Although this is the most obvious of the subtle affairs, an emotional affair can still be tough to spot—even when you’re the one involved.
Imagine this. A new, attractive coworker arrives on the scene, and the two of you instantly feel a connection. You share passions and goals. You start talking about your ideas and dreams. You laugh at inside jokes and text one another late into the night. You think about him or her often.
You’ve just begun an emotional affair.
But wait—aren’t the two of you just friends? There’s nothing wrong going on here—right?
Not so fast. Before you mistake this affair as a friendship, ask yourself one question: is this relationship draining energy from your marriage? If you’re sharing intimate details with this imaginary coworker, sending flirty messages, and allowing him or her to take up mental real estate meant for your partner, this is anything but innocent.
The bottom line is this—as you become more deeply emotionally invested in the relationship with your coworker, you’ll grow more emotionally distant from your spouse. You’re giving away what your partner should be getting.
And isn’t that the very definition of an affair?
1. Revenge Flirting
Anger is something that can creep up on you, pushing you into behavior you wouldn’t otherwise engage in. It can even lead to an affair.
Revenge flirting is a type of infidelity in which one partner tries to “get back” at the other by doing the most hurtful thing possible—giving his or her attention to someone else. It’s the ultimate insult, and for some people, this is a nearly automatic, learned behavior that arises when they’re unhappy in a relationship.
It’s surprisingly easy to convince yourself that this isn’t cheating, but revenge. After all, you may not feel anything toward the person you’re flirting with. They mean nothing to you, except to the extent you can use them to hurt your partner.
But make no mistake—this is an affair. You’re just reframing it as justice.
If this sounds familiar, it may be time to open your eyes and start directly engaging with your marital issues rather than going for revenge—the latter isn’t going to bring you happiness.
3. Financial Infidelity
Financial infidelity is a little different than other kinds of affairs in that there may or may not be another person involved.
This often begins when one financially-irresponsible spouse makes a purchase about which they feel a little guilty. They then hide that purchase. This opens the door to more purchases, and more hiding. Soon, this partner is hiding bills, creating secret savings accounts, and signing up for new credit cards.
Sometimes, this money is spent on another person in combination with, for example, an emotional affair. But no matter what, financial infidelity is still infidelity—just as you’d “spend” emotions on another person, you’re now spending your jointly-owned money on something or someone else.
You may not think much of this while you’re doing it, but this behavior can quickly destroy a marriage by obliterating trust. If this sounds like you, turn things around by coming clean about your spending before it’s too late.
4. The Imagined Life Affair
Have you ever been infatuated with someone from afar? Perhaps you imagined, at length, what your life would be like with that person? Perhaps these imaginings were detailed, taking up most of your idle moments throughout the day?
If you’re married, this is a type of affair, believe it or not.
Now, before you protest, think about this. When you have a real-life affair, you’re giving your time, energy, and love to another person, rather than to your spouse. This can result in emotional distance, fighting, and apathy, even before the affair is discovered. Your marriage suffers because of this.
When you entertain a rich fantasy life which revolves around another person, you’re doing the exact same thing, and your relationship will suffer in the exact same way. There may not be a physical person involved, but the emotions are the same.
This longing for a fantasy life stems from unmet needs, to take a moment to examine what you’re lacking. Talk to your spouse about these things—you may be surprised at how willing they’ll be to love you in just the ways you’ve been fantasizing about.
5.The Unhealthy Friendship
Even completely platonic friendships can become affairs when they stray into unhealthy territory. A husband, for example, might not consider his nightly outings with the guys as a type of affair, but if we take a look at the effects of this behavior, we can see that they’re very similar to what is traditionally thought of as infidelity.
We shouldn’t think of affairs in a purely romantic sense—think of them as anything that takes your emotional or physical attachment to your spouse and places it elsewhere. Although this form is certainly less painful than a romantic betrayal, it can destroy a marriage nonetheless.
Unexpectedly, an unhealthy friendship can also be more difficult to break off than an affair. Most people know an affair is wrong, and are willing to put a stop to it when they’re found out. This same person, though, may fight for an unhealthy friendship, believing that they are in the right—this can end a marriage.
Realize that your spouse comes first—he or she is the person to whom you’ve given your promise of love and attention. Friends and acquaintances are important, but if your spouse is suffering because you’re giving undue time or emotional energy to these people, it might just be time to open your eyes to the effects of your behavior.
6. The Double Life Affair
Finally, we have the biggest self-deception of all—the double life affair.
Dissociation is the way people disconnect from their thoughts and feelings in order to avoid pain, and is the key to this destructive form of infidelity. When someone suffers in a marriage rather than addressing issues, they can feel as if there’s no way out. And sometimes, like an overburdened pipe springing a high-pressure leak, dissociation can split a life in two.
When this happens, a miserable, trapped spouse might meet someone else, fall in love, and begin a full-fledged affair, all the while convincing themselves that everything is great. At home, they live one life, and while engaging in their affair, they can live another—the two are wholly separate, almost as if they are separate people.
In this state, because of the emotional disconnection, a spouse may not fully realize that what they’re doing is wrong. As difficult as this is to believe, it happens.
If you find yourself in this situation, you need to make a choice—choose one life, or the other. Remaining in both will only result in heartbreak for all involved.
Open Your Eyes
Do you recognize any of these behaviors in your own life? If so, it’s likely that you have a few unmet needs in your marriage. Rather than satisfying these emotional and physical needs elsewhere, take some time to craft a beautiful marriage that makes you happy.
You’ll have greater peace and a deeper sense of belonging, and you’ll avoid the heartache that always comes with infidelity.
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