Affairs often cause divorce. I repeatedly see couples struggling with the tragic impact of infidelity. Most couples want desperately to save their marriages, and most adulterers feel remorseful for how they behaved. An affair is not necessarily a deal breaker, but its aftermath is difficult to navigate toward the goal of repair.
Believe it or not, some affairs are not consummated in a physical sense. As a counselor, I frequently hear comments from the straying partner such as, “I didn’t have any physical contact with the other person.” In the straying partner’s mind, he or she did not have an affair. What do you think?
Marriage educator Cathy Meyer has written an enlightening article, “What Is the Difference between an Emotional Affair and a Physical Affair?” She says that infidelity includes merely feeling it or thinking it, emotions which of course are fairly easy to take to the next level, considering our daily use of phones and email. According to Meyer, you’re a cheat if you’re having “intimate correspondence with someone while on a cell phone, meeting someone over the Internet, and maintaining a close, personal relationship with someone other than your spouse.”
The straying spouse who claims there wasn’t really an affair stands on the ground that he or she did not engage in a physical act. The logic is that because there has been not physical contact, the behavior cannot be construed as cheating. So how does this logic make the offended spouse feel any less slighted? Eventually, there will be resentment and bitterness.
To the wronged spouse, an emotional affair is not too much different from a physical affair. True, there’s been no actual physical contact. There’s been no touching, kissing, or sexual intercourse. But what about all the time the partner has spent on talking, texting, emailing, or having coffee with someone else? As one gets more and more acquainted with the other person, the communication gets more personal. They share daily activities, stresses, joys, and before you know it, they are sharing each other’s lives and have a sizeable emotional investment in the relationship.
The time spent is not on the spouse, but on the new person. This type of engagement is dangerous, and it is a threat to the emotional bond of the couple. Half of such relationships grow into sexual affairs. Even emotional affairs can lead to divorce, when the slighted spouse feels neglected, betrayed, and unwanted.
In the movie Fireproof, the husband has many outside interests, taking his attention away from his spouse. They call outside attractions “parasites.” Now I am not saying that outside interests and hobbies are unhealthy. What I am saying is, look at the reason time is being spent elsewhere. Examine the many hours taken away from the primary relationship. Why is one person straying? What is going on at home that is allowing an emotional affair to develop outside the marriage?
Perhaps a fantasy is being met online that cannot be had at home. Or maybe the home situation is volatile or just plain old boring, and the straying spouse is seeking escape. It could be that the straying person has an addiction to the excitement of being with someone new, or is seeking additional attention. I do not think such emotional affairs develop in a vacuum, and I would bet that there is a root cause. With an emotional affair in place there is less incentive to try and fix the underlying problems in the primary relationship. Don’t let this happen to you. Make time to sit down and have a serious discussion about the cause. For things to change, both people in the relationship must want to change and be honest with each other about their needs. The longer the situation progresses without addressing it, the deeper the couple will drift into instability.