How to know if you’re in an emotional affair and how to get out
We are still trying to educate the public on how health is a product of universal wellbeing and not just being free of physical disease…
Psychologist Kevin Gachee and Team House Call Daktari discuss an actual case on how emotional trouble can lead to real physical health trouble.
Just as we were about to close practice and dash home for Valentine’s Day. My good old patient Natasha walks in. She’s one of those patients that have non-specific complaints that you keep testing and nothing really comes out positive.
However, she’s suddenly become a heavy drinker and smoker and looks very haggard in last four weeks. She has no children is a bank executive married to a rich businessman for three years. But today she looks a bit more haggard and cringing in pain around the tummy.
Concerned about it and her history of heavy drinking we run tests on her pancreas and liver. No shock that it’s almost all fried up and at her current rate of drinking she’ll be gone in a few months.
Her medical diagnosis: Acute pancreatitis and clinical depression… admitted in high dependency unit for further management. But as a Family Physician I try find out what her real illness is (meaning what is bothering her to point of drinking her guts out).
A few choking moments from her and she decides to open up: Her marriage on the rocks for a couple of months, husband is too busy to notice that. They have deep unresolved issues and poor communication. She feels totally unattached unhinged and neglected. Asked about what she feels for her husband…”He is like my big brother!”
Recently, she went for a college reunion and met this guy who was like the class douche/loser in her year (geeky specs and braces…we all had that guy in high school!).
But now he is a professional motivational speaker and airline pilot. He has grown into this tall dark haired square jawed guy with a matinee look. As she put it, it’s like he walked right out of the Casablanca movie set…
So there you go as you can guess she was emotionally torn apart between an unhappy marriage and a potential new relationship that seemed too unreal to be false and that led her to drink herself silly to avoid making that tough call.
What is an Emotional Affair?
An emotional affair can be described as a romantic bond or chemistry between one individual and another (who is not their spouse or partner), without any physical intimacy.
What are the signs of an Emotional Affair?
It may start by meeting a new neighbor, work colleague, schoolmate etc… and you instantly click through conversation, and thus a platonic friendship is formed.
As you continue to spend time together (i.e. in the workplace, university or neighborhood) and interact (i.e. via text message, social media, emails, phone calls, in person) the connection gradually grows deeper and stronger. The conversations start becoming more personal, intimate and flirtatious. More time is spent with the person (and often kept a secret from the spouse/partner or lied about).
Similarly more time is spent interacting via text, phone calls, emails and social media (also kept a secret from the spouse/partner or lied about). You begin to confide in him/her when going through a rough patch with your spouse/partner. The person starts being in your thoughts a lot of the time when he or she is not around and you always looking forward to the next time you will see or talk to the person.
In this case things have moved from a platonic friendship to a romantic (emotional) relationship. And as the connection continues to grow with the person, the connection between you and your spouse is interfered with and gradually deteriorates.
For instance, you start becoming distance and physically/emotionally detached from your spouse, especially when it comes to being intimate. Moreover, fights and arguments follow, mainly due to secrecy and trust issues.
Communication becomes poor and when asked about the “friend” you answer in a defensive and angry way, thus leaving the spouse or partner hurt in the process. And in the long run the relationship simply becomes toxic/ unhealthy, thus leading to separation/divorce.
Is it considered Cheating?
Many people involved in emotional affairs often see it as harmless due to the lack of physical intimacy (i.e. justified as just a friendship). Therefore to them it is not cheating.
However, in reality an emotional affair is cheating. For some people (especially females), having an emotional connection in a relationship is more important than a physical one. Basically an emotional connection is seen as the foundation of the entire relationship.
This is because emotional connections involve openly sharing and expressing personal feeling with one another (i.e. love, affection, trust, compliments etc.). Once the emotional connection or intimacy is shared with someone else outside the relationship, and in turn is no longer being shared with the spouse/ partner, it is seen as the ultimate betrayal.
In some cases, a spouse may be quicker to forgive their partner for a physical affair than emotional affair. This is because a physical affair can occur without any emotional involvement, as opposed to an emotional affair, which is seen as more intense and complex.
However an emotional affair can lead to a physical affair.
Why do they occur?
People get into emotional affairs for different individual reasons. However one key reason is that the person may feel like there is something lacking in the relationship. It could be attention, excitement, happiness, intimacy, communication and the list goes on.
That feeling leaves the person vulnerable to find him or herself in an emotional affair with someone else, in order to get the thing that is lacking from the primary relationship.
What do I do if I am in an Emotional Affair?
The tricky part about emotional affairs is that a number of people involved in them, often do not recognize that they are in one and others are often in denial.
If you recognize that you are in an emotional affair, based on this literature, the first and most important thing to do is to take responsibility and not blame your spouse or others for you getting involved in the affair.
Secondly, you would have to end the affair in an effort to save and fix you relationship.
Thirdly, you would have to identify the reasons as to why you got involved in the affair, what is lacking in the relationship and how you and your spouse can work together to resolve the issue (preferably with the help of a psychologist).
Finally, the least palatable path or May I say what the devil’s advocate would say. It’s not easy to break down a marriage or relationship just because of the very nature of them. Its complex because a lot of time money and emotional investment done plus what most people are afraid is what will family and society think of them: Failures, Philanderers, Home wreckers…the list goes on.
On the flip side if you get to a point in a relationship that there is a lot of resentment and you have tried all tricks under the sun to fix it and nothing works… and you find that you see the qualities you want and admire in somebody else… then leave.
Relationships are not cast in stone. You must be happy to make somebody else happy, so don’t hang in there and wait for a miracle to happen if its dead its dead, move along and find your happiness!
For those caught in between your the proverbial third wheel and its difficult to know whether this person is using you for their emotional gain, to hit back at their partners or being genuine with you, just be careful not to be used to fight a war by proxy.
But as said above, it can also be pure and genuine so have a sincere chat with your partner as well and if they are serious they will follow you, but remember society will judge you harshly especially in certain cultures (in most liberal places you could be the hero/ine but in Africa you could be the devil reincarnate), but then remember your happiness is all that matters.
The easy way out is to find a partner that has less complications and chart your own path. The harder path is fight for the love of your life and may the fairer one win his/her heart over.
As usual Kevin and team are looking forward to answer any questions, comments and concerns about this and more. Till next week take care.
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