The cornerstone of a successful intimate relationship is trust -- and betrayal can capsize a couple's sense of safety and security in no time. The media tends to portray betrayals as physical affairs but an emotional affair can have the same damaging impact on a romantic relationship.
If you are questioning whether you are enmeshed in an emotional affair, it's important to define what they are. First and foremost, an emotional affair is characterized by an intimate connection with someone who isn't your partner but the person takes on many of the functions of a significant other. For instance, you might spend a lot of time with him or her, find yourself confiding in them; and you look to them for solace and support.
It's key to acknowledge that in order for a relationship to qualify as an emotional affair, it usually involves a deep connection that is more than a friendship and has sexual chemistry. Most emotional affairs involve secrecy from your partner. For instance, if you find yourself not being completely honest about how much time you spend with this person, and the closeness of your bond, you are probably entangled in an emotional affair.
Many people embroiled in emotional affairs attest to the obsessive quality about them. For instance, they might find themselves having frequent sexual fantasies about him or her; or, waking up in the morning thinking about the person. Another red flag of an emotional affair is frequent text messaging or sharing private details about your intimate life with your partner with the other person.
At some point, your actual partner may seem dull or compare unfavorably to the other person and you might run the risk of seeing your partner in a negative light, or becoming easily frustrated with them. If your relationship with your partner isn't a priority, you might find yourself slipping into the trap of seeking solace and intimacy with another person.
For instance, Caitlin felt unhappy and disillusioned with her marriage and had formed a close relationship with Kyle, a male co-worker. They often ate lunch together and she kept this relationship a secret from her husband Tyler. At times, she would confide in Kyle and fantasize about having sex with him. She explains: "I don't really see a reason to tell Tyler because we just eat lunch and we're not having sex. I feel guilty about my closeness to Kyle but don't want to tell Tyler about our relationship because he's jealous and possessive."
After I explored the reasons why an emotional affair can be a form of betrayal with Caitlin, we discussed how mistrust erodes the quality of an intimate relationship or marriage. She soon realized that keeping vital information secret from Tyler wasn't a way to build trust and intimacy with him and that keeping secrets was a way of self-sabotaging because she loves Tyler and wants to stay married. Clearly, her emotional affair with Kyle was driving a wedge between Caitlin and her husband.
Like Caitlin, many people engage in emotional affairs because they're convinced it's okay to find love and intimacy with someone other than their partner as long as it's not sexual. Or they believe their significant other simply can't handle the truth and might abandon them.
While it's true that some partners will feel angry, hurt, and betrayed when they learn their love interest has done something unacceptable to them, honestly confronting issues is the best way to foster trust and intimacy with a partner.
6 tips for rebuilding love with your partner after an emotional affair:
1. You must put an end to your emotional affair. Stop spending time with the person who you're having an emotional affair with. This may be a challenge if you work together or travel in the same circles but it's a crucial step. In order to rebuild love with your partner you need to focus on restoring love, trust, and intimacy with him or her. This is impossible if you have one foot out the door.
2. You must tell the person who you're having an emotional affair with that it has to end. If you need do so in person that's okay as long as you keep it short and don't offer false hope about the possibility of resuming your connection.
3. You must tell your partner about this relationship and your intention to stop seeing the person who you're having an emotional affair with. Now is not the time to be coy -- it's best to be completely vulnerable and tell the whole truth, including any reasons why you pursued the emotional affair such as loneliness or unmet emotional needs.
4. Work on fulfilling any emotional needs that were being satisfied with the person you were having the emotional affair with. Take an inventory of all of the things you like about him or her so that you can work on filling these needs elsewhere -- either with a close friend or your significant other. These qualities might include good listener, fun loving, or understanding.
5. Foster admiration and friendship with your partner. There is recent evidence that happy, lasting relationships rely on a lot more than a marriage certificate and that the secret ingredient is friendship. Look for qualities you admire in your partner and remind yourself of these admirable qualities regularly.
6. Adopt a mindset that great relationships are formed not found: This means they require a lot of effort and an intention to pay attention to your partners needs. Dr. John Gottman recommends that couples practice "turning towards" one another rather than away when they are having communication difficulties.
Truth be told, engaging in an emotional affair can put your intimate relationship or marriage in jeopardy. Research shows that most marriages don't survive big betrayals or even a series of smaller ones. Experts agree that finding healthy ways to be vulnerable, express your thoughts and feelings, and being honest with your partner, are the best ways to build a trusting relationship. Vulnerability is the glue that holds a relationship together over time.