Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Emotional Affairs: Innocent Until Proven Guilty?


It remains one of my life's little ironies that my husband and I sought marriage counselling because of my emotional affair, though I'd never heard that term before...and certainly didn't think it applied to me. I also had no idea of my husband's unemotional but highly physical affair(s) at that point. I simply knew that I'd met someone who had me swooning like a lovestruck teen...something that signalled danger to my marriage and my family. So off to counselling we went. Of course, my schoolgirl crush paled in comparison to news of my husband's double life: years of sex addiction.
Still, emotional affairs are dangerous – and controversial. I had always subscribed to the "doesn't matter where you get your appetite as long as you eat at home" school of thought. (And yes, I know that's a rather crude way of putting it. I have the sense of humor of a 17-year-old boy.)
 I often had small crushes on men in my life. They lasted a week or two then faded away when I noticed something unappealing, like hair growing out of his ears, a predilection for mass-market paperbacks, a lack of appreciation for my sophomoric wit... These mind-flings were harmless, I thought. It was my husband to whom I made love. My husband whose ear hair didn't bother me in the least. My husband whom I fell asleep beside and woke up huddled next to.
So...harmless, right? Not so fast.
Anyone whose spouse has been involved in an emotional affair -- defined as "meaningful attachments with people other than your partner in ways that prevent your partner from having that deep emotional intimacy with you."
And that last bit (emphasis mine) is, of course, the problem.
It seems harmless, so we carry on. And, if we were honest with ourselves (though we rarely are), we'd admit that we love the attention, the new-ness, the excitement of another person finding us interesting, attractive, worthy of time and attention...especially (but not always) if our own marriage was becoming a bit musty.
I now see how easily these fun little flirtations cross the line into threat. When we're thinking about someone who's not our spouse, when we're dedicating a lot of time and energy to someone who's not our spouse, even the best marriages can suffer.
I can look back and see that an aspect of the crushes I developed were a response to the emotional absence of my husband...who was, ahem, busy with his own issues. 
But the fact that I never acted on them has given me one less regret. One less mess to clean up. 
Emotional affair: Innocent...or guilty?
I know how I feel now,with the bitter taste of experience. What about you?

4 comments:

  1. I believe I am involved in an semi-emotional affair for several years now. I am not sure what to call it since we only text 3 or 4 times a year but when we do text it is always sexual. Yes, I have had sexual relations with this individual twice over the eight years we have known each other. And yes I was and still am married. I met my long distance friend prior to getting married and was very attracted to him. The feeling was mutual. I was involved in a dating relationship at the time and he was single. I ended up marrying the man I was dating at the time however my long distance friend and I kept in touch. He eventually married as well and prior to getting married we met up and had sex (I was married for over a year at that time). We both regretted it (the guilt) but at the same time we enjoyed each other's company. We continued our relationship via text for the last eight years but only text each other 3 or 4 times a year. He sends me a text to let me know he is going to be in town and can we see each other. He tells me I turn him on like no other etc....and I have to admit he turns me on with the things he says he'll do to me. A sexual fantasy???? I don't love him and he doesn't love me. We never talk about our personal lives (family, spouses etc...). It's strictly sexually. I love my husband yet I am attracted to this individual. Well Karma struck and I found out 2 mos. ago that my husband had been having an emotional affair with an old girlfriend from 40+ years ago. He did profess his love to her and spent enormous amount of time on the phone with her. The EA ended before I found out about it. My husband realized it was not what he wanted and walked away from it. I found out accidently when he left his e-mail account open and read their correspondence. I was shattered. Funny...I didn't seem to think what I did as bad even though if I had confessed to my husband he would disagree. I don't know if it is because there was no emotions (love) involved between my long distance friend and me. Yes, we have had sexual contact but it wasn't the sex but the way he made me feel when telling me how excited I made him feel.

    My husband and I are repairing our relationship and I am not sure whether to tell him about the long distance friend. I have had no contact with him for quite awhile. I love my husband and I am not sure how I will react if my long distance friend contacts me again. I don't love him--never did-I don't know how I see him--

    Was this an emotional/fantasy affair? Was I just as guilty as my husband or worse?

