By Dr. Athena Staik
A new sort of infidelity has been on the rise for decades, and it’s one of the biggest threats to marriage: ‘emotional affairs.’ Today’s workplace has become the new danger zone of opportunities for ‘emotional affairs,’ surpassed only by the Internet.
A relationship without sex can be just as intense, or more so than a sexual one. Not surprisingly, in most cases, approximately 80% according to Dr. Shirley Glass, author ofNot Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, the dynamics of these platonic liaisons crosses over into sexual love sooner or later.
Why the crisis?
To understand the intensity of emotional infidelity, it helps to see the dynamics as an addiction, a form of addictive love. That’s because it’s easier to let go of a toxic pattern when you depersonalize the experience.
It’s not about ‘how’ special the person is or makes you feel, it’s about the neurochemicals that get activated when you think and behave a certain way that keeps you stuck in the damaging pattern! It isn’t a coincidence, for example, that persons with alcohol and other addictions are more likely to get into toxic relationships. Seeing the problem as an addiction also gives you access to proven steps to identify and break free of the toxic patterns.
An addiction to an activity, person or substance puts a person’s brain and body in an intoxicating trance that, on the one hand, does not allow them to think clearly and make informed choices, and on the other hand, ‘rewards’ them for the toxic behavior with the release of certain chemicals that provide quick-fixes of pleasure in the body. Albeit temporary, there is also pleasure from lowering or numbing pain, shame or guilt, as it provides distance from taking responsibility to resolve the real issues of life and marriage (which risk failure).
In the The Addictive Personality: Understanding the Addictive Process and Compulsive Behavior Craig Nakken provides the following definition for addiction, as:
“A pathological love and trust relationship with an object [person] or event … the out-of-control and aimless searching for wholeness, happiness, and peace through a relationship with an object or event.”
It makes sense that so many depressives and alcoholics find themselves in toxic relationships.
What are the warning signs?
There are at least 12 warning signs to alert you to take action to protect yourself and your relationship from ‘emotional infidelity.’
1. Thinking and saying you’re ‘just friends’ with opposite-sex.
If you’ve been thinking or saying, “we’re just friends,” think again. If it’s a member of the opposite sex, you may be swimming in treacherous waters. The very words are dangerous to your marriage.
This rationale allows you to make excuses, or more plainly, to tell lies (to yourself and others) about something you know in your gut is wrong. Regardless how strongly TV and entertainment promote the idea of opposite-sex friendships (and this is part of the problem!) as not only ‘okay,’ but also ‘right’ to demand unconditional trust, in most cases, an intimate friendship with a member of the opposite-sex that you find interesting and attractive poses risks.
2. Treating them as a confidant, sharing intimate issues.
Sharing thoughts and deepest concerns, hopes and fears, passions and problems is what deepens intimacy; it builds an emotional bond between two people, time better used in marriage relationship. Giving this away to another person, regardless of the justification, is infidelity, a betrayal of trust. This is especially true when you consider that emotional intimacy is the most powerful bond in human relationships, much stronger than a sexual one.
3. Discussing troubling aspects of your marriage and partners.
Talking or venting to a person of the opposite sex about what your marriage lacks, what your partner lacks, or what you’re not getting to make you happy sends a loud message that you’re available for someone else to ‘love and care’ for your needs. It’s also a breach of trust. And, like gossip, it creates a false sense of shared connection, and an illusion that you, your happiness, your comfort and needs are totally valued by this person (when, in truth, this has not been put to the test!).
4. Comparing them verbally and mentally to your partner.
Another danger sign is a thinking pattern that increasingly finds what is ‘positive’ and ‘just right’ about the friend and ‘negative’ and ‘unfulfilling’ about the partner. This builds a case ‘for’ the friend and ‘against’ the partner. Another mental breach of trust, this unfairly builds a physiologically felt case ‘for’ the friend and ‘against’ the partner, forming mental images in the brain that associate pleasurable and painful sensations accordingly.
5. Obsessively thinking or daydreaming about the person.
If you find yourself looking forward to seeing the person, cannot wait to share news, think about what you’re going to tell them when you’re apart, and imagine their excitement, you’re in trouble. This sense of expectation, excitement, anticipation releases dopamine in reward centers of your brain, reinforcing toxic patterns. Obsessively thinking about the person is an obvious signal that something is wrong. After all, you don’t do this with your friends, right?
6. Believing this person ‘gets’ you like no other.
It always appears this way in affairs and romantic encounters at the start. It’s an illusion, and in the case of emotional infidelity, one that is dangerous to a marriage because the sense of mutual ‘understanding’ forms a bond that strengthens and deepens emotional intimacy, with the release of pleasurable neurochemicals, such as the love and safety hormone oxytocin. This focus also puts you in a ‘getting’ frame of mind. It means you are approaching your marriage in terms of what you’re getting or not getting, rather than what you’re contributing.
7. Pulling out of regular activities with your partner, family, work.
Being absorbed with desire to spend more and more time talking, sharing, being with the person, it’s only natural to begin to resent time you spend on responsibilities and activities at home (and work?). As a result, you begin to pull away, turn down, or make excuses for not joining regular activities with your partner and family. Family members notice you are withdrawn, irritable and unhappy.