From most people’s perspective, it would seem like Marv and Wendy had an okay marriage. They had been married for over 30 years, they loved their grandchildren, and they attended church regularly. But over the years, especially after their children left home, they slowly grew apart. As Wendy grew distant, Marv spent more time at work. He began focusing on his co-worker Jayna, spending more and more time with her, confiding in her, taking up her battles for her, sharing lunches alone together, and consistently seeming enamored with her. Although nothing physical ever happened, it soon became obvious to those close to Marv that he was giving Jayna the emotional investment that should have been reserved only for his wife Wendy.
It used to be that the only definition for infidelity was sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse. Everything else was “harmless flirting.” So long as “nothing happened,” there were no grounds for concern. But are their other types of infidelity other than physical infidelity? The concept of emotional infidelity is getting more and more attention. While emotional infidelity doesn’t involve physical sexual contact, it does constitute taking the emotional energy and relationship investment that rightfully belongs only to your spouse and giving it to another. Obviously, not all forms of infidelity carry the same level of consequences, but any infidelity creates a wedge in your marriage. Emotional infidelity might never lead to physical infidelity, but it is still a breaking of trust with your spouse, even if your spouse never finds out. It is shrouded in secrecy and deception, and it is a huge stepping stone toward hardening your heart against your marriage covenant. Maybe that’s why Jesus said looking at another lustfully is still committing adultery, even if you never touch the other person. (Matthew 5:27-28)
There are several red flags to warn you if you are headed toward emotional infidelity.
- First, emotional infidelity, just like physical infidelity, is normally wrapped in secrecy. Do you have Facebook friends, maybe an old boyfriend or girlfriend that you don’t want your spouse to know about? Are you evasive in talking about a co-worker of the opposite sex when your spouse asks you about your day? Do you have secret email accounts, or arrange secret meetings to stay in contact with someone you don’t want your spouse to find out about? Deception and emotional infidelity go hand-in-hand.
- Second, do you have an ongoing sexual chemistry with someone other than your spouse? Do you get a “tingling in the toes” sensation, or feel compelled to come across as impressive when that person is present? Do you flirt covertly or overtly?
- Third, do you find yourself comparing your spouse unfavorably to another person? “If only my wife understood me as well as Jayna does.” “I wish my husband would notice that I’ve been working out like Marv does.”
If you notice any of these signs happening on a consistent basis, it is time to seriously evaluate your extra-marital relationship.
How do you end an emotional affair and get back on the right track?
- Begin by admitting to your spouse that you are attracted to someone else. While that might seem like an extreme measure, you absolutely have to dispel the power of secrecy and deception. Otherwise, there will always be a temptation to rationalize or minimize the relationship and to even return to it.
- Next, you must sever the relationship. Cut off communication. Change your daily routines. In extreme cases you might even have to find another job or another church or wherever you come in contact with the other person. If contact cannot be totally eliminated, work with your spouse to put measures in place to insure that interactions are limited and public.
- Then, put accountability measures in place. Give your spouse access to all your social media sights and online communications. Call and check in as needed to give reassurance to your spouse. If you have a trusted friend or co-worker of the same gender, give him/her permission to be brutally honest with you if he/she sees you slipping back into flirtatious and inappropriate behavior.
- And finally, make God a part of the solution. God has promised that he is not going to let you be tempted beyond what you can withstand, but you bear responsibility in doing what you can to keep a relationship from getting to or remaining at inappropriate levels. Pray with your spouse and ask God to lead you away from the temptation.
If you eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off. Yes, it will be painful, inconvenient, and even humiliating, but the end result will be a far, far better thing than if you continue as you are. (Paraphrase of Matthew 5:29-30) Ending an emotional affair can be painful for a marriage, but to let it continue will be far, far worse.