Most people only acknowledge the pain caused by an affair thinking about the sexual encounter. Some professionals agree that emotional affairs can be as much or more damaging than a sexual one. Donna White, LPC wrote two posts in PsychCentral on how to identify if you are having an emotional affair and some suggestions on how to end one.
The key factor that was identified at fault for these emotional affairs was the ease and accessibility of the internet and social media. Most affairs may begin as simple contacts, an acquaintance and then a friendship. The line between a friendship and an emotional affair is thin and then it could lead to a sexual encounter.
Here are the signs Ms. White noted for an emotional affair (v.s. a friendship). What to look for and evaluate self on:
- “Contact outside of “friendly” hours. Most friends don’t text at 2am.”
- “You talk about the difficulties in your current relationship. If you find yourself sharing all of your problems and concerns with this “special person”, you may be crossing the line.”
- “He/she dominates your thoughts. You think about him/her when you wake up, when you fall asleep, and mostly anytime in between. It’s important to remember that most affairs don’t start off in the bedroom, they start in the mind.”
- “He/she becomes the first person you call. You get some exciting news or you’ve had an awful day.”
- “He/she “gets” you. You’re treading on thin ice when you start to feel like he/she understands better than your partner. This usually leads to increased communication with him/her and less communication with your partner.”
- “Spending more time with him/her. If you find yourself finding excuses or creating more reasons to spend time with him/her, this may be a sign” it can be spending more time texting, emailing, or video chatting.
- “You start comparing your partner to him/her. Do you ever find yourself talking to your partner and you think to yourself, “he/she wouldn’t respond like this” or “he/she would be more attentive?” Are you often out with your partner and think, “if I were with him/her, I’d be having more fun?”
- “You lie. Yes, lying by omission counts. So whether you leave out meeting him/her for lunch, deleting messages from your phone, or you just deny communicating with him/her at all – a lie is a lie. If you have to lie, chances are you have something to hide; and if you have something to hide, chances are you know it’s not okay.”
The second part of the post is about ways to end the emotional affair. Donna White, LPC recommends to:
- “Think it over. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? If you’re looking to end an emotional affair, it’s likely you’ve already identified that the risks outweigh the benefits. Ask yourself some tough questions. What do you stand to lose? How may your actions affect others? Only the person actually involved in the affair can answer these questions.”
- “Identify the reason the affair began. I think identifying why the affair began is important. Did you seek out the other person? Were you looking for something that was missing in your relationship? Was it a friendship that turned into something more? Were you looking for excitement or a change? Once you are able to identify why the affair began, it is easier to begin the work that will help you move forward.”
- “Take responsibility. While you may not have started with the intentions of having an emotional affair, it is important to take responsibility for how it got there and your part in allowing it to continue. By taking responsibility, some choose to admit their affairs. I suggest doing this with caution. You may wish to have a third party, such as a counselor involved. If you choose to come clean, make sure you are doing so in a safe environment.”
- “Let go of the person you are involved with. This sounds obvious and simple, but can be quite complicated. If you are truly looking to end an emotional affair, it is best to stop all communication. Some people prefer some type of closure. Whether it’s one last meeting, conversation, or an old school letter/email; if you prefer closure, it’s best to say what you need to say and walk away.”
- “Know that letting go will be difficult. Remember, emotional affairs can be very intimate and it is likely that you are very attached to person you are involved with. You may initially go back and forth with your decision. Once your decision is final, you may even experience feelings of grief and loss. Understand that these feelings are normal and don’t be afraid to talk about them with someone you feel you can trust.”
However, always seek professional help. This can be a devastating experience to marriages and families. Trained Marriage and Family Therapist can help the individual or the couple recover and repair.
Read both articles: Donna M. White, LPC/I, CACI