©iStockphoto.com/STEFANOLUNARDI Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/STEFANOLUNARDI
"The dangers of an emotional affair are that you'll lose your primary relationship, and then, when the new relationship cools off, you'll wind up wishing you still had the first relationship," says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka "Dr. Romance") psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media, 2008). "If there are children in your primary relationship, they will suffer. Even jobs can be wrecked by this type of infatuation." Not sure where you stand with someone at work or at the gym? Here are the telltale signs you're getting too involved:
1. You're confiding in someone other than your partner.
Having good friends to confide in is essential to your happiness, but if you're excluding your partner, and your main confidante is someone you have a crush on, then you're treading dangerous waters, warns Tessina. "If you're shutting your partner out, and going to someone else instead, you're asking for trouble and neglecting your primary relationship," she explains. "If something needs fixing between you and your partner, make an effort to fix it. Don't escape into fantasy."
2. You're "testing the waters" to see what another relationship might feel like.
No matter how unsure you feel about your primary relationship, developing an emotional relationship with someone who is not your partner or spouse won't solve anything in the long run. "This is not testing anything, except your marriage," affirms Tessina. She describes this type of "testing" as an empty fantasy, and warns that your real life (even if you did get together with this new person) won't compare to what's in your head.
3. Your spouse is no longer the person you share news with.
When something great happens (a promotion, a raise) we usually want to share the news with someone we love. If that person is no longer your spouse but someone you met elsewhere, you are likely having an emotional affair. One of the draws, explains Tessina, is that this other person doesn't owe you anything. He may be a good listener, but he has no responsibility or frustration toward you, so it's easy to talk to him. But, she asks, "Could this person step up to the plate for real if you really needed help or support?" Rather than jump into someone else's arms, if your marriage is lacking, fix that problem first. Consider talking to a therapist or couples' counsellor if you aren't able to make any headway on your own.
4. You spend a lot of time thinking about this person.
Daydreaming is something we all do, whether we're in line at the grocery store or on the treadmill. But it's not reality. "The person you're dreaming about may not even really care about you," Tessina warns. Instead, she advises putting that energy into connecting with your true partner, and doing the necessary work to improve communication and connection in your marriage.
5. You're planning an imaginary future with this person.
Do some of your daydreams involve planning a future with whomever you're emotionally involved with? If so, be careful how far you go into fantasy. "Pay attention to the fact that this is an imaginary scenario and not at all based in reality," Tessina says. "Work on fixing your real life instead. You can use these fantasies to understand what you're missing and work to develop it in the relationship you have," she explains.
6. You're bored and feeling unfulfilled.
Emotional affairs often occur when there's boredom or lack of fulfillment, coupled with an opportunity to work with or connect with someone in an ongoing way, such as in a church group, work, or class, explains Tessina. If you've been feeling a pull towards someone other than your spouse, think about what's happening in your life that might be causing you to look elsewhere. "Often people neglect their relationship and avoid fixing problems, which dampens communication and sexual energy," she says. "This makes an outside connection all the more attractive." Focus on keeping the emotional/sexual connection alive and outside relationships won't become problematic.
Put a positive spin on emotional attachment
Developing an emotional connection with someone new can turn out to be a positive, if you let it. "To make an emotional attraction positive for your marriage, be sensible about it, use it to enliven your life," advises Tessina. She suggests introducing your partner to this new friend, and socializing together. That way, you're letting your new friend know that your primary relationship is important to you.
If you feel like you're ready to move on from your primary relationship, make sure that leaving is really the best choice for you. "Take care of that before going further in the new relationship, or the breakup/divorce will haunt your new relationship forever," Tessina warns.
Rather than abandon your current situation by giving in to an emotional affair, ensure you've put in the effort to fix what isn't working in your marriage.
For more relationship advice, check out these 5 tips for apologizing to your partner.