Hi Suzie, I shared a brief kiss with a woman in my office. My wife found out about it and things went downhill very fast. Although the affair ended almost as soon as it began, I still can’t seem to stop thinking about the other woman.
I love my wife, and I want to save my marriage, but I just can’t get the other woman off my mind. The guilt is killing me! Is there a way for me to break free from these intense feelings, so I can rebuild my life?” – Yours truly, Kevin
Kevin, what you’re experiencing is typically referred to as an emotional affair. What is an emotional affair? An emotional affair can be described as intense romantic feelings directed toward a person outside your primary relationship.
In other words… having an emotional affair is mentally falling in love with the potential (or fantasy) you’ve created about another person.
Here’s an infographic of the 10 signs you’re having an emotional affair (see how many of these seem to fit you):
Key Facts About Emotional Affairs
- Emotional affairs happen in the mind. The feelings, longings, infatuation, and fantasies are fueled by your own thoughts. This is why you can have an emotional affair with someone you’ve never met or ever talked with. (For example, lots of people have emotional affairs with celebrities.)
- The emotional affair is the most dangerous part of an extramarital affair. It’s because of these powerful emotions that people have such a hard time exiting the affair, and why they’re willing to lie, cheat, and manipulate… to keep it going.
- The allure of an emotional affair is very subtle. Nobody ever plans to get emotionally involved with the wrong person, and yet it happens to good people every day, everywhere. Like a spider’s web, the seduction is almost always invisible to the one being seduced. By the time you discover your emotions are entangled, you’re already trapped.
And one more thing…
- While emotional affairs are powerful, they’re not permanent. Why? They’re not rooted in reality. They are mind-created romances based on the fantasy of what could be. And it’s exactly because of this reason, why they eventually wane.
Back to your question.
“What can you do when you discover that you’re caught up in an emotional affair?”
That’s a great question. I say that because just the fact that you’re asking means you have already started the process of extricating yourself. So to help you understand how to break free faster from this emotional affair, let me share with you a story about the power of a beautiful illusion.
Once upon a time, there was a very wise teacher. One day, a thief came to him. Upon meeting the teacher, the thief fell in love with him because he had never met such a loving person, so filled with wisdom and grace. He asked the teacher, “Is it possible for me to grow in wisdom? But before you answer, there are two things I must make clear to you. I am a thief and I cannot stop stealing, so please don’t make it a condition. I will do whatsoever you say, but I cannot stop being a thief.” He continued… “I have tried many times and it never works. I have accepted my destiny that I am going to be a thief and remain a thief, so don’t talk about it. From the very beginning, let it be clear.”
The wise teacher said, “Why are you afraid? Who is going to talk about your being a thief?” The thief said, “Whenever I go to a monk, to a priest, to a psychologist, or to a saint, they always say, ‘First, stop stealing.’”
The teacher laughed and said, “Then you must have gone to thieves; otherwise, why? Why should they be concerned? I am not concerned!” The thief was very happy. He said, “Then it’s okay. It seems that now I can become a disciple. You are the right teacher.”
The wise teacher accepts him exactly as he is and says, “Now you can go and do whatsoever you like. Only one condition has to be followed: Be aware! Go. Break into houses, enter, take things, steal; do whatsoever you like, that is of no concern to me; I am not a thief. But you must steal with full awareness.” The thief didn’t understand that he was falling into a trap. He said, “Then everything is okay. I will try.” After three weeks… he came back and said, “You are a tricky teacher. If I become aware, I cannot steal. If I steal, awareness disappears. I am in a fix.”
The wise teacher said, “No more talk about your being a thief and stealing. I am not concerned; I am not a thief. Now, you decide! If you want wisdom, you must have awareness, but you decide. If you don’t want it, then you decide that, too.”
The man said, “But now, it is difficult. I have tasted it a little, this self-awareness, and it is so peaceful. I will leave anything, whatsoever you say. Just the other night, for the first time, I was able to enter the palace of the king. I opened the treasure chest. I could have become the richest man in the world. But your voice followed me, and I had to be aware. When I became aware, the diamonds looked just like stones, ordinary stones. Then when I lost awareness, the treasure was there. And I waited and did this many times. I would become aware and I could not even touch it because the whole thing looked foolish, stupid — just stones, ‘What am I doing?’ I asked myself, ‘Losing myself over ordinary stones?’ Then I would lose awareness; they would become beautiful again, and that’s when it became clear: the external treasure is an illusion. The real treasure is my own awareness of my true self. That’s when I finally decided that they were not worth it. For what would it profit me to gain a king’s treasure, and lose myself in the process?”
This story is a wonderful demonstration of a very important point:
Emotional Affairs Are Powerful External Illusions
When you’re caught up in them, they feel precious like diamonds and gold. But the instant you pull back and really look at them, they disappear. This brings us to the point of the story and what I consider to be the biggest secret to dealing with emotional affairs.
The #1 Secret To Neutralizing An Emotional Affair
My approach to neutralizing an emotional affair is very similar to the approach the wise teacher used in the story. Like the wise teacher, I offer no judgment about whether emotional affairs are right or wrong. That is not my business. I am also not interested in how you came to be in this situation. The only thing I’m concerned with is that you’re now ready to break free from it, and helping people break free from emotional entanglements they don’t want… IS my business.
