Emotional Affair: Have You Entered a Danger Zone?
By: Dr Richard Nicastro
You don't wake up one day and decide to have an affair. You're more likely to gradually enter into the arena of emotional infidelity—and many couples are surprised to discover that this slippery slope begins long before a physical affair is underway. Why is this? Someone starting an emotional affair often denies or minimizes the significance of what is happening ("It's just innocent flirting" or "We're just friends"). Denial allows the emotional affair to crest long before the implications of the affair are fully realized.
What is an emotional affair?
A sexual affair is easy to identify—you're either having sex with someone other than your spouse/partner, or you're not. An emotional affair isn't always that obvious. For instance, is offering emotional support to a coworker you find attractive crossing a line? Should you keep your distance from everyone you find charming? Is there such a thing as "innocent" flirting?
Don't allow these shades of grey to obscure the fact that there are clear warning signs that you are journeying down the treacherous path to an emotional affair. Often these signs have as much to do with your behavior as with your feelings for another person.
Let's turn our attention to these danger zones.
10 Emotional affair danger zones:
1. You go out of your way to repeatedly "run into" this person. We all look forward to seeing people we enjoy—a particular friend or interesting colleague, for instance. If you're honest with yourself, however, you'll know the difference between a truly coincidental meeting and a "coincidence" that occurs because you stood around the office coffee machine for two hours (and you don't even drink coffee).
2. You say things to this person that you wouldn’t if your spouse/partner was standing next to you. This is an important litmus test to determine if the relationship is starting to cross the emotional affair boundary line.
3. You begin confiding in this person. When you confide in someone, you create a more intimate relationship by sharing information about yourself that isn't shared with just anyone. When you take someone in your confidence, you've elevated the relationship to "special" status.
4. The relationship becomes charged with a secretive, forbidden energy. This creates an "us" dynamic that separates the relationship from all others—the relationship is designated as unique because of its secretive nature. This also imbues the relationship with excitement and an element of danger (in direct contrast to the ho-hum energy of your current relationship).
5. When the kindle of an emotional affair is sparked, you begin to anticipate time spent with this person. Looking forward to spending time with someone other than your spouse isn't inherently wrong or dangerous. But when the foundation of an emotional affair is being poured, this anticipation causes you to feel a longing and level of excitement that should only exist in your marriage.
6. You put on your "best face" to impress this person. When you begin to have feelings for another person, you go out of your way to be charming, funny, sympathetic… The best "you" begins to emerge and you deliberately act in ways to enhance your appeal. A side note: These changes usually mirror how you behaved when you first dated your spouse or partner.
7. You begin having problem-discussions with each other—in other words, you start to share your deepest struggles and intimate longings with this person. These conversations create a powerful no-one-else-understands-me-like-you-do bond.
8. S/he becomes the "go-to person" to share all important news with. While it is human nature to share the events of your life with the people most important to you, once you've entered the gateway of an emotional affair, your spouse/partner becomes less central in your emotional world as your give more of yourself to another person.
9. Before you know it, you can't help comparing the new person to your spouse/partner—and it should be no surprise that your partner fails to make the grade. In your mind's eye (and in the illusion of perfect love), all the differences that stand out for you indicate that this new person will be a superior mate and give you the happiness that has eluded you.
10. You begin lying to your spouse/partner. When your partner asks about your day, you omit any reference to this person (or you go out of your way to minimize his/her significance). This is a clear indication that you have something to hide and is often the first warning sign that an emotional affair is simmering.
If you see yourself entering several of the above emotional danger zones, it will be important to hit the pause button on this new relationship before it's too late. The allure of an emotional affair can create the illusion that perfect love exists and is right around the corner—that the only obstacle to real happiness is your current marriage or relationship.
Before you end up risking everything, take a few deep breaths. Then start to take stock of yourself and your marriage/relationship to see what is missing—becoming emotionally involved with someone else is often just another hurdle to the effort and work that committed relationships require.
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Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach with over fifteen years experience helping individuals and couples build stronger relationships.
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