Thursday, December 4, 2008


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.


Emsk said...

Having been the Other Woman in an emotional affair recently, I can attest that it's a very painful situation to be in. And one that usually contains a lot of dishonesty. You may remember me mentioning the one I had in reply to one of your posts this summer.

Of course, two friends can have strong feelings for each other, but what marked this case as an amotional affair was that this (Japanese) guy didn't mention his girlfriend until she was landing on his doorstep, and after we'd spent a lot of time together having the intense flirtatious conversations. Plus he got very embarrassed when a French friend remarked that he'd be "in trouble" if a certain person saw a photo of the two of us togther (he deleted it!). If it had been innocent he could've told his girlfriend that I was simply a good friend, leaving her to deal with being jealous or not; but he knew he couldn't say so in all honesty.

I certainly didn't welcome this relationship - at least not in the way it worked out - and would've been far happier if he'd mentioned his girlfriend from the beginning as he told me he'd known he should've told me, thus indicating that he'd understood the situation between us. (And he was pissed off I hadn't told him I'd been married many years ago!)

I totally agree that once something is out in the open, friendships are acceptable to your significant other. Plus it's then easy to have a proper friendship with someone you might otherwise have dated because they know the score and can perhaps think, "Hmmm, I really like him/her, but he/she's spoken for - but I do really value him/her as a friend."

This guy wanted to stay in touch with me, but I'm afraid the only feeling I was left with was that any continuation of it would've been pointless and potentially hurtful to both his girlfriend and myself.

Hmmm, sorry. Didn't mean to bang on so much about this old news. You can no doubt see how pissed off I was.

Orchid64 said...

Now that you mention it, I do remember your making a comment about this before. I think that that guy was leading you on. I think your experience shows that a lot of affairs of any sort may start off with the "other man/woman" not knowing that they're being pulled into the role of the "other". I wonder how many people who assist a committed person in cheating don't know that they're doing so, at least initially.

The CH has discussed this with students on multiple occasions and they don't see such relationships as "cheating" unless it becomes physical. Given the way many marriages are conducted in Japan, this doesn't surprise me that their view would be such.

Thanks for commenting. It's always great to hear from you!

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

I agree with you that it's once you're hiding a relationship of an emotional or physical sorts that you've entered into unfaithful territory.

There comes times in lives that you may meet another person that you fall in love with, but it's once you pursue that relationship (whether it be via regular contact - email etc, or physically) that you've crossed a line.

1tess said...

Your posts are always thought provoking. The concept of an emotional affair can have some variations as phantom lovers.

I'm thinking of my father who foolishly thought my mother was having an affair when she'd just found a lot of married women friends. Or my daughter whose "boyfriend" continues to tell her love stuff but is more committed to his schooling and work plans.! Or my husband who has been working in Florida for 7 weeks. I just spent the last 2 weeks with him in Florida, but he told me this is difficult (yes, I hate it), and there are "opportunities" that he avoids because he loves me. The bad news is that he's now going to Virginia for 2 or 3 more weeks. I totally trust my husband, but just thinking about affairs is making me want to be with him again. I really hated leaving Florida a few days ago. Maybe I should go to Norfolk. It won't have palm trees, but he'll be there tomorrow. It's ridiculous to be apart so much.

Kelly said...

I'm glad you brought this up. I've seen alot of this happening recently but it's not actually really recognised officially as an "emotional affair", or not yet.

I've told my husband that if he falls in love with someone else, or he gets over me, that he should be upfront with me and spare me alot of hurt. I trust him thoroughly and i know we both are true to each other 100% now, but in the future if things should fall apart for him, i want to know.

I can't say i wouldn't kill him for it, or try to sort it out though.

A couple of years into our marriage we hit a really rough patch and were constantly fighting. Yasu mentioned divorce alot because we just couldn't see eye to eye. I finally got some self-help books by dr phil and also the men are from mars series books because he wouldn't go to a relationship counsellor. Reading those books i found that i was doing all the wrong things, and if ound out about the reason why he did what he did and said what he said. The books gave me info on how to resurrect my marriage.

I did a lot of learning during that time, and now nearly 6 years of marriage later, we are both pretty harmonious together, and rarely fight. I'm glad i stuck it out with my marriage instead of chucking it away because we had some problems.

I think it's all too common these days when couples fight they throw in the towel too easily and end up getting divorced. Marriage takes some work sometimes and you have to stick at it.

But i'm getting off the topic here. I think an emotional affair is just as valid as a physical affair, but wouldn't it be easier to mend than a physical affair? If you haven't yet slept with the other person or made physical contact, it would be easier to shut off the romance.

Orchid64 said...

Kelly: I think all couples go through phases where they fight a lot, especially at the start of their relationship. There were some early years where the CH and I would fight nearly every day over some stupid thing or another. Nowadays (20 years on), we rarely fight at all. I think there's just a lot of stuff early on when you live together that has to be worked out and understood. I can say, however, that the word "divorce" has never been uttered by either of us when there has been an argument. It's just never even been a possibility for either of us.

I agree with you that many couples give up too easily, but I think it's a consequence of a variety of factors that aren't necessarily anyone's "fault". One is societal, but a bigger one is the quantity of people and our mobility. The possibility that you'll find someone else is increased greatly if there are a lot of people to access. Of course, some people really aren't meant to be together, and I think no one should remain in a marriage which does nothing but harm one or both parties.

As for your question about whether an emotional affair would be harder to let go of than a physical one, it's an interesting question. In some ways, I think an emotional one would be harder to let go of because emotional needs are harder to leave unfulfilled than physical ones. Emotional needs are constant, but physical ones tend to be cyclical. Of course, if it's an emotional relationship that becomes physical, it's going to be difficult. Since I've never had an affair of any sort, it's hard for me to say, but the comments on iVillage would seem to indicate that you're right. Women who have had physical affairs have a terrible time ending them.

Thanks for your comment!