Is Emotional Infidelity Cheating?
I recently authored a guest post on Emotional Infidelity for hitched.com, and it's such an important topic I thought I'd share my thoughts on the subject here on the Love, Happiness and Success blog, too.
Emotional infidelity, jealousy, and trust are common issues for couples we see in couples therapy or marriage counseling. I know from many years of experience as a “relationship expert” that the first step in healing for many couples is having good information to help you understand what's going on, and what needs to change.
It is incredibly anxiety provoking when your partner has connected with someone new. It's especially difficult when you are not feeling confident about your own relationship. And if that “someone new” happens to be attractive it can trigger massive amounts of insecurity and jealousy.
But the hardest part about emotional affairs is that they often feel very innocent to the people engaging in them. So, for example, if you share your anxious feelings with their partner they are likely to get defensive, tell you “they're just friends” and make you feel like you're being unreasonable. (Which of course only adds to your anxiety).
If your partner maintains their relationship with the attractive person you're worried about, and are continuously unresponsive to your escalating anxiety, it can create huge problems in your relationship. Namely, that you start looking like the crazy irrational person…. and their new “special friend” is seeming ever more attractive in comparison.
As I'm sure you know if you've lived this, that “anxiety > defensiveness > more anxiety > more defensiveness” loop starts to create a very yucky dynamic that can be difficult to unwind.
Because first of all, stopping it requires acknowledgement from your partner that they currently have an inappropriate attachment to another person. Why is it inappropriate? Why is it not okay for “them to have friends?” Because their primary commitment is to you, and you feel uncomfortable with it.
Furthermore, unless they started in response to some gross Craigslist sex-ad or ashleymadison.com profile ALL AFFAIRS begin as platonic emotional entanglements. Hardly anyone sets about to have an affair, destroy their marriage, blow their family apart, and live in the aftermath of the financial and emotional destruction that causes. [Listen to my podcast about affairs, if you want to learn more about the sad reality.] Instead, they begin… appreciating their time with a new person. And attraction grows until it's a wildfire that only the cold shock of discovery and divorce can drown.
Understanding Emotional Infidelity
Emotional infidelity is a problem because when your partner is getting their emotional needs met by another person they are, by definition, not sharing them with you. Even if it is on Facebook. Check out my article, “Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair” for an in-depth description of how emotional affairs start, and why they become so dangerous.
Signs of an Emotional Affair
There are very specific signs of an emotional affair that I share in my hitched.com article. Signs that can help you flush out the presence of an emotional affair. For example (and this one may surprise you) if you have been having conflict and disagreement in your relationship, and that tension suddenly fades – without other resolution – it may indicate the presence of a new emotional outlet in your partner's life.
If your spouse suddenly seems more cheerful, more secretive about their phone, or stops telling you about their day-to-day life it may also point to a new, increasingly important, relationship.
The reason why these new attachments are so problematic for your relationship is that when your partner is going to someone else with their thoughts, hopes, fears, concerns, and emotional needs they are not giving you the opportunity to share them, or meet them.
Believe it or not, the biggest “danger signal” for a relationship is not fighting. People fight when they still care about a relationship and want to change things. A relationship is in real trouble when fighting stops, because people lose hope. People break up because they lose hope that change is possible. And if your partner is sharing all their important stuff with someone else, it's a sign that they are withdrawing their emotional trust in you. Over time, they may stop believing that your relationship is worth fighting for.
Healing From Emotional Infidelity
There are many things that you and your partner can do together to ease your anxiety and strengthen your trust and security in them. (If your trust has already been broken, you might listen to my podcast: “Sorry's Not Good Enough: Repairing Trust in Your Relationship”).
For example, if your partner wants to maintain their new friendship, they need to help you feel safe with it. That might mean planning activities where you are included, cc'ing you on correspondence, and having boundaries around the other relationship. If they are not willing to do that, it's a sign that their attachment to that person may be as important to them as their attachment to you.
For my full advice on recovering from an emotional affair, read the full article on www.hitched.com. If you're struggling with emotional infidelity, jealousy, and trust issues in your relationship I sincerely hope that the advice I shared in this article, and others, helps you both find your way back together.
All the best,
Lisa Marie Bobby