10/08/2012 12:25 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2012

Emotional Affairs, Got One?

"It takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it." -- Unknown

The sharing of our innermost thoughts and emotional life is the height of intimate experience. This communion in our sacred home of the soul has been the ultimate goal of couples throughout time. Physical bodies intertwined without these deeper realms of connection are weak and superficial. This is why it is an essential component of relationship to bond "emotionally." Our spiritual and emotional lives -- this is the sustenance of relationship.

It often begins innocently, meeting someone through a mutual friend, a project at work or any of the countless encounters imaginable. It can even occur with someone you've known for years that is a trusted confidant, but as trust grows and the comfort greatens suddenly there is an attraction beyond what was expected and the lines of friendship blur. For some it is an instant attraction, being drawn to the other with fervency from their first encounter. It wasn't expected, but you have so much in common; they get you. It's been so long since you have felt this way. Or maybe it is the first experience of intimacy on this level. You begin sharing your dreams, life stories, innermost personal musings, relationship woes, daily life events, and suddenly you realize how attached you've become. You are checking your phone for missed calls or texts and missing the person before you have even hung up the phone. Sexually you are stirred in ways that have been dormant for far too long, and passion has returned to your life. It would be the height of ecstasy, except you are already in a relationship -- you are married.

You tell yourself it's all harmless because you haven't actually "done anything." You haven't been physical in the relationship, so what is the harm? But soon you begin to desire just that, the touch of this one who feeds your soul and understands you in a way others have not. You are now sharing yourself with the other in the most intimate ability humanly and spiritually possible. The energy manifests into the unspoken thoughts or the spoken words "I love you." You are in the throes of an emotional love affair.

How did it happen? Why did it happen? What do I do now? And what about the spouse that is unaware or often even aware of this affair of the heart? Can a relationship survive once such a deep wound has been created? Most couples dealing with the aftermath of an affair express sexual affairs not involving emotional attachments are easier to overcome than those which have involved the betrayal of emotions. After all, this intimacy and trust are the heart of relationship. Once trust is broken the results are often irrevocable. The betrayed spouse is left with the reality of having been deceived and lied to. It is expected that there will be a time in which a noticeable withdraw of the spouse involved in the emotional affair occurs. It is a hurtful realization that your spouse has withdrawn from you because their thoughts and energies are preoccupied with another.

Once you are aware that you have become emotionally attached to another, what should you do? We can lie to ourselves and demand we deserve to experience this relationship because we are not receiving from our spouse what this new love offers and satisfies within us. We can tell ourselves we aren't doing anything inappropriate because we have not (or had the opportunity) for the relationship to turn physical. And who knows, this may be my soul mate. In a world where stress is prominent and over half of all marriages end in divorce it is time to face facts, not only emotions.

Regardless of the reasoning of the how the encounter began, emotional affairs are not fair at all. Not to the parties involved who constantly battle the desires or the spouse/s that are left in the aftermath of knowing they were not enough, that they were betrayed, jeopardized and dismissed. What is it about her/him -- I thought we were happy? While obviously this was not the experience of the other the betrayed spouse must make important choices to maintain their integrity of self. Healthy relationships require trust and when trust is violated the results are devastating and long lasting.

Emotional affairs come in all variations, durations and intensity. It is up to each individual as to the willingness and ability to forgive. Validating that the emotional affair is just, and more so for many, as real and painful an experience as a physical affair is imperative for healing to acknowledge. Sexual infidelity does not require physical touch.

Marriage and individual counseling can aid the couple who choose to repair the relationship and work toward restoring trust, but all parties must now take responsibility. There are some difficult questions to be addressed. Is it time the marriage end or the affair? It is a selfish act to attempt to continue both relationships once the realization of the bond is apparent and it is foolish and dangerous to believe the two engaged in the emotional affair can return to "just being friends." The life altering ramifications encountered by the one with whom you are sharing this emotional affair must also be considered. You did not create this alone, and you are not suffering through the consequences alone.

So how do we proactively protect our relationships in the avoidance of such betrayal and suffering caused by emotional affairs? And what does it say about a marriage if this emotional relationship were able to grow so deeply? If there are children involved, you've encountered a new level of confusion and unfaithfulness. All of these questions and more need to be openly discussed with a trusted counselor. There is healing through the gift and grace of forgiveness. It can be an opportunity to create a new relationship with your partner. Used as an opportunity to discover the cracks that led to the path of the affair, there can be a journey of incredible growth even if the end result is not reconciliation.

To answer the question of how to protect a relationship proactively, the answer is always communication and priority. Maintaining a healthy relationship requires dedication to the commitment made and awareness of our partner's needs; this requires the willingness to be in the moment, open and willing to sacrifice the draw of what could be with another in honor of the commitment we have previously dedicated our lives to. Our partner deserves priority over other relationships, and if we are truly unhappy and unsatisfied to the point we know this is not our intent it is only just that we be honest with our spouse and make the needed decisions, as difficult as they may be.

This is not a blog on marriage counseling tips but of the awareness that the relationship you are building with that "friend" who is on your mind more and more holds the potential to profoundly affect your marriage and the lives of everyone connected to that marriage, including family and friends. It holds the power to change your life and relationship with your spouse indefinitely.

Before you make that next call or meet for that next drink, take the time to be honest with yourself for emotions, while not tangible as is flesh, are the foundation of true intimacy.

Originally published March 29, 2012 at

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