How to Tell if Your Friendship Has Become an Emotional Affair
First: Evaluating our Infidelity series
Our series on Infidelity wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. I hope you learned a lot and found it informative and inspiring. I was pleased that posts went out on social media — at least on my three main channels, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — every single day of the series for all six weeks. I was unpleased that I only published two blog posts during the entire campaign. For much of that time I was dealing with health concerns and was simply not able to invest the many hours that are required to post new blogs consistently. Though the daily stream of infidelity posts ended, I will continue to write new blog posts in the series, along with other things I want to cover.
Having said that, let us deal with the question of how you can know if that friendship you have drummed up with someone at work or on the internet has become an emotional affair. This post, like many others on the topic of infidelity, will contain material from the seminal book by Dr. Shirley Glass, Not “Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.
How to Tell if Your Friendship Has Become an Emotional Affair
When a new couple turns up for couples counseling, sometimes one of the first things we have to address is a disagreement between partners regarding whether one of them is in fact having an affair. However, this is not an opinion. Relationships are defined by exclusivity and each partner assumes it of the other, unless both partners have clearly communicated about wanting to pursue a non-exclusive relationship. Relationships, at least modern ones, are also characterized by mutuality, where both partners have equal say in what the arrangement between them will be, what is okay, what is not, etc. Finally, we know relationships only work well when both partners understand their main role as listening to and expressing empathy for the other’s feelings and point of view. When you put all three of these critical things together, you can see why it is not and cannot be simply of opinion — her view against his — as to whether an outside relationship has gone too far and moved into emotional affair territory.
Dr. Glass points out your friendship has become an an emotional affair if:
- You tell your friend more than you tell your partner about normal things like how your day went
- You discuss negative things and/or intimate details about your marriage with your friend and not with your partner
- You are not totally open with your partner about the extent of your connection with your friend
- You would not feel comfortable if your partner heard certain parts of your conversations with your friend
- You would not feel comfortable if your partner saw a video of you hanging out with your friend and talking to them
- Are aware of sexual tensions in the friendship, regardless of whether or not you plan to act out sexually with your friend
- You and your partner touch differently (longer, in more or more intimate places on the body, hold one another or parts of one another, etc.) private than you do in public.
- You are in love with your friend.
If none of these are the case, your friendship is probably nothing more than a friendship. If at least three are the case, something is probably going on — the friendship is heading toward more than friendship. If seven or eight are the case, you are in an emotional affair.
Walls and Windows
Again, this is not simply a matter of opinion, as all the items above are aspects of exclusivity and mutuality, which relationships are based on and defined by.
Dr. Glass speaks of “walls” and “windows,” where a wall keeps one person in a relationship separated from another, and a window is a state of openness or transparency between two people. You are involved in an emotional affair when you have set up walls between you and your partner (the person you’re in a relationship with who believes you are it in exclusively with them), and opened too many windows between you and your “friend.” In other words, you are sharing too much of yourself with your friend and not enough with your partner. The questions above are designed to help you determine if that is the case.
Having said this, allow me to belabor the point a bit, because it causes so many things in relationships to go wrong, even beyond the issue at hand.
One’s Word Against the Other’s
Whether one person’s friendship is inappropriate cannot become a simple “his/her opinion against hers/his” issue. Your relationship is in trouble if your partner is uncomfortable with any aspect of your friendship with another person and you do not respond with empathy and understanding. Even if your partner had trust/jealousy issues before you came into their life, the relationship will not move forward if you simply tell your jealous partner to “get over” their feelings about your outside friendship.
In fact neither of you can ever insist that your partner simply stop feeling something, as this will always erode trust between you. In every relationship, one may sometimes feel the other does not fully understand or has the “wrong” take on their opinion or perspective on an issue. But a relationship can never benefit from a demand from one partner that the other simply stop feeling a certain way.
Jealousy Math: Positive x Negative = Negative
Familiar with math at all? I’m really not, that’s why I became a counselor! But I do know this: a negative times a positive equals a negative. If your partner thinks your friendship is inappropriate (negative view) and you think it’s not (positive view), it’s inappropriate (negative times positive equals negative). There is no ground for you to stand on if you simply insist your partner is wrong or is overreacting and go on with the friendship as before. You are either a) continuing in a clearly unfaithful connection to someone else, or b) continuing a friendship that is hurtful to the person whose feelings, concerns, and personhood you promised to prioritize above all and everyone else.
I hope this post has helped you determine whether a friendship you may have is appropriate or inappropriate, or explain more clearly to your partner why you may not be comfortable with their outside friendship.
Postscript: Everything I have written in this post, and the vast majority of everything I write about couples, applies equally to both heterosexual and gay/lesbian couples.