Let's say you've been married awhile, maybe two years, maybe ten, when someone else catches your eye. Maybe it's a guy from Accounting who you never noticed until you were assigned to work together on a big company project. Soon you're working late or going out for lunch, which may or may not involve a teeny bit of wine, confiding in each other about the problems not only on the project, but in your personal lives as well. You start spending more than 30 minutes getting dressed each morning and the kicker comes when you hang up with your husband because Mr. Dreamboat is on line one.
You tell yourself you haven't crossed the line physically, so it's not cheating.
Or is it?
I'm a mid-40s woman who's been married more years than I have fingers to count on. But I'm married, not dead, and I still want to know I look good. Why else would I perpetually diet and sweat like I'm having a heart attack on most days of the week? And yet, Darling Husband, like most, is not always the most sensitive (gasp), tuned-in (gasp again) man on the planet. So it's nice to get whistled at on the street or have a stranger stare as I walk by. But beyond that? Not a chance.
The indicators of an emotional affair, according to clinical psychologist Shirley Glass, are sexual chemistry and secrecy. It begins when you start sharing information with that person that you really should be sharing with your spouse. You're not stupid. It's easy to know when you've crossed the line or are tap dancing on it. The hard part is admitting you're on that slippery slope.
Knowing the hallmarks of an emotional affair might be easier than answering why they happen. I think, in the simplest of definitions, life gets in the way. Kids, job stress, house renovations, arguments about the house renovations, boredom ... all can make us vulnerable to emotional infidelity. You've dated the same man, married him, had kids and perhaps now the sheets are not necessarily steaming anymore. Does telling someone outside your relationship, whom you happen to be attracted to, make that better? I highly doubt it.
I mentioned slippery slope earlier and it's exactly what Gary Neuman talks about in his book, Emotional Infidelity. The reason it's dangerous, according to Neuman, is because "Once you have an emotional infidelity, it can make the jump to someone else's bed a whole lot closer." And doesn't that make sense? You start sharing the frustrations of your current and primary relationship with a third party, they lend a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, and who knows where that may lead.
So how do we safeguard against emotional affairs? Again, ideas from the book Emotional Infidelity, though you might think them a bit extreme. Neuman suggests finding polite ways of ending personal conversations, not sharing personal feelings, not meeting outside the office. Does that mean if I have a death in the family, I can't share with that person? While I won't go that far, I must admit some of his tips make sense, like being unflinchingly honest with yourself. When you think about that person, do those stupid butterflies start jumping around in your stomach? Do you dress in the morning with him in mind? Hm... Time to, in the words of Dr. Phil, "Get real."
What do you do if you're already in an emotional affair? That depends on what you want out of your current relationship. If you're looking for a way out, someone who can and will "help you" by highlighting the flaws in your current relationship, thereby providing you a parachute, go ahead, flirt away. But if you want to stay and are just looking for a little excitement to spice up what you already have, take up skydiving and try it with your partner. Be, as Neuman says, unflinchingly honest about your current relationship and try to understand why you were so willing to get emotionally naked with someone else.
For me and Darling Husband, we have built a life together and it's a good one. It is not perfect and we sometimes are not as close to one another as perhaps we should be. But we share good times and bad, exciting and not so thrilling. We have children who need us and, truth be told, we need each other. That's way too much to gamble on a good time, emotional or otherwise.
René Syler has most recently been an anchor of CBS News's The Early Show. During that time she interviewed countless leaders and celebrities, including First Lady Laura Bush and Senator John McCain.
Syler is an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists and received the 2004 Gracie Allen Award for Individual Achievement in the National Best Anchor category for her series on breast cancer.
Syler is married to Buff Parham, with whom she has two children.
Visit René Syler's website here.