Sometimes I read bulletin boards devoted to the interests of women. One group of such boards is located at iVillage. The topics of greatest interest to me are the ones that deal with relationships. Lately, I've been looking into a topic that the CH and I have discussed between ourselves as well as with students. That topic is "emotional affairs."
For the rare reader (of course, all of my readers are pretty "rare" in that there aren't that many of them) who doesn't know what an emotional affair is, it's when two people are in love, but do not physically consummate their relationship with illicit sexual congress. With the potential to contact strangers from every hemisphere on the globe as well as friends and acquaintances from down the block through Internet-based methods, more people are probably having emotional affairs than ever before.
Most of the time, these relationships consist of people having intense conversations, flirtatious text exchanges, and sharing deep levels of emotional intimacy. Often, the depth of relationship is measured by information shared with the "other man/woman" that cannot be shared with one's spouse. The "other" extracts satisfaction from knowing they are chosen to share in secrets to which the spouse is denied access as well as the recipient of compliments and appealing innuendo.
On the message boards, people will ask if what they are doing is cheating because it is not physical or they ask if they are justified in their actions because their spouse is failing to fulfill a need. The latter is often the rationale for actual physical affairs. That is, if a person fails to meet the sexual needs of his or her partner, the deprived spouse justifies an affair by citing that failure as the motive for cheating.
My views of relationships in terms of how other people conduct them are pretty broad. My feeling is that all commitments have to be defined by those who are taking part in them. If people want to have "open marriages" where they are free to engage in sexual behavior with others, that's fine as long as they both freely embrace the idea and all latitudes are applied equally. I would say the same applies to emotional affairs or whatever else people want to do.
The only thing I think is out of bounds in any relationship, is hiding a relationship of any kind with a third party from your partner. If you hide it, then you are doing so because you know that you're operating outside of the concept of your commitment to the relationship that the two of you decided upon or that you both generally feel is the norm for your culture. One of the reasons why I have no problems with my husband's friendships with other women, including an ex-girlfriend whom he was once deeply in love with, is that no aspect is ever hidden from me. Of course, I also trust him completely, but that trust is confirmed and upheld by the transparency with which he conducts other relationships.
I believe cheating is the ultimate act of selfishness and cowardice. In all but a very few rare cases, people cheat in order to keep their cake nice and safe which having a snack on the side. If you're unhappy in your relationship, you have three choices. One is that you work on the aspects of your relationship that make you unhappy. Two is that you formally break up or divorce. Three is that you recognize the shortcomings of your relationship in meeting your needs and be upfront with your spouse about your need to go outside your shared concept of your commitment to one another and seek satisfaction. The third option is rarely exercised, but I believe that if you feel you have to grant yourself the latitude to have an affair (emotional or otherwise) to satisfy yourself, then you have to offer your spouse that same possible avenue of satisfaction. The main reason people don't pursue these options and decide to have secret affairs is that they're trying to selfishly have everything for themselves - faithful, supportive spouse and torrid affair with the other man/woman.
While I accept any sort of open relationship among other people, I couldn't accept such a thing myself because that isn't the sort of concept the CH and I share. We're both of the mind that mind, body, and soul are shared to the extent possible between us. However, our deep devotion and commitment to sharing as much as possible has been the driving force behind my being open-minded about how other people conduct their relationships. I realize that the intensity of our bond is unusual and odd compared to most people's relationships. In fact, I've been made aware on multiple occasions that our devotion is pretty freakishly intense. If we can be unconventional, then I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't say it was okay for other people have whatever arrangements suit them. However, I don't think many relationships are served favorably by deception, double standards, or lying.