- Gender and Relationships
Having an Emotional Affair? Is it really cheating?
Caught in the Act...So to Speak
You hear it all the time, someone is splitting up because of a text message found, or an email discovered or even a voicemail message heard. Often times, you'll hear the accused partner claiming it was all a big misunderstanding, and that no cheating has taken place.
In some cases the claim of innocence is an outright lie. In other cases the accused "cheater" actually believes what they are saying because no physical sexual encounters ever happened outside of the relationship. Does that mean they didn't cheat? Before deciding, there are a few considerations.
If you or someone you love are in this situation, read on for some insight and tips.
*While cheating occurs in unmarried, as well as married relationships, for the purpose of this article I'll use the term "spouse."
How Does it happen? The "Cheater's" Perpective
It all started out innocently enough. First it was just a few words here and there, maybe even as part of a work group or online community. You found you had something in common and then more words were exchanged. This led to longer conversations, often continuing even after everyone else left. You started finding even more reasons to talk because it was really enjoyable all those other times.
Maybe you felt more understood by this other person than by your spouse. You got excited at the prospect of another conversation. You found yourself thinking of this person throughout your day. You like how they don't seem to be judging you or placing demands on you. They make you feel good, and you find yourself confessing and sharing things with them that you used to only tell your significant other. You start to feel closer to this other person and more distance between you and your spouse.
Before you know it, one of you tests the boundaries (which you hadn't even noticed were collapsing) and the flirting begins. It started with a compliment. Your body and mind reacted in a way you hadn't felt for quite a while. Then came the wishful thinking. What if? It was new, it was exciting. It was your secret. Until it wasn't...
What is Cheating?
Some would argue that cheating has to involve the sexual consumation of a relationship outside what was a monogamous relationship. But by definition, cheating is the act of deception.
If your spouse was unaware of the nature of your interactions with this other person, think of why you have kept it a secret. Would you have said some of the things you did in the company of your spouse? Why not? More than likely it was because you knew they wouldn't like it and would be hurt by it.
If you have taken something from your monogamous relationship and given it to another person outside of that relationship, you are cheating your monogamous partner. You are deceiving them in the understood belief that you are giving them all that you have to make the relationship work, when you are in fact taking the best part of yourself and giving it to someone else.
What is the Appeal of the Other Person?
Whenever someone goes outside of their monogamous relationship, it's done with the unrealistic fantasy that things would be better in that other relationship. The appeal is that you think you aren't being judged; there are no demands; and they take you as you are. Add to that the excitement of beginning something new and forbidden, and it's easy to see how some people get caught up in this.
But think about it. Is that really the truth? Does this other person really know who you are? Have they ever seen you at your worst? Would they put up with your most annoying habits or behaviors? Would they really be any different in their expectations of you if you shared a life together? Would they really be any less demanding if your actions directly affected their well-being?
As for the excitement; that initial rush of hormones happens at the beginning of any new relationship. And eventually, just as with your first one, it would change. The whole purpose of those initial hormones are for attracting a mate long enough to get to know them, and then after a length of time, they change to other hormones more condusive to having a meaningful, longterm relationship.
The fact is that a relationship is all about give and take. There will always be certain needs and expectations to be met in every kind of relationship. There will always be times of disagreement and even times where communication can break down. There will always be challenges to overcome. There will always be good and bad.
How to Come Back From This
Assuming your spouse wants to forgive you and is willing to work on things and move on, then there are things you can do to come back from an emotional affair. Some of those things won't be easy, but every one of them is necessary and totally worth it.
Get That Other Person Out of Your Life
No more phone calls, no more texts, no more emails. If you work with this person, try to find ways to limit your contact as much as possible. Ideally you should have no contact at all, but sometimes that's not always possible.
If any, the only explanation needed is that you remembered you are married (or otherwise in a committed relationship) and you aren't going to cheat on your spouse. No other explanation is necessary. Then make sure you follow through on that.
Be Totally Transparent
You made a mistake. You lost trust. You now have to work to gain that trust back. This means being totally transparent. You don't get to argue that if they forgive you they should trust you. Of course they shouldn't, not yet anyway. You haven't proven yourself to be trustworthy. No more password protected email, voicemail or phones. You are now an open book.
How long do you have to do this? Until.
Don't Let it Happen Again
- Share your thoughts and feelings with your spouse.
- Don't have personal conversations about your spouse and your relationship with anyone other than your spouse or a therapist.
- Don't say anything to another person that you wouldn't say in front of your spouse.
- Don't hide anything or be deceptive with your partner (a lie by omission is still a lie).
- Work on your relationship with your spouse and make sure you're making quality time together.
- Seek counseling if you're not being successful in strengthening your relationship between the two of you.
- If ever tempted to have an affair, remember the wisdom that if they'll do it with you, they'll do it to you.
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