Surviving Infidelity & Emotional Affairs
After the discovery of an infidelity emotions run high, accusations proliferate, and major crises occur and recur. While extramarital affairs are a major cause of divorce, most couples try to live with the situation, often leading to a cold and untrusting relationship. More than half of the couples who come to Marriage Quest for marriage counseling do so after an extramarital involvement.
Causes of Infidelity
An affair can happen in a good marriage as well as in a marriage with existing problems. The causes may include low self-esteem, lack of affection, an addiction to sex or romance, or a search for power. The infidelity may result in feelings of shame or it may exist without guilt.
Infidelity may also not involve a sexual relationship. It can be an emotional intimacy, deception, or flirtation. Emotional affairs can be just as insidious as sexual affairs and should be treated in much the same manner. The Internet can create intimacy problems within a marriage, even though the Internet correspondents may never meet face to face. “Internet sex” has become a growing concern for many families.
After the initial shock of discovering an affair the spouses often are depressed, as in any major trauma. Whether the injured spouse wants to know the details of the infidelity or not, there will be a continual search for signs of an ongoing betrayal. Professional help just makes good sense! In virtually all cases of infidelity communication is a problem and there is also a need for additional work such as:
- Understanding the foundation of your marriage and how that has influenced your relationship
- Building awareness of your emotional and sexual feelings by putting your emotional and sexual needs into words that make sense and feel right
- Addressing and then reducing self defeating behavior by building behavioral skills
- Learning and practicing skills associated with good parenting, teamwork, sound blended families, and dealing with challenging extended families. Using what research on marital satisfaction has taught us about changing marital interactions
- Confronting difficult lifestyle changes. Letting go of the past and being more in the present (here and now)
Israel and Cathie, the marriage therapists, work with the couple to address their needs by exploring the emotions of each. They work to learn the causes of the extramarital affair, and to establish rules for the future. Trust must be rebuilt gradually and by working together an opportunity exists for the partners to rebuild and actually strengthen the marriage.
Usually by the second day of our couples retreat it becomes obvious to all concerned how the rest of the time should be spent. Our commitment is to get to the truth in a loving and peaceful way. Finger pointing and blame is never very useful. Couples learn to take personal responsibility through effective communication exercises. Remember… affairs are often just a sign of a deeper underlying problem. If addressed appropriately, adultery can be the crisis that your marriage needs to change for the better.
Emotional Affairs are an issue that we see more and more. Like most relationships, they are complicated in nature and require looking at the big picture in order to understand them and make useful changes. Spouses engaged in these relationships are often reticent to stop them because they swear that “they are just friends” and it is not an affair. Again it is far from a black and white issue, so let’s explore the grey matter of emotional affairs.
As is the case in many normal marriages, couples often “divide and conquer” as a way of managing the many responsibilities that they encounter, such as work, school, kids, household projects, and chores, and the needs of each extended family. While most people know intellectually that marriages take time and work, emotionally they are distracted by “life” and their marriage as a priority falls behind and takes second place (or worse) on the priority list. Before you know it years can pass and spouses can feel estranged and lonely and begin to question their compatibility and happiness together. At any point during the process of “growing apart” a spouse is vulnerable to an emotional affair. In fact, they may be vulnerable to a sexual affair as well.
Some therapists talk about the need for 100% transparency in a marital relationship, such as any emails, texts, or telephone calls to people of the opposite sex, especially old lovers. In our approach we see transparency as honest disclosure regarding one’s emotional state rather than their social record. If a couple does the work that marriage requires they will learn how to be each other’s best friend and confidant. This is what is really missing… and what we teach as “affair prevention”.
Emotional affairs are marked by:
- keeping secrets from your spouse
- talking intimately with someone when you should be able to do that with your spouse
- primping yourself prior to seeing this person
- flirting with them; laughing more with them than your spouse
- feelings of guilt or resentment
- dreading going home to your spouse
- sexually fantasizing being with them
- thinking “If only I got along with my spouse as well as I do with…”
- trying to re-kindle relationships with old lovers or “prospects”
The good news is that if you suspect an emotional affair is happening this can be a sign that you truly care about your spouse and your marriage, that it is really important to you and that you should take it as a sign to work on your marriage.
We help couples to understand that what they see as an obstacle is actually a catalyst for deeper intimacy. Through skill building and the communication techniques we have couples practice they can actually change their marital culture to one of positive vulnerability and enriched intimacy. We show couples how fear can be transformed into positive action, and feeling numb can change into attraction and desire.
Couples on their retreat with us spend time in-between sessions doing “homework”, such as practicing positive communication skills, understanding feelings, and even sensual wellness exercises. Emotional foreplay is a skill that can be learned, and is much more important than just as a lead up to sex.
As is true with most marital crises, it is an opportunity to address the bigger picture and strengthen yourself and the marital bond. Learning to be a team again requires putting the marriage first. Couple-centered marriages are not threatened by other friendships. They have the magic of the “3 Ls”… love, lust, and like.
Couples who have the 3 Ls have the ability to have fun and enjoy being together; they feel desire and desirable. In these kind of relationships there is no room for an emotional affair. They take the excitement in the outside world and bring it back to their primacy relationship… the marriage.
What Do We Do?
Couples come to the Marriage Quest Intensive Retreat to get in touch with their deeper truth whether it is to rekindle and rescue their relationship, explore the decision of a separation, or to work towards a friendly divorce with the tools to make their next relationships more satisfying and be better co-parents. For most couples it is not too late to learn these skills. Learning these skills before an affair (emotional or physical/sexual) is even better. We call this “affair prevention”… and it works!