My fiancé and I have dated for five years and have had a beautiful relationship overall. He is my best friend and has respected me and been there for me through thick and thin. Having said this, I recently found out my fiancé had an emotional affair for nine months or so (it basically started around the time we got engaged). They had been “sexting” and exchanging pictures over texts and e-mails for over nine months, once every three to four weeks. I never suspected anything because his behavior never changed around me. He was never too careful around his phone or computer and still spent most, if not all, of his time with me. Finally, he said this woman asked to meet him after about eight months of exchanging pictures, and he says he could not go through with it and knew he didn’t want to actually have sex with her. He didn’t want to hurt me, and ended communication with her two months before I found out about it. I found two pictures that were left behind, one on his computer and the other on his phone, and I called the number and a woman answered. I questioned her but she denied ever even knowing him. This is when I confronted him and he confessed to this. I always thought we were on the same page when it came to infidelity. We had endless discussions about how we felt infidelity was so wrong and how it would be very hard for us to be able to forgive if it ever happened to us. He says he realizes he made a stupid mistake and he never wants to do this again and has been very humble, apologetic and working hard to regain my trust. He has also handed me passwords to his personal accounts. We have been attending counseling sessions with a therapist, but the process is slow. He says he was never physical with her, but the doubt, questions and betrayal won’t seem to leave my mind. I’ve already forgiven him even though his choices have hurt me more than words can describe. Although I have forgiven him and want to move past this, I’m very scared of being vulnerable again and fear the uncertainty of having to possibly go through this again. I don’t ever want to. I have made that quite clear. He still wants to get married to me, and I have a feeling he will be proposing again soon. I’m quite scared of the “what ifs” but realize I have no control over his future actions. I keep trying to make sense of the affair, but it doesn’t make sense. Also, why do I refuse to believe that it never went beyond just the pictures? Looking for advice! Thank you.
Thanks for the opportunity to serve.
Right off the bat, let me say I truly understand how you feel. When I say I understand, I mean that from the depth of my soul because I went through a very similar experience. If you’ve read enough on this site, then you know that I’m not just a coach; I’m also a survivor of this experience. What you may or may not know is that my husband’s indiscretions were never physical — they were emotional. And like you, I also didn’t suspect a thing. In fact, I never would have known if he had not confessed to me… years later. Like you, I was shocked and devastated. Here I was, the woman everyone was turning to for relationship advice, and while I was busy saving everybody else’s relationships, my own was in jeopardy.
It was like a cosmic 2×4 wake-up call.
Here’s another thing we have in common: I also had a hard time believing it never crossed into the physical. In fact, it was the hardest part of the whole thing for me. In a way, I think it would have been easier for me to move on if it had been physical. That I could deal with, that I could understand. But the vagueness, the ambiguity of an “emotional” affair, is so weird and so strange, it’s hard to understand exactly what it is.
And here’s another thing…
There’s a level of intimacy that comes with that type of thing that is very threatening to those who aren’t involved in it. For a long time, I wondered about it. I dissected his feelings, tried to analyze his emotions, tried to gauge if he felt something deeper with her, more profound than he had with me.
And that’s the real pain of it all, isn’t it?
Like you, I was afraid that the intimacy, depth and intensity of his “feelings” for the other woman were more profound, more pure, or more true than what he experienced with me.
Let me tell you, nothing is as frightening as that thought. Because while sex is a commodity — we can all have it — deep and found intimacy is not. It’s rare. It’s exquisite. It’s hard to find. And the thought that the man you love may have found it with someone else… can be devastating.
If any of this is ringing a bell for you, I want you to take heart. I have been there. Right where you are today. And looking back at that time… I wish someone would have told me what I’m about to tell you.
5 THINGS TO HELP YOU MOVE THROUGH THIS
1. Reality Is the Ultimate Truth.
He is with you. He has chosen you. If the feelings he had were so intense or profound, he would have moved heaven and earth to be with her. Nothing would have stopped him — not you, not guilt, not principles and not obligations. When the feelings are strong enough, people follow them. The fact that he did not points to “truth” that’s more than anything you could make up in your mind.
2. True Love Cannot Be Experienced in Fantasy.
Hard to believe and yet it’s true — love isn’t a feeling. Your love can be felt, but your love doesn’t come from your feelings. Like the wind can be felt, but it doesn’t come from your feelings. True love emerges from the fires of reality, while an emotional affair is rooted in fantasy (not reality). In other words, love is not a “mind trip”. The thing for you NOT to do is make this into something it couldn’t have been (a real loving relationship).
3. Sexual Attraction Is Not Under Your Conscious Control.
Remember how when you were a teenager, you had crushes left and right? And have you ever watched a movie and felt a stirring of attraction for the leading man? This is because your sexual “triggers” and attractions are not under your conscious control. I had a girl friend who was madly in love with her husband and yet, on her honeymoon, a George Clooney look-alike walked by the pool and her heart skipped a beat. At the time, my friend didn’t understand it. How, she said, could I respond to another man while I’m madly in love with my husband? And that’s when I had to have the “talk” with her. I told her… contrary to what movies and romance novels tell us, love and sexual attraction are two separate things. Like peanut butter and jelly, they go well together, but they can also be experienced separately.
