Men in the 50s used to worry that if their wives went to work, their marriage was at risk of an affair. Now, as social media, the Internet, phone pictures and texts are the norm; affairs are moving into a whole new realm.

It leaves a spouse to question: what is an affair? There are two categories to address, the emotional affair and the physical affair. The physical is easier to understand. If a spouse engages in any physical sexual touch, it is a physical affair. Okay, case closed, it’s black and white.

So then the real question is, what is an emotional affair? An emotional affair is when a spouse is engaging in intimate conversation or content with a person outside the marriage, which increases an emotional intimacy close to the feeling of dating. It does not start with sexual content or pictures. An emotional affair starts with trying to fulfill an intimacy that may be lacking in the marriage.  In seeking that they engage in conversations bonding about troubles in their marriage and speaking negatively about their spouse. The person also spends quality time through text, in person or online that should be reserved for the spouse.

For example, sitting next to your spouse on the couch and instead of trying to engage him or her, texting another person that you are trying to connect with emotionally. Another example, taking this person to lunch or dinner, to engage emotionally when that time could have been spent trying to re-connect with your spouse. And finally, seeking validation. We all want to feel good, but are you seeking to be more engaged with this other person because of how they make you feel?

The emotional affair, which might seem harmless in the beginning, creates growth or emotional intimacy that becomes addicting. Remember that feeling when you first started dating your spouse? You felt good, validated, wanted to spend time with her/him, felt more fulfilled, more appreciated. That was an emotional connection. The emotional affair begins by seeking that with someone else. Trying to feel emotionally fulfilled through another person.

The problem?

1) You’ve stopped needing or seeking that from your spouse in a genuine way, so in essence, you go for the quick fix, not the full resolution. In order to grow in love in a marriage, there will be close and distant times. Some people go to this emotional affair in order to recapture what they are missing in their marriage and then try to go back to the spouse to replicate it. However, the person on the outside of the marriage never has to forgive you your flaws, have the pressure of your bills or knows your past. All you are doing is replicating the “in love” feeling that does not last with any relationship.

2) You are seeking self-satisfaction and fulfillment from another person, which should be fulfilled on your own.

3) When you feel emotionally connected to someone it is very easy to justify the cross to a physical connection, as it is a natural process.

4) An emotional affair alone will lead to the demolition of trust. So that issue you had first (not feeling connected) is still there, but now coupled with trust issues is devastating to a marriage and the impact for you is confusion as to why it was so easy with someone else, but not your spouse.  

So what do you do to protect your self from the emotional affair? Back away slowly……and set your boundaries

1) talk positively about your spouse and bring his/her name up. Talk positively about your marriage.  

2) Guard your time, should you be spending this moment connecting with your spouse and nurturing what you already have? What’s off limits (ie. late night texts and conversations, dinners out alone, etc).

3) Can this person be a friend of the family, or are you creating this friend just for you? Would your spouse feel comfortable knowing you were spending individual time with this person? Any friend that you have your spouse should know and be comfortable with. Make sure your spouse knows this person and is aware of the time you spend with them and what you talk about.

4) Is your phone always available to your spouse? If you start to feel as though you cannot share the content of your phone with your spouse then that lends towards guilt. If you make your phone and computer full access it will guard towards leaning into conversations that are not appropriate.

All right, so now you have your boundaries up and are fully protected. You know that settling for this false love created in an emotional affair is the cheap way to a fix. Next step, re-build intimacy with your spouse and know that it is possible to have a fulfilling, joyful and life-giving marriage that will last the test of time.

By Janet Gibson, LMFT

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