Episode 6: Understanding Emotional Infidelity

by | Last updated: Aug 28, 2023 | Podcast

Most couples acknowledge the concept of “emotional infidelity,” but what does it actually mean? Flirting? Exchanging provocative photos? Sharing intimate life details that create deeper feelings.

In this episode, I’ll show you two ways to define emotional infidelity so you and your partner are both crystal clear on expectations. I also explore why emotional affairs happen (even to people who never expected themselves to cheat) and how you can avoid infidelity, either by yourself or your spouse, in the future.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • What constitutes an emotional affair
  • How unsuspecting women become involved in affairs (even when they used to judge others for it)
  • Why affair partners are typically the opposite of your current partner
  • 2 ways to reduce the likelihood of emotional infidelity in your marriage
  • How to create your own definition of infidelity with your partner

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“Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host relationship expert and certified master life coach: Sharon Pope.

“Hello, Loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today we are talking about emotional infidelity.

“Now, I'm not sure where this idea came from, but it does seem like most of the world subscribes to it, and that's that there is somehow this hierarchy of betrayals in terms of our most intimate relationships. Now, I always say that we betray each other in a lot of ways inside our most intimate relationship, but for some reason, we think physical affairs are at the top of that list. And maybe second to that is an emotional affair, but just like a physical affair, in an emotional affair, we don't have this common definition that we have all agreed to in terms of what constitutes an affair or an emotional affair.

“So for instance, if you found your partner's phone and they were texting loving or naughty emojis, would you consider that an affair? What if they were texting provocative pictures of themselves to someone else? Would you consider that an affair? Would you consider it a physical affair or an emotional affair? Would you consider it just a betrayal? What about sharing your heart, sharing details of your marriage with someone else? Do you consider that an affair?

“So we don't have this clear definition around what constitutes an emotional affair, and that's part of the issue, because then what we do is we justify hurtful behavior, things that we instinctively or intuitively know, that our partners would be hurt by. And that's why we keep it a secret. We don't come home and tell them all about it because we know that they wouldn't be happy about that. But we also say, well, because there's no sex involved, it's not really wrong.

“So in my mind, it really is just emotional affairs or just this gray area of early stages of a physical affair. And we'll talk about that. So I'll share with you the story of a client of mine that I'll refer to as Tina. That is not her real name, but it's the story of so many women.

“And that is, you know, she was struggling in her marriage and she was feeling kind of lonely inside of her relationship. She was feeling like she just wasn't really being understood or seen or valued in her marriage. And she was throwing herself into her job and her work, and she was excelling there because she had placed so much time, energy, and attention in that regard.

“So she was feeling really strong and confident and comfortable at work, and lo and behold, she starts to confide in one of her coworkers. And then that confiding leads to more things, more elements of her sharing what's going on in her life with this man that she works with, who is also married, right? And he starts sharing some of the things that are working for him and aren't working for him in his own marriage with her.

“So let's talk about sacred space, right? Think of you as an entity; there's your partner as a distinct and separate entity. And then there is this third entity, which is your marriage or your relationship if you're not married, but that is a separate and third entity, and that third entity is what exists between the two of you. I consider that to be sacred space. We don't bring other people into the middle of that. That to me, is a betrayal. When you start sharing details of your marriage, your relationship with someone outside of the marriage, that feels like a betrayal to me. That's my opinion. You can call it an affair, you can call it whatever you want. Everyone has different opinions because we haven't agreed on a common definition. But when you bring someone else into that sacred space by talking about and sharing the details, good and bad about your marriage with someone else, then that's where we start getting into this gray area that we've gotta sort of pump the brakes and examine a little bit.

“Now, I send that emotional infidelity is just a relationship that is early on moving towards a physical affair. Now, why do I say that? Because there's no married adult that's out there talking to someone of the opposite sex and sharing parts of their heart, because they're looking for a new yore partner. Okay? So if you find that there's emotional infidelity inside your marriage, know that it's just the early stages of something that eventually, very, very likely would become a physical affair if given that opportunity, right? So it's not a harmless emotional affair. Sometimes people will be like, you know what? At least it wasn't a physical affair because there was no sex.

“But then other people will say, no, an emotional affair is even worse because you created feelings for another person, and you might have even fallen in love with them even if you never had sex with them, right? So it depends on who you talk to. Again, we don't think the same way about this. So some people look at emotional affairs and say, it's not as bad. It could have been worse, and I can easily forgive and overlook it. And other people look at it and go, no, it's even worse. It makes me feel even more vulnerable inside my relationship because now I know that you can develop feelings for someone else, right?

“So it's not harmless. An emotional affair is not harmless just because there was no sex involved, because it erodes trust inside your primary relationship, right? So I don't think that we should just blow it off and say, ‘Oh, it was just sexting. It was no big deal. We were just sexting a little bit and being flirtatious through messenger.’ I don't think we should just blow that off and pretend like, ‘Oh, it's nothing because we never actually had sex.’ It's not nothing. It erodes trust in the relationship. And when trust is eroded, the person who erodes that trust or who breaks that trust, it's now their responsibility to rebuild it if they want to remain inside that relationship.

“Now, I understand that no one means to do this. Well, maybe I shouldn't say no one. I mean, of course there are people in the world that, you know, they're on different sites that are specific to this, and they go looking for it. So I'm not gonna say no one, but the people that find me are not usually those people, okay? So the people that find their way to my work are people who never thought they would find themselves in any type of an affair. They never saw themselves as someone who would be vulnerable to that. As a matter of fact, sometimes people are surprised because they're like, ‘I used to judge people who would have affairs, and now I'm someone who is in an affair, emotional or physical or otherwise,’ right? It's still an affair. So no one goes out looking for it. None of the people that come to me go out looking for it.

