Friday, December 01, 2006
Dismaying Story #88: An Emotional Affair
About a year ago I started getting active in on-line forums, which offer private messaging. I became friends with a single man, aged 52, who lives several states away. We talk about our day-to-day lives but never about sex. He means so much to me and has told me I mean so much to him. We have each other's phone numbers but have never spoken on the phone or in person. He sent me some flowers and a book when I was on a short trip by myself. I have sent him cards, just friendship cards.
I told him I was not looking to leave my marriage. My love for my frequent-traveler husband has been gone over the past few years, but I still have to raise my children.
I do love this man. I love him in my life. I feel like I have a friend for life now. I've always been wary of on-line relationships but not anymore. The thing is, I feel guilty for having a friend like this. My husband would never understand.
I am not looking for your approval. I just wanted to confide in someone, on the outside.
Signed, Just Fell Into This Relationship
Dear Just Fell,
I believe your husband would understand exactly what this on-line relationship means, and I think you do too.
Ask yourself a couple of tough questions. Why do you think your husband would react negatively to your friendship with this other man? And why have you hidden it from everyone? The reason is you know you have crossed a line.
Here is a good test for whether an action represents a betrayal of your significant other. Would you do it if they were watching you? If not, you should consider strongly whether you should be doing it.
This is more than a casual friendship with someone of the opposite gender. You have developed an attachment to this man of the sort you feel is missing in your marriage. In short, you are having an emotional affair, and this is definitely a betrayal of the commitment you made to your husband.
I understand that things can get rocky in marriage for all sorts of reasons, including frequent separation like you and your hubby must endure. You may feel like the spark is gone and there is no way to get it back. Your life at home is full of work, kids, stress, and enough hum-drum to fill a dump truck. This is what you share with your husband, which means much of the time you spend together is filled with neutral or even negative experiences.
Your on-line friend, on the other hand, is your escape from the storm. With him everything is always, "Hi! Glad to hear from you!" You are always in mini-vacation mode when talking with him. This is spiced with excitement of newness and the thrill of the forbidden.
If you step back and think about this for a moment, you will realize this is an entirely unfair way to compare the two men in your life. Imagine you could perform this magic experiment. Pretend your online friend is your husband. Now he is the one who is away all the time and has to share the stress of kids and bills with you. What personality characteristics would come out in this man that you have had no opportunity to observe? Your husband, on the other hand, is now the new spark that you only get to glimpse when the two of you have time to have a virtual cup of coffee together. You have nothing but fun experiences with him.
Now which man would be holding your interest? I suspect the shoe would be entirely on the other foot.
Let's take it a step further. Suppose you left your husband and went to live with your on-line friend. Now you would get to run the same experiment for real. All of a sudden life would come crashing into your new relationship, with the same stresses you must deal with now.
I strongly believe that having an affair is never an appropriate response to troubles in your marriage. All you end up doing is hurting your spouse and your children, and feeling guilty about yourself. This is no path to happiness.
It is possible to re-generate sparks in a marriage that has become hum-drum. We all feel good about people with whom we share fun and positive experiences. The problem is that it can be difficult to make room for such experiences in the midst of bills, jobs and kids. Too many of us get out of the habit of having fun with our spouse, and situations like yours are often the result. We become convinced there is no time or no money.
Baloney. It may take some inventiveness and willpower, but it is possible to schedule fun activities with your spouse. The key is to realize how amazingly critical it is to do so, and to elevate the task to project status. Decide you are absolutely going to make it happen and don't let anything stand in your way, including your hubby, who has probably fallen into the same trap of believing it can't be done or isn't worth it.
It is totally worth it. I recommend you give this a shot.
Even with such efforts, however, the sad reality is that not all marriages are destined to succeed. I still don't believe an affair is justified. You made a commitment to your husband. If you wish to back out, then do so first. Getting involved with a third party while you are still married just muddies the water and strips you of your dignity.
You say you are staying for the children. The best thing you can do for them is to restore that lovin' feeling with your spouse. Right now they are witnessing how a marriage works between two people who don't feel much for each other. What a sad role model, and they will view this as normal. You are increasing the chances they will grow up and replicate this model. How much better it would be if they could learn by example that it is normal for husband and wife to beam with happiness at each other and give each other a hug in full view of the world just because they feel like it. And if you can't make that happen, you might want to consider whether your kids would rather be from a broken marriage ... or be living in the midst of one.
All the best,
The backlog of questions is tiny indeed these days. Please help me keep the stories flowing. If you have a question or observation you think would be of interest to readers of this site, please consider sending it in. I appreciate all the support!
Check back tomorrow for the Question of the Week, which will deal with young people and domestic violence.