity, there are many ways that one partner can betray the other. Traditionally, most people have associated infidelity with physical betrayal, sleeping with another person, for example, whether or not there was an emotional connection between the partner and the new fling. However, research has shown that, beyond the physical monogamy that traditionally accompanies serious relationships, the emotional connection that partners share is just as important, and perhaps more so.
The so-called “emotional affair” has broken up marriages over and over again throughout history, but it is only recently getting press. In this situation, no physical infidelity takes place. Instead, the partner who “cheats” does so through emotionally detaching from their primary relationship. They don’t talk to their partner about anything deep, such as goals, hopes, and dreams. Essentially, someone who emotionally cheats seeks to fill emotional needs outside of their relationship, and thus pull away from it, causing a slow, painful, and often agonizing death for the other partner. Indeed, one of the stickiest aspects of the emotional affair is the difficulty in watching a relationship die without power to really “pinpoint” the problem – sex, after all, is much easier to call out. [Related: 7 Signs You’re in an Unhealthy Relationship]
What an Emotional Affair Looks Like
Unlike the backdoor liaisons and clandestine hotel rooms of a physical affair, emotional affairs are often conducted in plain sight. Two people who share an emotional connection may not have sex, or even touch, but they still share a deep intimacy.
People half-jokingly refer to these relationships using phrases such as “office wife” or “office husband”, but the real effect that this type of affair has on one’s life is clear, whether or not those involved admit to it. For example, someone having an emotional affair may feel the need to take extra care getting dressed each day in order to “impress” or get noticed by the other. Someone having an emotional affair will be texting or otherwise communicating with someone else other than their spouse all day. And these are just some signs.
Why Emotional Affairs Hurt So Much
Having an emotional affair may be a coping mechanism for the person engaging in the affair, something seen as a minor distraction that is “not as bad” as other coping mechanisms such as drinking or physical affairs. However, for the partner at home, the emotional affair can be even more devastating than a physical one. This is because while the thought of your partner being intimate with another person may cause some degree of repulsion, their absence from your emotional life is a deeper betrayal of trust.
When the person you share your life with chooses to share the intimate details of his/her thoughts and dreams with another person this calls into question the entire existance of your relationship. What is your role? Are you simply a co-parent? A meal ticket? A convenience? It is much easier to dismiss a physical affair to other factors including the influence of drugs and alcohol or even just hormonal lust. However, in order for an emotional affair to even occur, it needs a long-lasting relationship. It is much more deliberate and runs much deeper than a one night stand or even a friend with benefits.
Can a Relationship Survive an Emotional Affair?
There are plenty of stories about partners who have had physical affairs and used them as a wake-up call to heal their relationship and move on. Can the same be said of emotional affairs? Well, just like relationships, the answer to this is always different. However, the factors that lead one towards an emotional affair are often much deeper rooted and much harder to pinpoint than physical affairs. To overcome the damage, the breach of trust, and reestablish the emotional connection that led to the affair in the first place is a long process that often involves outside counselling and soul searching. [Related: How to Find a Good Couples Counselor]
No one can tell a couple if the effort is worth it. However, for those who think they may be on the edge of an emotional affair, it is important to take the time now to ask if the temporary relief it provides is in the best interest of your long term happiness.
Work with me if you’re tempted to get involved in an emotional affair, not sure if you’re in one, or if you’re dealing with a partner who has emotionally cheated. Accepting reality and dealing with a problem head on is the first step towards solving the problem and that’s my job as a coach!