Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emotional Affairs are Still Affairs...and I Don't Care What Anyone Else Says!

There's been quite a discussion taking place in the comments section over at Project Happily Ever After, following a post by a therapist on how to cope with an affair. Even I, who rarely has opinions on this sort of thing (cough, cough) weighed in.
But I'm astounded at the number of commenters, clearly in pain, who apologize for entering the debate because their husbands "only" had an emotional affair.
Only? Seriously??
My father "only" had an emotional affair, but it unmoored by formerly invincible mother enough to launch her into a decade-long alcoholic-and-prescription-drug stupor. He never could quite get why she was so affected by it. My mom and I talked a lot about it as adults because that one event, quite literally, altered the trajectory of our lives.
My mother, after a childhood of abandonment (father died at five, mother left her with various relatives, she started a new school every year of her childhood...) finally felt safe. My father adored her. And she him. So when he began lying (overtly and by omission) to spend time with a "friend" at work who was going through a tough time, it devastated her and destroyed her sense of safety.
And that, my friends, is what affairs do – whether they involve torrid sex, tepid sex or no sex at all. They are a trust violation, which is the worst form of betrayal.
My own husband had sex all over the place with all sorts of people. Yet it's the fact that he could lie to my face and that he was willing, on some level, to lose me that's been the hardest thing to overcome. Once I managed to get the mind movies out of my head (in which the sex was always anatomically impossible but wildly exciting, I was sure), I was left with the feeling of total fear. I no longer felt safe.
So to all those of you who are beating yourselves up for being completely unhinged by "only" an emotional affair, I say you need to look at the situation as a trust violation and recognize that such a betrayal is devastating, no matter the details.
And stop apologizing for your feelings. You can't control those. Actions, yes. You can definitely control those (though it may not feel like it in the early days following D-Day, when you find yourself shredding wedding photos, rifling through old receipts and doing other crazy things apparently without any control at all!) But your feelings simply are. And anyone with blood coursing in their veins is going to feel like hell when they discover an affair.


  1. I think that any betrayal is as hurtful as full sexual affairs. I feel just as hurt and upset at my husbands porn use. Just as saddened at my husbands chatting up other girls and flirting. Just as maddened about small lies as the big ones.
    Everything is lumped into the same category for me and I will not back down on my stand as that is how I feel.
    If it was the other way around my husband would be just as hurt as I am.
    Such a cruel blow for us all no matter what level of betrayal.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I've been told: "it wasn't like there was a physical relationship". Sorry, but internet and phone sex, and over 3,000 text in 6 weeks - all betrayal. You are right it boils down to no longer feeling safe in my marriage or in my own skin.

  3. No, my marriage is no long ther warm, safe, place I thought it was, try as I do to get past the last 6 mos (which is why I am still occasionally searching the topic 6 mos later...). " A couple of years," he said. Only texts and phone calls. EVERY DAY. LOTS OF TIMES. Mother's Day. Christmas. My birthday. Our 10 year anniversary. Sorry, I can pretend to be better, but it will be a LONNNNGGG time... How do I handle the next anniversary knowing what he was doing on the last one? and knowing that I'll never REALLY know what was going on there? The wound is bigger than he can imagine.

  4. I agree that it's a pain you can't possibly imagine unless you've gone through it.
    The anniversary triggers will diminish. For the few couple of years, the day loomed large. But last year -- four years out -- I was barely aware of it. So it does get better. And the wound heals. I doubt it ever disappears. But like a scar, it fades.

  5. It is my 33rd wedding anniversary tomorrow. My husband met an ex girlfriend the day before our 25th anniversary. Unknown to me they were in frequent contact from then until last year, when it became a full affair. When I found out - he sent me a text meant for her, the physical betrayal was horrible but the emotional pain of knowing that I have been lied to and deceived for the last 8 years of my life is even harder. The texts and contact levels were ridiculous and included holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, our daughter in hospital, in fact all our private lives were relayed to her. From his phone records he even texted her whilst I was phoning for medical help as he had a heart attack in the middle of the night.
    We are working on our marriage but, like the others here, I am struggling.

    1. I hear it so's not the sex that necessarily destroys us. It's the lies. It's the daily deceit and we wonder how they were able to look us in the eyes.
      We'll likely never know. It's a combination of feeling entitled (they tell themselves stories about how hard-done by they are in the marriage, for example) and opportunity. One lie slips out easily and then it becomes necessary to keep lying.
      And yes, it bothers me that my husband is capable of that. I'll never be able to quite look at him the same way again.
      But I also understand that most of us are capable of darker things than we know. The challenge is being able to love another...and ourselves...knowing that.
      I hope the struggle diminishes for you. Time does work its magic, as long as you're working alongside it to move forward. At one year out, I never imagined I'd feel as I do now. It has become part of our history, rather than defining my life.


  6. I am saddened to hear that it will be years and I will still be destroyed by my husbands Emotional Affair (if it stopped there). I am just two months in and he is already getting tired of hearing about my pain. He will not stick around for years, he is not that strong. I spent my 50th birthday alone waiting for him to come home while he was out having drinks with the "guys" (her) and he does not get why that makes me mad. He admitted if I had done that to him, he would have walked so I must love him more? I just hate being mad all the time, it is not my style. I am very sad that he was willing to risk losing me.

    1. Beth,
      It will be years before you feel "healed", which is not the same as no longer being "destroyed". By focussing on the destruction, you deny yourself any hope of moving past it. I know how hard it is, especially in the first weeks and even months. But try to shift focus to the fact that you're still standing. Try to find even slivers of joy in your life and then allow those to expand.
      In the meantime, however, he's doing little to help you. Without a genuine recognition of the pain he's caused, there's little hope to cling to that he won't do it again. Betrayal is devastating, no matter the details. That he won't acknowledge this is troubling.

  7. My husband couldn't go through with having sex with the OW, but I was still devastated. I told him that the hardest part for me wasn't what happened physically before he put a stop to it. It was that he went looking for someone else. I never looked outside of our marriage and he did, first through porn, and then through internet dating sites designed for married people to find affair partners. That's the part that hurts the most. I gave everything to our marriage, and he didn't.

    He is giving everything now to make this work. But it hurts so bad that it took us 14 years together, and him betraying me before he was willing to invest in our marriage the way I did. I know that his addiction to porn stood in his way. But he chose to not get help for it until it was almost too late. He had that choice, and instead of going for help, he decided to try cheating on me instead. It's that moment of decision, when he chose to cheat instead of getting help that hurts me the most, not what happened after that decision.




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