Like that wise teacher, my number one technique in helping you reverse your way out of this entrapment will be self-awareness.
Why is self-awareness the number one tool?
Remember, emotional affairs are mind-created relationships. To become entrapped by them, you must first go into a state of forgetfulness that it’s all being created in your own mind. Here’s the formula for an emotional affair:
First you create the fantasy, then you forget that it’s a fantasy, and in that state of forgetfulness, you fall in love with the image you created.
In this mind-created relationship, the affair partner fulfills you… knows you, understands you, connects with you… in ways no one in real life ever has before. And it’s also a reciprocal relationship — you’re able to offer them love, pleasure and affection that THEY have never experienced before either.
Did you notice that even reading those words is enough to trigger some of those similar feelings? This is because ALL thoughts are creative. Think sensual, romantic thoughts, and you feel sensual, romantic feelings. Picture yourself swept off your feet, locked in sexual ecstasy with a person who knows your body and soul, and you can feel the chemical counterpart of those thoughts (aka… pleasure).
Here’s the challenge… All human beings love to feel good. In other words, we’re hooked on our feelings. This is what happens with emotional affairs: We get hooked on the feelings generated from our own fantasies, and then project the cause of those feelings onto the affair partner. Now that person becomes your treasure as they are perceived as the source of those good feelings.
This is why self-awareness is the key.
Because when you shine the light of awareness on this situation, here’s what you’ll observe: It’s your own thoughts creating your own feelings. This means nobody outside of you is causing you to feel this way. This recognition neutralizes the glamour of the affair partner (turning them back into an ordinary person once again). Could it really be that simple? Yes, because it is. In fact, many who’ve reached this awareness report having a spontaneous release from their emotional affairs in the instant they were able to see through the veil of their own fantasy.
Alas, it doesn’t happen like this for everyone.
Some people, even after becoming aware of the illusion of an emotional affair, still find themselves ensnared by it. And when this happens, it’s usually due to some type of confusion. So, coming up next… I’m going to draw your attention to the 5 most common confusions people hold about an emotional affair (that keeps them trapped), and give you some key clarifications that, once understood, will pull you from its clutches.
Ready… Set… Here we go…
Clearing up the Confusion
5 Insights to Better Understand Emotional Affairs
What follows… are what I believe to be the five major sources of confusion blocking awareness and keeping you blind to the seductive emptiness of an emotional affair. I suggest you read the following five insights and search your mind for any places (where you, yourself) might have been confused. Remember, simply by becoming aware of these insights, you can become free of them.
Wrong Vs Inappropriate
All the great love songs are about feelings. And all great novelists, writers, actors, directors, and musicians agree on one thing: what people want isn’t good writing, good storytelling, or even good cinematography. Instead, people want to “feel” something. And the deeper and more intense feelings they’re able to arouse in people, the more people are willing to pay.
We call this entertainment.
Here’s the thing about feelings: Feelings are neither right nor wrong. They can’t be. They’re just feedback. Feelings can be misleading, and they can be expressed in inappropriate ways, but they’re never wrong.
People often confuse wrong with inappropriate.
When you’re caught in the middle of an emotional affair, what you feel isn’t wrong (because feelings aren’t right or wrong; they’re simply feedback). However, if you choose to express those feelings in an inappropriate way (via kissing or sexual contact for example) then it was your actions… and the way you expressed your feelings… that was wrong (not the feelings themselves). Becoming clear on the confusion between what’s wrong and what’s inappropriate is the first step to breaking free from those feelings of guilt and shame.
Symptoms of Addiction Vs Signs Of Love
Some of the greatest love songs, novels and movies of all time make it look romantic and seductive to be needy… saying things like, “I need you more than air” and “I don’t want to live without you.” But here’s the thing: Needing someone more than air and feeling like you can’t live without them are NOT signs of love — they’re signs of addiction. In fact, most emotional affairs mimic the symptoms of addiction much more than they resemble love.
When it’s addiction:
- You can’t stop obsessing about them.
- Neediness increases (and you experience more highs and lows, emotional pushes and pulls).
- You experience a sense of “I can’t live without you.”
- You experience a sense of loss when you’re not able to be together.
- You become so focused on meeting the feelings, you’re willing to ignore your own principles, discard values, lie, or cheat.
And sometimes, it doesn’t stop there.
Unfortunately, romantic addictions have a way of escalating. For some people, all sense of self-preservation is lost — at the risk of real life and family survival. When it gets to that point, it’s as if they’ve been robbed of their very own will and personal power. As romantic as it might sound in love songs or movies, these are not signs of True Love; they’re more like symptoms of an addiction.
When it’s True Love:
- Your sense of freedom increases.
- A feeling of wholeness and rightness emerges.
- Your positive values and qualities are strengthened (not weakened).
- You feel a sense of gratitude (not anxiety or guilt).
