Is emotional cheating the same as having an affair? To some people, having emotional intimacy with a friend of the opposite sex is harmless. Other people, meanwhile, believe an emotional affair is as devastating as a physical affair.
What is Emotional Cheating?
According to Dr. Ann Langley, a Marriage and Family Therapist in California, "if your primary emotional gratification is outside the relationship and your partner is excluded" then you're cheating. This does not mean that having friends of the opposite sex is cheating. If you enjoy talking about work, sports or other topics with someone, that is merely a harmless friendship. Emotional cheating, on the other hand, occurs when you consistently discuss your deeper emotional needs and issues with someone other than your partner.
How to Identify an Emotional Affair
The difference between a friendship and an emotional partnership can be subtle and difficult to distinguish. You may be great friends with someone at the office and look forward to seeing him or her, but it doesn't mean you're cheating. M. Gary Neuman, a psychologist in Florida and author of Emotional Infidelity, says that emotional cheating requires three elements:
- Emotional intimacy that is greater than in the marriage
- Sexual tension
The absence of one of these indicates that you are not currently cheating, though you may still have relationship or communication issues that need to be resolved with your spouse.
How Affairs Begin
The most common place for emotional affairs to begin is at the office with a co-worker. The two of you spend a lot of time together in a stressful environment-a situation that promotes bonding. You start talking about the boss or your project and it seems harmless. Eventually your conversations expand to include other topics such as movies, politics, the local sports team, etc. At this point, you feel fortunate to have someone at work that you enjoy seeing each day because it makes work more pleasant.
Then one day you are feeling stressed about something outside of work. Maybe there is an issue with your child or spouse, or maybe you are just feeling depressed and you don't know why. You want to talk with someone whom will listen, someone that knows you well and understands how you think. You want someone that will help you feel better.
Is the person you turn to your spouse, or your friend at work?
It is when you begin looking to fulfill your emotional needs with the person at work that you begin the process of emotional cheating. Your spouse is denied the opportunity to help you, to know how you are feeling. Over time, you may feel more removed from your spouse as you seek even more fulfillment from someone else.
Cheating on the Internet
Thanks to the Internet and chat rooms, emotional cheating is also easy to start online. Long hours spent in chat rooms is nearly as fulfilling as talking in person. For some people, the experience is even better because they feel safer opening up emotionally when there is no one else in the room. Even though the sexual tension element may be missing in an online chat relationship, the emotional fulfillment and secrecy elements can be as strong as an office affair.
Is an Emotional Affair Harmful?
Some people fail to see how an emotional affair is harmful to their marriage or relationship. Talking is not the same as sex, they will say, so what is the harm in opening up to someone outside of the relationship.
We all crave someone whom will love us unconditionally, who understands and supports us. We all seek, therefore, emotional intimacy with at least one person. This connection makes for a great marriage and sustains us more than sex or anything else. Without emotional intimacy, marriage or a committed relationship becomes little more than a friendship with benefits.
With talking, you are destroying the very thing that makes for a loving and lasting relationship - emotional intimacy. You'll be sharing your heart with someone that has not committed to a long term relationship with you, and sharing your body with the person that has. You will feel split between two people and unsatisfied with your relationship with both.
How to Fix the Problem
Often the need to find emotional happiness outside of your relationship starts with relationship neglect. It could be that with work and kids, the two of you just don't have enough time or energy to really connect with each other like you used to. To fix this, purposely make time for each other. Plan a date night or arrange for someone to take care of the kids and spend a weekend alone together.
If you are good friends with someone at work and feel guilty about it, have your spouse or partner meet your friend. Invite him or her over for dinner or meet at a restaurant. If your spouse knows about your friendship, you're less likely to slide into an emotional affair with your friend.
Finally, if you find it easier to open up emotionally when writing or typing, then ask your spouse to have a chat room conversation with you. It may seem silly at first, but if it will help fulfill your emotional needs with your partner, then it is worth a try.
If you do not feel as emotionally fulfilled by your partner as you once did, don't wait another day to begin fixing the problem. Make the time and effort to connect and fall in love all over again.