Thank you for the opportunity to serve. Here’s the good news/bad news about dealing with a partner’s extra-marital emotional affair:
The good news: While emotional affairs are like lobster pots — easier to get into than out of — people are able to reverse their way out of them all the time.
The bad news: Although emotional affairs can be overcome, YOU are not the best person to coach her through that process.
At first, this may sound illogical, but after a decade of doing this work, I can tell you with all sincerity that if you decide to become the “coach” and help bring her out of the emotional entanglement, it could very well backfire on you.
Here are a few pointers about dealing with emotional affairs:
Feelings should never be judged; only actions should be. It’s a mistake to underestimate the power of the mind — because everything begins with a thought. Even infidelity. However, keep in mind that feelings shouldn’t ever be judged; only actions should. With this frame of reference, it’s a person’s deceptive actions that should be the focus here — not her feelings.
Awareness is the first step. The fact that she’s “aware” that her feelings have crossed the line is a step in the right direction. Because when it comes to emotional affairs, lack of awareness is where people get into trouble. So, the fact that she’s aware of what’s happening should be seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.
Forbidding the “forbidden fruit” usually backfires. Think back to your own teenage years and ask yourself this question: When your parents forbid you to do something or hang out with a certain friend, did that make you want to do it more… or less?
Of course, it just made you want it more! The same phenomenon is why diets don’t work. It appears to be human nature to want a thing more when we’ve been told we can’t (or shouldn’t) have it.
Where does all this leave you?
In a precarious position, to be sure. On one hand, you want her to immediately get out of this emotional entanglement she’s gotten herself into. I understand the urgency and agree that the time is now. But on the other hand, you don’t want to do anything that could backfire and actually intensify the allure of the forbidden fruit. You see the dilemma. So what can you do?
Here are my best suggestions:
- Provide her with a safe, secure environment to talk about how she’s really feeling. Women “process” feelings by talking about them. So rather than “act them out,” you’ll want her to fully process these feelings out of her system. This might mean getting her own individual counseling, finding her a support group, or getting her on a call with me. Whichever way you choose to go, just remember: This isn’t something that you can do for her (as much as you may want to). Why? For the same reason surgeons don’t operate on their own wives. You simply can’t be “objective” and “fair,” or listen without judging her feelings. And she wouldn’t be totally honest with you for fear of hurting your feelings. Does this make sense?
- Support her through it. Encourage her to read books about emotional affairs. Go and order books on how to end emotional affairs, etc. I don’t have a title or recommendation for you off-hand, but I’m sure there are some. The “key” to this process is to allow her time and space to do her own release and let go of things on her own. You can’t guide her through this. You can’t coach her through this. But you can support her through it.
- Remind her of the good. One of the things that leave the backdoor open for emotional affairs to creep in is when people begin to take the good for granted. This is the time for you to put modesty on the back burner and to step up and remind her about the good times and good things about you and your marriage that she may have forgotten. This includes the wonderful memories you’ve made, the dreams you both share, the children she wants, the travel plans you both have, the exciting times ahead.
- Transparency is the goal. What it boils down to is this: The real threat to your marriage is deception and secrecy. Therefore, the antidote is for both of you to embrace transparency as a way of life. (For more on this, read my article: The Transparent Couple.)