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  2. Wow. I hardly know what to say. Please keep in mind, I'm no marriage counsellor – just a wife who's dealt with her spouse's betrayal and is trying to heal.
    Frankly, though, I think you're playing with fire. Though you and your husband are married, neither of you seems particularly committed to the relationship. I'm a firm believer that there are no "accidents". On some level, you want to be found out, and I think your husband wanted to be found out, too. Clearly you both want something more out of your marriage, but seem unable to communicate about it.
    And of course, your marriage isn't giving you everything you want because you've got one food out the door (and into another's bed). It's telling that you say it isn't the sex so much as the way this other guy makes you feel. That's essentially what affairs are: they have little to do with the other person and a whole lot to do with the reflection you see in the other's eyes. In other words, you like who you think you are with the other person.
    And that, of course, is what you need to find out on your own. No-one will ever "complete" you if you don't feel complete within yourself. No-one can ever make you feel sexy, desirable, etc. until you believe it about yourself. This other guy can do it three or four times a year. But over the long haul? Not if you don't feel it already about yourself.
    Your husband and your marriage doesn't stand a chance until you come clean. I'm a firm believer (as are most counsellors re. affairs) that you need to have full disclosure if a relationship is ever to heal from betrayal. Though finding out about my husband's infidelity was excruciating, I still believe that I needed to know in order to make a fully informed decision about the rest of my life. I believe I would be LIVID if I were to find out at some point later in life that I'd been completely lied to about who my husband truly was.
    My advice? Go to a counsellor and get some guidance about how to come clean wit your husband. And get yourself some counselling about why you've carried on this affair (and yes, it is an affair) for so long). In the meantime, send a "No contact" letter to this other guy. Tell him it's over and to stop contact. There are far too many innocent people who stand to get hurt simply because this guy makes you feel sexy.
    I think your guilt and your sense of betrayal about your husband's affair is giving you a glimpse into who you want to be – and it's not someone who cheats and lies. Be that person who makes you proud.
    Any other wives out there who want to weigh in??

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  3. Not innocent, PAINFULLY guilty. I'd be able to get over the one-nighter more easily than I am his EA--allegedly just EA, no meeting etc. But it lasted about 2 years (while I've been dealing with our 2 small children), and what I found out in the "coming clean" was that he'd met the OW before we were dating (she was dating someone else), that he then later dated her during a hiatus in our relationship (that he initiated, but it seems she wouldn't put out....hmmm), and the EA started a couple of years after we were married. I called him out on holding a candle out there for her over the years, he's denying it. But I can't now help but be neurotic and paranoid, because, what happens if our marriage gets musty again? Is she his deep-rooted go-to ego boost? Or does that fantasy evaporize now that it's been exposed? (Seems not, according to 3-4x/year, above.) Am I an idiot for believing this won't happen again - is the writing on wall and I'm just too optimistic to see what's there? He's demonstrated his need to give-it-a-go with her 2x since the beginning of our relationship, so I don't really know what to believe. (In fairness, he did cut if off with her on the phone in front of me, and I almost felt badly for him when she didn't seem remotely disturbed). How do I know this is genuinely over for him?

    And wow, I am frankly AMAZED that anyone in an EA has almost zero concept about the risk they are taking with their family. It's like not seeing the people out there while innocently having fun shooting arrows blindly into the trees. I'd be terrified that I'd really hurt him, irreparably and unforgivably. And when things were "musty," yeah, I thought about making old connections that would make me feel good, BUT I DIDN'T, because I was afraid of hurting anyone or rising what I have. Maybe that's why it hurts so much to be on the compromised end--he wasn't as terrified as I was.

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  4. I'm actually working on a blog post right now regarding the debate around Anthony Weiner's "sexting" scandal. There are those who don't understand the response because, after all, he wasn't technically cheating. However, emotional affairs, as you've beautifully pointed out above, are incredibly painful. And they are affairs.
    Your analogy re. shooting arrows is spot on.
    It sounds a bit from a couple of things you said that your husband is kinda emotionally...absent. Could that be part of the problem?
    In any case, I can imagine how it must feel to wonder if this woman is waiting in the wings for any time your marriage starts to get stale or go through a tough patch (and, of course, any marriage will). What do you think your husband could do to ease that anxiety? Are you two getting any sort of counselling? Sounds like you need something you're not getting from him. And it sounds as if he needs something he's not getting from you. That's not to say you wouldn't/couldn't provide it – you may not and HE may not even understand what it is. But counselling just might help you both get clear...which would reduce or eliminate the threat this other woman poses.

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