This is the third article in a three-part series about infidelity. Click here to read the first: Why I Cheated and What I Learned From It and click here to read the second: Avoiding Temptation: How Not to Cheat
Are you really cheating on your long-term partner if you’re not even having sex?
Relationships have many components, and yes, sex is one of them, but there are others. Friendship, childrearing, joint interests such as traveling, music, cooking . . . for every couple, they are different and each piece of the puzzle has its importance, but together, they make up a whole. One major piece is emotional intimacy. And for most, not just women as is often assumed, emotional intimacy is critical to making the puzzle whole, and especially to fostering a healthy and mutually fulfilling sexual relationship.
For most of us, as adults, the emotional connection comes first. We become friends with our significant other before sexual intimacy. We share common interests whether we meet at work, in college, during an extracurricular, or simply through friends. Perhaps we met at a party, enjoying a drink together, laughed, and shared parts of ourselves, ostensibly all before we became sexually involved. If we are in a committed relationship, especially a marriage or long-term partnership, we are likely emotionally intimate (or want to be).
Think about this scenario: You’re in contact with someone new or from your past. You like each other and feel good when you’re together, you like talking to him or her and exchanging intimate, funny e-mails or texts. You joke, you flirt, and you find yourself dressing nicer when you know you’ll see each other. You meet for coffee or lunch. The problem? You’re married and your spouse or significant other doesn’t know. Whether you are Facebook friends or coworkers or friends from the gym, is this truly an innocent friendship, or the beginning of the end of your marriage? And if there’s no sex, can you really call it infidelity? Yes, you can. It’s emotional infidelity.
What’s the big deal, if there’s no sex? Affairs cause the most damage because they abuse trust. Sex is not the main issue, it is the lying and deception. Often, people recover from sexual infidelity more readily than when they are deceived. Getting over a sexual fling may take some work, but it can be done. Finding out your partner’s been sharing themselves emotionally with someone else, and not with you, raises a big red flag. What else can’t I trust? Emotional cheating is about breaking trust in many areas of your relationship, not about having sex with someone else.
How would you feel if you knew your spouse did this? If you get a sick knot in your stomach, there’s your answer. That’s the big deal. It’s not about sex, and you need to take a look at your relationship. What’s missing? And what can you do to fix it? If that’s what you want. But don’t go elsewhere. It’s a betrayal.
How can I tell if my friendship is becoming an emotional affair? Ask yourself these questions: What am I doing or talking about with this person? Are they things I don’t do or talk about with my spouse? Am I hiding? Am I rearranging my day and upending my normal schedule to arrange time with this person? Am I downplaying this relationship with others or keeping it a secret altogether? If any of these are issues, you are getting yourself into an emotional affair.
The question is, why? Sure, you enjoy this person’s company, and the attention is nice. In fact your ego is in overdrive. But you are in a committed relationship with someone else. So, dig deeper. What’s missing from your marriage or long-term partnership that is pushing you to someone else? These are the questions you need to ask.
Why is it so easy to deny emotional affairs are wrong? Because there’s no sex. Period. As a society, we believe that cheating is merely sex with someone other than your partner. We also place, I believe, a disproportionately higher value on the sexual component of relationships than on the emotional.
I believe we miss the value of an emotionally intimate, deeply satisfying, personal relationship based on trust and years of growing together, knowing each other’s intimate dreams, goals, hurts, and desires. These are all significant pieces of the relationship puzzle. Yes, they can and often do, coincide with a satisfying sex life, but the trust that comes with emotional vulnerability is unparalleled. Break that trust and you have absolutely been unfaithful to your partner. And, I know for me, it’s not easy to have sexual intimacy without emotional intimacy.
Emotional affairs escalate incrementally, and this is why they seem innocent until, often, it’s too late. They start with casual chats at work, then maybe lunch or even a drink after work And before you know it, things heighten. You may still think of them as innocent because it’s only so-and-so from the office. Soon, you’re keeping secrets, you are talking with your friend about your marriage and you are sharing in a deeply personal way. You are emotionally entangled with someone other than your spouse.
Does an emotional affair mean the end of your marriage? It doesn’t have to, but it does mean you need to work on your marriage. I would imagine there is discord at home since you are looking elsewhere to meet your emotional needs. Do the repair with your partner whether it be therapy, a workshop, reading a self-help book, or even just talking about your feelings. Do it before things get too far, and cut ties with this other person. I would not imagine you can go back to being just friends with them. Isn’t that really what you were supposed to be in the first place? How did that work out? Open your eyes, open your heart to your spouse and work on your own house.
Maybe your marriage is over, and this is your subconscious’ way of telling you. Or, maybe you and your partner need a chance to reconnect and find each other again. Relationships are dynamic and need work. This may be your wake up call. Pay attention. You may be surprised at what you find, and at how rekindled and wonderful your marriage is after this misstep. Because that’s all it has to be.
This article originally ran on The Good Men Project as What Is An Emotional Affair?
Jenny Kanevsky is an editor at The Good Men Project and regular contributor at BLUNTMoms.