Here’s the thing. We’re not one-dimensional beings — there are many, many layers and levels within each of us. We’re not hardwired for monogamy like penguins are — our mating instinct is free. This is why you can be madly in love with a man, and yet if you see a George Clooney look-alike go by, your heart still skips a beat. The point here is this: Your sexual emotions and sexual attractions can be triggered with or without your consent. Mother Nature is not moral, and she’s not polite either. She didn’t invent marriage — we did.
Where am I going with this?
Your fiancé had his sexual attractions and emotions triggered by someone else. This isn’t a matter of love; it’s a matter of nature. So the real issue is NOT that he experienced sexual attraction outside of his relationship with you — that can happen to any of us. The real issue here is HOW he responded to those emotions. The real issue here is that he kept them secret. Maybe he tried to face things on his own. Maybe he thought at first that it was no big deal, that he could handle it. Maybe he told himself, his feelings are private (nobody else’s business). And in a way, he’s right… because when you think about it, can we really “own” or “demand” access to another person’s inner world? Don’t we have to be invited in? Isn’t that the essence of freedom?
The question here is this…
Why did he not invite you into this “secret” world? Why did he not want to include you?
The answer: it would have devastated you. How do I know that? Because it did. Here’s the thing. You want to know the truth. You want access to his inner world. But the question is, can you really handle that access if it were granted to you right now? The knee-jerk answer for most people is, YES! Of course I can handle it. I love him, so that means I can handle anything he tells me. But when you sit down and really think about that question… something entirely different emerges.
Because he has told you some things, and those things you’ve already discredited. A lot of his “inner world secrets” have been exposed, and how did you respond? What message have you sent him? Is it really safe for him to be totally honest with you? I’m not so sure that he would agree that it is. Which brings me to my next point.
4. People Will Only Be as Honest as They Feel It's Safe to Be.
I know, I know. We’ve all been raised to believe that people should just be honest, no matter what the consequences are. While that would be great in an ideal world, in the real world (the one we actually live in), people are only as honest as they feel it’s safe to be.
Fact is, most men don’t feel it’s safe to tell the women they love about any outside sexual attraction they experience (even as cool as I like to think I am, my husband didn’t feel safe sharing that type of information with me). And so, because they don’t feel it’s safe, they suppress and hide it.
What happens when you hide a secret attraction? It takes on a “forbidden allure”. Like fungi in the dark, it begins to grow, with all the secrecy and hiding fueling it and giving it power. So that’s how what could have been a harmless attraction begins to take on a life of its own.
What can you take from all this?
Here’s my advice: you both need to work on opening the doors of communications. Now when I say open the doors, I mean make it “safe” to open up and talk about what’s in each of your inner worlds. This is where real work needs to happen. He needs to get to a place where he feels comfortable sharing these types of experiences with you — in real time — rather than hiding or suppressing them. And you need to get to a place where you’re no longer threatened or feel judgmental about his “inner experiences”.
Again, this is easier said than done, because here’s the kicker: you cannot “command guilt or demand” that people feel safe with you — you have to work to make it so. And just as one hand clapping makes no sound, open communications is not a “one-man” job. It takes both people to make it safe for each other. He’s got a lot of work to do. He’s got to allow himself to be vulnerable. He’s got to be willing to share. He’s got to trust that you won’t hurt or judge him. Perhaps most importantly… he’s got to learn that even if the truth hurts you, it’s more loving for you to know truth than it is to protect you with a lie.
And let me tell you, that can be a hard pill for any man to swallow because most have been raised to believe that the more loving thing to do is to protect their loved ones with a lie, rather than hurt them with the truth.
Which brings me to my final point.
5. Sometimes, You Simply Have to Go with the Odds.
Right now, there’s only one thing holding you back from closure, and that’s the willingness to trust that it never went beyond what he’s told you. Like I said, this I understand. I struggled with the same thing for months… until I realized that what I was waiting for wasn’t proof of innocence, but proof of his guilt. You see, I had a version of what “really happened” in my own mind. And I was more sure that I was right, that I was of the thought that I could just as easily have been wrong. In other words, my own certainty that I was right was stronger than my willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let me tell you, that’s no way to live. So let me put this into perspective for you.
After 12+ years of working in this area and serving this community, having personally coached thousands of men, women and couples (more than 1 million people via my sessions and workshops), here’s what I’ve observed: once the affair has crossed into physical territory, the “sexting, pictures and emailing” tend to drop significantly. So the very fact that he was engaged in all that “virtual foreplay” suggests that the affair had not been consummated. So from where I stand, the odds are about 60/40 — 60% that it did not cross into physical and 40% that it may have. So what do you do with this information? My advice? Trust the odds. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because the “odds” and facts suggest that he just might be telling the truth. And as Dr. Joyce Brothers once said, the only way to really trust a man is to trust him.
You know how sometimes you misplace your keys and spend hours looking for them in all the places you expected to find them… only later to find them in a place you least expected? How did that happen? It happens because there was a change in your usual routine — you put your keys someplace you never did before.
This situation is a bit like that. You’re having a hard time believing that it was only emotional because that’s not what you’re used to hearing about infidelity. And yet, I’m here to tell you that the majority (undisclosed affairs) happen emotionally… and usually among women. For you to find closure and move on, you need to look for answers in another place. Rather than focusing on the “degree” or “type” of affair, your closure comes when you shift your focus to what this can teach you both.
In my opinion, the lesson here is about opening up communications and making it safe to share your inner worlds and inner experiences with each other.