The dangers of emotional affairsWritten by Dr. Debbie L. Cherry
What's inside this article
Jake has been married to Kim for four years and feels good about how their relationship is going, except for their lack of time together. He admits his job is keeping him away, but he wants the promotion that’s coming up.
The long hours and late nights are more bearable because of his co-worker Mandy. She is complimentary, encouraging and a bit flirtatious. Lately, Jake has found himself returning the compliments, flirting back and accepting her invitations to have lunch to discuss business. But their conversations have become more personal than business. He enjoys talking to Mandy and feels she understands him like few other friends.
When Jake told Kim about having lunch with Mandy, Kim got mad and jealous. She didn’t understand how good a friend Mandy was, so Jake decided it would be best not to tell his wife when he had lunch with Mandy. Surely, since they were just friends, their time together was innocent.
Is there anything wrong with having a close friend of the opposite sex after you’re married? While there may be no clear answer, there are compelling reasons to be cautious about opposite-sex friendships outside of your spouse’s company. No matter how happy and secure your marriage, you should always protect your relationship against temptation, deception and potential affairs.
Most affairs begin as an innocent connection between two people. You may be brought together through work, church or school. But if your guard isn’t up and your boundaries aren’t well-established, a newly developing connection can quickly become entangled. As you spend time together, either face-to-face, through the computer or by phone, you may find yourself gradually sucked into an emotional affair that can rip a marriage to shreds even though the relationship never becomes physical.
The damage begins when you find yourself sharing information, thoughts or feelings that should have been kept between you and your spouse. This is an emotional betrayal that cuts into the heart of a marriage. The damage worsens as you begin to distance yourself emotionally and physically from your spouse in lieu of time with your friend.
Eventually, the friendship crosses the line when it introduces elements that should never be part of a marriage – secrets and lies. This deception destroys the foundation of marital security, and once it begins, it’s difficult to stop.
Because an emotional affair remains nonsexual, it is easy to rationalize:
"We’re just friends."
"He’s never touched me."
"We aren’t doing anything wrong."
The relationship continues because the unfaithful spouse reasons away guilt.
Platonic or romantic?
Before you were married, you may have had lots of friends of the opposite sex. But once you’ve said "I do," your relationship with your spouse must now take priority over every other relationship, and it must be protected against any threat.
So if you are close friends with someone of the opposite sex, you may need to honestly look at that relationship to determine if you have fallen into an emotional affair. Here are a few warning signs that may indicate your friendship has crossed the line from platonic to romantic:
- Do your conversations with your friend include things that should be kept between you and your spouse?
- Do you find yourself daydreaming about your friend?
- Have you found yourself withdrawing from your spouse emotionally or physically?
- Do you look for excuses to see or talk to your friend?
- Do you share thoughts, feelings and problems with your friend instead of your spouse?
- Are you convinced that your friend understands you better than your spouse?
- Is there flirting or sexual tension?
- Do you look for "legal" ways to touch your friend (brush lint off his jacket, help her with her coat)?
- Do you find yourself paying attention to how you look before you see your friend?
- Is there any secrecy about your relationship (how much time you spend together, what you do together, what you talk about)?
Protect your marriage
No marriage is affair-proof. We are all at risk of losing our focus and being swept into an emotional affair. But you can do several things to safeguard your marriage:
- Stay honest with yourself and your spouse. If you find yourself attracted to someone, admit it quickly to yourself and your spouse. Honesty is the key to preventing a relationship from escalating into an affair.
- Avoid magazines, movies and other forms of entertainment that can increase your tolerance of affairs.
- Try to see your relationships from your spouse’s perspective. What would your spouse be comfortable with? What would he or she feel about what you are doing?
- Do not flirt. Most affairs begin with what’s considered "innocent flirting," but there’s no such thing! Flirting is not a part of friendship.
- Keep your marriage as your number one priority. Make sure you are working to meet your spouse’s most important needs. If you’re not sure what those are, ask.
- Grow spiritually together. Pray with each other and for each other.
- Set boundaries about how you will interact with the opposite sex. For instance, you and your spouse may decide that neither of you will be alone with someone of the opposite sex, even for business lunches or late nights at work.
- Surround yourselves with happily married couples who don’t believe in fooling around.
You can keep your marriage safe from emotional affairs. But it requires open, honest communication and a commitment to do whatever it takes to keep your marriage your number one relationship.
Debbie L. Cherry was a licensed clinical psychologist, author and speaker specializing in marriage and family issues at the time of publication.
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