“That doesn't excuse it. I just want you to know, because almost every single person I speak with says that. Like, ‘I never went out looking for it.’ I get that. But I also think that there's this, I call it the big button. I don't think that that's the greatest analogy to use for this, but this idea that whatever is missing, that your heart is longing for in your most intimate relationship, we sort of wear that as a big button. So for me, in my first marriage, it was affection and connection, right? And it was sort of that ease of being together that I wanted, and I wore that as a big button. And inevitably, whatever your button is, whatever that empty bucket is that you are missing, that your heart is longing for, someone's gonna come along and just press that button. Now, they may not press any of the other buttons of the things that your current relationship does hold that maybe you're not longing for because it's been ever present there. But they're gonna press at least that one button.

“The other commonality is that the person that you are involved with in an affair is always going to be the polar opposite of your current partner. Be for that particular reason, right? Because the things that we have in our current relationship - call it stability, predictability, trust, any of those things - when we have them, and we've had them for a long time, we really sort of take them for granted. And then we focus on the things that are missing. And it's those things that we are missing that then we go find in an affair. So I am going to propose two different scripts or ideas of things that we could do differently.

“Now, almost no one does this, okay? I get that. But in the spirit of getting equipped to do relationships differently so that we can have greater success in our marriages, I think it's worthwhile to talk about. So the first thing that I'm going to propose is that even if you have never experienced infidelity with yourself, or you are absolutely positive that your partner has never cheated on you in any way, I still want you to do this.

“See, we don't talk about what constitutes a betrayal or an affair until we have to talk about it inside of our relationships, right? We're so scared of it. It's sort of like none of us will talk about death, even though it's going to happen, but we just refuse to talk about it. Affairs are sort of taboo like that, like we're so afraid to talk about it.

“But I'll tell you what, when it ends up in the center of your living room, and because you find that your partner has had an affair, or you find yourself in an affair, well, now many times we gotta talk about it. We've gotta understand it. So here's what I propose - that you go home tonight, and you have a conversation with your spouse about what do they consider to be an affair, right? Have that conversation of what would be a betrayal? And then where does it go into an affair, right? Is it sending pictures, flirty emojis? What if I go to a massage parlor and I have a happy ending? What if I am just flirtatious? What if I kiss someone or I touch someone in an intimate way, like all of these things? Like, what if I'm having sex online, right?

“So first you gotta look at yourself and go, what do I consider to be a betrayal? Or when does it cross over into an affair? And then you gotta ask your partner what their perspective is. And then the two of you are going to be able to make more conscious decisions, because you're not just going to justify some bad behavior because we've never talked about it, and we've made some assumptions around where that gray area is. I want you to talk about the gray area before you have to talk about it. Okay? So that's the first thing. And I know you're probably already thinking, I don't like that option. What's the second thing?

“It doesn't get easier, by the way. So that was the easy option, to talk about it before you have to talk about it. The second thing that I want you to think about, if you find yourself being vulnerable to an affair - most of the time, this is where we will overlook that behavior and we'll talk ourselves out of it and go, ‘Oh, it's not, it's not really anything. Like, I know he's sending me flirtatious text messages, and I'm starting to feel something about that, but I'm for sure not gonna tell my husband about that.’ The problem is that it's a slippery slope, right? And so if you don't catch it for yourself at that point, that's when things can progress into an emotional affair.

“And then an emotional affair can progress into a physical affair, and a physical affair can progress into divorce, and all the things that come along with that. So if you find yourself being vulnerable in that place of where like, ‘Ooh, this could go there, and I'm not sure how I feel about that,’ and you're starting to talk yourself out of it, imagine if you went to your partner then and said:

“‘I have something important to talk to you about. You know, Joe at work invited me out for a drink after work. And you know, we've been hanging out and more friends, and I thought it was perfectly harmless. It turned a little flirtatious, and it made me start to question myself. It made me feel some things that I hadn't really felt before. I'm telling you this, beloved, because it scares me. It scares me because I know that you and I aren't as connected as we should be and as I want to be. And I'm afraid that someone pointing their attention at me is going to now make me and therefore us and our marriage vulnerable to an affair. And I don't want that. I don't want that for you. I don't want that for me. And so I feel like there are things that we need to address inside of our marriage right now. Obviously, I'm aware of what's happening with Joe, and I'm not gonna pursue any of that, and I'm gonna be honest with you throughout the process. And I'm also gonna be aware of it. Like it's not necessarily harmless. I'm not going to accept a lunch invitation or a dinner invitation or a drink invitation from him anymore because I'm aware of it. So you can trust me in that. But it's not really about Joe. It's about what's missing between us. And I think that, darling, is the gap that we need to fill.’

“So imagine how that could interrupt the momentum that might have gotten going inside of what could have turned into an emotional affair. Like this is hard stuff. This is big girl stuff, right? But it's also big girl life, right? It's big life. If we're going to adult, if we're going to do that, well, we've got to be able to have these adult direct conversations, and we've gotta be self-aware enough to be able to call ourselves out on things and be honest with our partners when we do it. So I know that these are not two common things that everybody does, but that's also why I'm proposing that we do them, right? Because if we just keep doing things the way we're doing it, we're going to continue to have the same abysmal success rates in our marriages, and our relationships in general are not going to feel great. But if we want our relationships to feel great, if we want them to feel solid and connected and stable and trustworthy, then we've gotta be able to meet our partners at this level.

“All right? I hope that gave you something new to think about as it relates to emotional infidelity, and I will see you next week. Until then, take really good care.

“If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage, and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and me to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.

“Go to Clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.”