For the record: I am not having an emotional affair. I need to articulate that very clearly because it gets a little uncomfortable when visiting my in-laws and they ask me what I’m writing about these days.
“Emotional affairs,” I say.
I really did not set out to become an emotional affair expert. I did not major in “Infidelity Studies” at college. I wrote my first article on this topic three years ago because I noticed a very clear pattern in the mail I received from my readers. Over and over again I would read about a kind of romantic relationship outside of marriage that kept a person stuck in depression or anxiety. Countless readers were investing themselves into uncommitted relationships with the opposite sex expecting to get their needs met when no promises or expectations had been laid down. It was like seeing the same train wreck time after time. Lots of hearts broken.
The more I have read and studied this topic—and the more emails and comments I read on my posts—the more I view these emotional affairs like termites, gradually and delicately spinning a web around a person’s depression and/or anxiety so she becomes trapped in the painful stuff. They inhibit recovery. I’m convinced of that. And with the popularity of this subject, I’m convinced that most people in America must be having one … without any recognition as to what’s really going on. Unlike a physical affair, which is obvious to identify, emotional affairs are subtle, elusive, individualized. Psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman, author of “Emotional Infidelity” defined emotional affairs this way in a recent Redbook magazine article:
An emotional affair happens when you put the bulk of your emotions into the hands of somebody outside your marriage…. We only have so much emotional energy; the more of it we spend outside our marriage, the less we have inside our marriage. And after awhile, we simply do not have enough emotions and love and caring and time for both.
That’s the most succinct, accurate definition I’ve come across in my studies as an “emotional affair expert.” Also helpful are these ten red flags by Jeff Herring, a marriage and family therapist and an internationally syndicated relationship columnist (Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services):
1) Thinking or saying, “We’re just friends” — “But we’re just friends” are four of the most dangerous words for a relationship. These words are usually said to rationalize something you know is wrong.
2) Thinking and daydreaming about the person more and more often — This should be a loud, screaming clue. Do you think and daydream about your regular friends in this way?
3) Looking forward to the next time you can see and/or talk to the person — If you feel excitement and anticipation, a quickening of your pulse, as you get ready to see this person, watch out.
4) Wanting to tell them first when something happens in your day — This means that this person has become your primary emotional confidant.
5) Sharing intimate emotions — This flows naturally from this person being your primary emotional confidant.