Now be honest with yourself. Which list checks the most of the boxes for you? If it’s the first one… don’t despair; it will pass. Just the fact that you now know you’re not dealing with the signs of love, but rather the symptoms of addiction… takes you one step closer to being free from it.
True Love Vs Romantic Love
I describe romantic love as the type of love Hollywood and fiction writers helped us invent. It’s based on the concept of “specialness” — which is the idea that there is “one person” (unlike any other) who will complete you and fulfill you in all ways.
What makes romantic love so seductive is how it promises a special person (made just for us).
This idea of having a perfect mate (decreed by divine destiny) is hard to resist.
In fact, it’s such a compelling story that finding “the one” becomes the holy grail for may people. And many of those people spend their whole lives chasing a dream. Here’s the challenge: romantic love is a story (a beautiful one) rooted in mythology. It is not reality and therefore not attainable.
Think of it this way: Romantic love is like a fancy dress. It looks pretty, but isn’t very practical for everyday life. True Love is like your working clothes. It doesn’t look like much, yet it provides you with exactly what you need. This is why when the “fancy dress version” of romantic love meets with the “working clothes nature” of True Love, there’s bound to be some disillusionment. The thing to know is that all emotional affairs are based on the quest for romantic love. They’re all about the fantasy of finding that elusive perfect completion and fulfillment. They’re not rooted in the reality of what it takes to Truly Love and be loved.
Endings Vs Closure
When you read a book all the way to the end, there’s a finality to that experience. As the reader, you get a certain sense of satisfaction. All the loose ends are tied up; the hero or heroine gets what she wants, and you feel things have been resolved to a permanent conclusion. This is the ultimate satisfaction of reading a good book or watching a good movie. The end is timed perfectly to provide the viewer with a sense of resolution and closure.
With life, the timeline is not so linear.
The end doesn’t always bring closure. When you get fired, for example, your job ends, but closure can be a long time coming. The same thing happens when a loved one dies. The relationship comes to an abrupt end, but it takes time for those left behind to reach closure. And in a divorce, the divorce decree signals the date the marriage ends, but not the date each person finds closure.
The same thing applies to extramarital affairs.
The end of the affair may be the end of the relationship, but it doesn’t mean closure. And this is where many affair partners get in trouble. They mistakenly assume that the end of the affair should bring closure to their feelings, but that’s not always the case. Here’s what I mean:
Closure is letting go.
It’s the conscious act of moving on. You don’t find closure at the end of the affair. You find closure when you LET GO… of the affair partner. The real work isn’t in the ending; it’s in the letting go. If you find yourself thinking and fantasizing about the affair partner even after the affair is over, then chances are you’ve ended the affair, but you haven’t let go. Sometimes, letting go is the “hardest easy thing we have to learn.”
If you realize that you have ended the relationship, but emotionally, you’re still engaged, then your job is to practice letting go — of the dreams, fantasies, and romanticizing. In your conscious efforts to let go, you’ll find closure, and that closure will free you and allow you to move on.
Now… perhaps the biggest source of confusion we need to shed some light on:
Wanting Vs Willing
Wanting and willing might sound like the same thing, yet they are worlds apart. Take for example… the thought, “I want to be slim.”
This want can be so strong, so vibrant, and so desperate that it stays on my mind, always in my thoughts, always on the back burner. I know that being slim is something I truly want, but will wanting this make me slimmer? No, it won’t, because no matter how strong the wanting is, my desires remain unfulfilled until a new ingredient is added.
What is that new ingredient?
I might want to be slim, but until I’m willing to do what it takes to get there, nothing changes.
You see my point.
Willing and wanting are two different states of mind. One gets us to do things; the other keeps us thinking about doing them. One is active, and the other is passive.
Time for a reality check!
You say you want to break free from this emotional affair. Okay. So let me ask you, are you willing to break free? As you ponder this question, what does your gut tell you?
If you strip things down to the core, are you willing to break free or not? Well, are you? If you are, then let me tell you, you have done the hardest work already because nothing is impossible to the willing mind. However, if you find that the “want is strong but the will is weak”, don’t torment yourself.
It’s not a matter of IF you will break free; it’s simply a matter of WHEN.
Keep in mind… No one can make you let go of these feelings and fantasies. You can carry them to your grave if you want to. However, it’s always useful to consider… Is it really appropriate to do that?
My final thoughts…
Remember… above all… you have choices.
You can choose to stay the same or change your mind. You can choose whether to get yourself out of trouble or stay in it. You can make things better for yourself, or you can make them worse. You can go in one door and exit another. You can choose to accept good advice, or you can choose to refuse it.
You can do this slowly, or you can do it spontaneously.
I can only wonder… which way will you choose to break free of your emotional affair? Will you do it spontaneously or slowly? It will be interesting to see which choice you make.
But here’s something I know about you for sure:
From the top of your head to the tips of your toes, you are a powerful being. And since you are a powerful being, nothing is impossible for you if you’re simply willing to go for it. This means you can direct your emotions to run, walk, stand, or sit still. You can remember, you can forget to remember, or you can remember to forget.
My suggestion? It’ time to forget about those feelings you no longer want to feel. Let them go and move on!
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!
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