An emotional affair feels so right because it temporarily fills a void in our marriage.
The word “infidelity” sparks an array of very powerful images and emotions. When most of us hear it, we imagine a married person sneaking off to a seedy motel with a secret lover for a sexual tryst, while a devoted spouse awaits at home, unaware of what is really happening. We may not even consider that a non-physical relationship where sex is never even discussed could cross the line into affair territory.
This is the danger of an emotional affair.
An emotional affair can sneak up on us under the guise of a friendship and before we know it, that relationship starts to take priority over our marriage.
How does an emotional affair happen?
Layla described her relationship with Tom as a breath of fresh air in a long-stagnant existence. Memories of the way her husband used to look at her, hang on her every word, and the intense connection they used to share were so distant that they almost seemed to be from someone else’s life. She and her husband were like two ships passing in the night, more like roommates than spouses, and deeply submerged in the responsibility of parenthood.
She met Tom through work, and soon found herself eagerly awaiting lunchtime because she knew he would be there. He laughed at her jokes, listened intently when she talked, noticed little things like a new necklace or when she got her hair cut. He was thoughtful, fun, and made her feel special and alive again!
At home, her husband barely acknowledged her existence. He acted annoyed when she tried to talk to him. He was critical of the weight she put on since their second child. When he wasn’t absent because of work or pursuing his hobbies outside the home, he was unavailable to her emotionally or physically because he was glued to the TV or video games. She found it harder and harder to tolerate his annoying habits, and she resented his indifference and lack of help with the children.
The next thing Layla knew, she and Tom were texting or talking on the phone outside of work. They developed inside jokes and looked forward to sharing stories and information about mutual interests through social media or whenever they were apart. She began to think of him as her best friend. The person she was most inclined to think of and want to speak to or see. He was getting the lion’s share of her enthusiasm and energy. She was giving him the best of her.
Layla and Tom never exchanged so much as a kiss or spoke of anything more than a platonic relationship. Now, looking back, she wonders what she would have done if he had ever propositioned her. She felt so close to him at a time when she barely felt like a woman anymore. He made her start to care for herself again and want happiness in her life again; but, it was wrong.
Who is most susceptible to an emotional affair?
Many women, like Layla, have lost their individual identities and become “mom” and “Mrs.”, but can hardly recognize themselves as an individual anymore or the vibrant woman they used to be. A woman in a marriage that has deteriorated to the extent that she and her husband have lost the intimacy and spark may become like dry grass that instantly ignites into flame at the attention of a man who directs genuine interest toward her. The sensation of suddenly feeling special, interesting, and connected again can become intoxicating.
What is the danger in an emotional affair?
An emotional affair can sneak up and sink in its claws before we are wise to the situation. A co-worker, family friend, neighbor, or another individual whom we have reason to trust and encounter on a regular basis can become a comfortable set of ears to confide in or shoulder to cry on. Emotional bankruptcy may make us an easy mark for a man seeking an affair. Perhaps, a new friendship starts through necessity or all innocent intentions; but, if we’re starved for excitement, attention or a deep connection, we may find ourselves latching onto someone we shouldn’t.
The biggest problem with an emotional affair is that, happy or not in our marriage, we are still married! Conditions within the marriage may not be optimal, but vows of commitment still exist between husband and wife. When a deep emotional bond is formed with someone outside the marriage, that interferes with the sanctity of our marriage.
When is a friendship going too far?
A friendship may be just what we need when we feel lonely in our own marriage; but, it crosses a line of being inappropriate if our companion consumes the majority of our thoughts and energy. Are we saving all our good stories, jokes, and effort for them instead of our spouse? Do we tend to only care about how we act or look in their presence? Do we resent the time we have to spend with our spouse because it takes away time with our friend? Do we imagine taking the relationship to the next level or having a future together free from our spouse? Do we feel the need to hide the extent of our interactions from our spouse?
This is beyond simply a friendship.
How does an emotional affair end?
An affair of the heart can be just as powerful, if not more powerful than a sexual affair. Sex may be just sex, but in an emotional affair, a deep and personal connection is formed. If the marriage is to survive, the affair must end. There can’t be both a strong and healthy marriage and a satisfying rival relationship.
Layla’s relationship did succeed in making her husband start to take more notice of her because he became jealous of the man receiving all her attention. He demanded that she cut ties with Tom immediately, and she complied in attempt to save her marriage. She began to realize that as much as her relationship with Tom meant to her, it wasn’t real. It didn’t exist outside of laughs at lunch or texts. Tom wasn’t interested in a commitment beyond what they had, and may very well have been stringing along other women with no intentions of anything serious.
Layla’s emotional infidelity opened her eyes to what was missing in her marriage. She sought a sense of intimacy and being attached emotionally to another who loved and needed her just as much. She wanted to feel desirable, interesting, and visible again. She took this knowledge of her needs and what had decayed in her marriage to try to repair it. Of course, she wouldn’t be able to fix it single-handedly. Her husband would have to buy into salvaging the relationship.
An emotional affair is a dangerous situation for a wife who is neglected and lonely in her marriage; however, it is only a temporary bandage for a gaping wound. Such a relationship is a real threat to the marriage, though it’s not likely to result in a real and lasting partnership. It feels like the cure for everything because the marriage is so broken and her needs so great. Not only might this relationship end the marriage, but the intensity of its flame will likely soon burn out on its own.