One of the most important things to be aware of regarding infidelity is that sexual intimacy is not a necessary component of infidelity. And as marriage experts agree, emotional infidelity is in fact often the hardest type of infidelity to deal with and recover from.
In a sense, it’s only in recent years that emotional infidelity has received the attention it has.
Traditionally, non-sexual infidelities have been considered nothing to worry about, because “after all, nothing really happened”.
Today, the impact of emotional infidelity is not only taken seriously, but recognized as posing a greater threat to marriage than sexual infidelity.
What Exactly is Emotional Infidelity?
Emotional infidelity involves a close emotional but non-sexual relationship with someone outside of the marriage. The relationship can begin in any number of ways, at work, the gym or any other regularly visited location, or it may be an ongoing “friendship” from the past.
Although non-sexual and seemingly “innocent”, deeply-personal thoughts, feelings and concerns are discussed with a level of intimacy and trust ordinarily reserved exclusively for a spouse.
This is not to say that there are no sexual feelings. Sexual chemistry often develops along with emotional intimacy, but is not acted on. In fact it is often the case that both parties will keep sexual feelings entirely to themselves, even if they sense that they are mutual.
Because there is no sexual involvement, the parties involved in an emotional affair can assure themselves that they are not doing anything wrong, and in many cases do not even feel the need for secrecy. The other spouse may be well aware of the relationship, believing it is no more than a good friendship.
On the other hand, the parties may betray an awareness that the relationship is wrong by not mentioning meetings in coffee shops, and so forth.
What Makes Emotional Infidelity Wrong?
Given the non-sexual nature of emotional infidelity, it can be difficult to understand in what way it is wrong, and how exactly it can pose a threat to a marriage.
The fact is that all types of infidelity represent a betrayal of the trust that underpins a relationship. Trust reflects shared understandings and beliefs that define the nature of the relationship and make it special.
For instance, one of the ways in which trust defines a relationship as “special” is that it is the only relationship in which there is sexual intimacy – and both partners trust that this is the case.
On the emotional front there is a similar expectation and belief – that no other relationship provides the same level of emotional intimacy.
In other words, each partner believes that no one else has the same access to their spouse’s most intimate and personal thoughts and feelings as they do. This belief – that a unique emotional connection exists which could not exist with someone else – is the area of trust most closely related to “love”. It is what allows each partner to feel that they are the most important person in the other person’s life which in turn brings a sense of security and fulfillment to the marriage.
When there is emotional infidelity – when a spouse shares their deepest thoughts and feelings with someone outside of the marriage – this is no longer the case. The betrayed spouse is no longer able to believe that they are the person most loved and most needed by their spouse.
The Impact of Emotional Infidelity on a Marriage
While there is no doubt that sexual infidelity hits hard, emotional infidelity triggers a more extensive set of reactions that can (and often do) cause more damage to a marriage.
When someone no longer trusts that are they the most important person in their spouse’s heart, it is difficult to trust on any level. As a result, a betrayed spouse will begin to withdraw all trust-based privileges, including access to their inner emotional world. When there is a loss of emotional intimacy, a loss of sexual intimacy usually follows.
This process can take a long time. Often, the betrayed spouse spends a long time trying to convince themselves that they are being unreasonable – that there is nothing to worry about. However, the attempt is usually unsuccessful and in the meantime, numerous feelings build up that eventually reach boiling point.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy for the offending spouse to dismiss these feelings as irrational jealously. This makes it impossible to raise the issue again, the emotional affair continues – and so does the damage to the marriage.
Repairing this damage is difficult. There is little or no communication, one spouse feels that they have not done something wrong, and the other spouse is at a loss to explain how they feel in a way that cannot be dismissed as jealousy.
However, it is not impossible. For instance, marriage counselors overcome these by having the expertise to define and explain the impact of emotional fidelity on a marriage, so that it is taken seriously, enabling the spouses to begin communicating and healing the damage done to the mutual trust that is the foundation of love.
An original article on Emotional Infidelity by Caroline Mackenzie,
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Filed under: Infidelity Advice