Although sexual affairs can be devastating, emotional affairs also impact relationships. Shirley Glass wrote a book, Not Just Friends which explores the costs of emotional involvement with another because it erodes the connections & foundation of the primary relationship. This is defined as emotional infidelity.
How would you know if you involved in emotional infidelity? She proposes the following test.
Do you confide in your friend more than to your partner about your day?
Do you discuss negative feelings or intimate details about the marriage with your friend, but not your partner?
Do you and your friend touch differently when alone than in front of people?
Are you aware of sexual tension in the friendship?
Are you in love with your friend?
Would you feel comfortable if your partner heard your conversations with your friend?
Would you feel comfortable if your partner saw a videotape of your meetings?
Are you open with your partner about the extent of your involvement with your friend?
For questions 1 to 6 a yes = 1, for questions 7 and 8 a no =1. Add up the 1s.
If you scored 2 or below it is probably a friendship; if 3 or more you may not be “just friends”; if 7 or 8 you are definitely involved in an emotional infidelity.
Emotional intimacy is like the frog in gradually warming water – by the time it is too hot, it is too late to escape. The transition from friendship to an affair can be barely perceptible as the boundaries tend to shift slowly. It is normal to sometimes feel attracted to someone other than our partner – but acting on it is another matter.
Ms. Glass uses the analogy of walls and windows of the marital house as an antidote for emotional infidelity. It is important to maintain the difference between a platonic friendship and a committed relationship. She suggests 3 ways to do this.
Don’t discuss the relationship with anyone with whom you could be a potential alternative to yours or their spouse. Sharing your relationship dissatisfactions with a third party opens a window to create a bond with him/her, rather than your partner (and does nothing to repair the primary relationship)
When you do need to talk to someone about the marriage make sure it is with a “friend of the marriage” who cares about both of you and can help with perspective or support to broach the issue with your partner. This includes counsellors who should stay neutral unless there is abuse or unethical actions in the primary relationship.
When a friend wants to talk about personal issues – be careful with boundaries, do it together with your partner if possible and appropriate. Confidential investments in other people’s problems are well-trod paths to becoming too emotionally involved. Secrets have a way of backfiring.
In a committed relationship, the couple construct walls that shield them from forces that could split them. The couple operates as a unit with a common front for friends, children, and relatives. The secrecy of the emotional infidelity erects a wall between the married couple, and a window of intimacy to the outsider.
The difficulty for couples when there is conflict, distance, or neglect is how to bridge the gap by turning towards each other again. Love is a choice to make, maintain and cherish each other every day. That protects us from seeking others. A counsellor can help with conversations focused on rekindling the best of being together when emotional distance looms.