All of us know that adultery -- sex outside the marriage -- is one of the gravest blows to a marriage as well as a painful rejection for one partner. But you don’t have to have sex with anyone else to be unfaithful. Emotional infidelity is just as -- and at times even more --destructive to your marriage. Couples I counsel are absolutely outraged when I tell them that they could well be committing emotional adultery when they flirt with coworkers, send around funny e-mails to colleagues, or hang out with members of the opposite sex at gatherings. But they are, and so probably are you.
You’re not going to want to hear this, but stopping this kind of relationship is the single most important thing you can do for your marriage. It’s not about where it may lead. It’s about where it has already gone, far from your focus on your marriage. Remember what it is you’ve always wanted from your marriage, and start considering the large, determined commitment that is absolutely necessary to creating a happy marriage.
What’s the harm in a man having a casual friendship with a woman when either is married? Or a married woman having a casual friendship with another man? Surely, every friendship doesn’t lead to an affair. Yet we forget the emotional harm of relating to someone outside the marriage when that same energy can be used to relate to our own spouse. Marriage is about relating to a member of the opposite sex with an intimacy felt with no other.
How Do You Know If You’re Being Unfaithful?
Consider your own personal relationships:
- When you hear a funny joke or good piece of gossip, do you first tell other colleagues? By the time you get home, have you chewed it all over so much at the office that you don’t feel like telling that joke again to your spouse?
- Do you discuss all of your work problems (or issues involving volunteer work or other important things you are involved in) so thoroughly with colleagues that you’re all talked out by the time you return home? Do you feel like it would take too long to review and explain the entire issue from scratch to your spouse?
- Do you go out alone to lunch or after work for drinks with members of the opposite sex?
- Do you enjoy harmless (by your definition) flirtation with someone of the opposite sex at a cocktail party?
- Do you believe that getting emotionally excited by flirting with someone of the opposite sex is helpful to your marriage? Do you think it helps educate you as to what you need more of from your spouse? Do you tell yourself that the juice you get from flirting brings more vitality to your marriage?
- Do you spend as long buying the “right gift” for a colleague of the opposite sex as you do for your own spouse?
- Do you ride in a car sharing pleasant, personal conversation alone with a member of the opposite sex on the way to meetings or other work-related events?
- Do you share intimate issues about yourself or marriage with a member of the opposite sex?
If you’re doing any of these things, you’re being emotionally unfaithful to your spouse. You have only so much energy. If you’re spending it with coworkers or outside the home and then getting home and feeling too tired to spend any more on your spouse, that’s emotional infidelity. You’re effectively relocating vital marital energy into the hands of others. Forget about where it might end up. Even if you never touch this other person, you have still used that person to relate to, and in doing so, you relate away from your spouse.
You may be shaking your head and disagreeing. But I’ve spent years helping couples pool their energies toward each other, and it has changed their marriage immediately. Stop all of these outside relationships and bring all your emotional and sexual energy home to your spouse, and you, too, will change your marriage immediately.
Do you agree with Neuman? Is emotional infidelity the same - and as hurtful - as a sexual affair? Share your opinion now.
Excerpted from Emotional Infidelity by M. Gary Neuman Copyright 2001 by M.Gary Neuman. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.