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The Affair You Don't Know You're Having


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Heather Johnson Durocher

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An e-mail here, a smile there. Maybe that "innocent" friendship with your guy friend isn't so innocent after all....

I'll call him John.

The first time we met, he actually struck me as a bit arrogant. He irritated me enough that I mentioned him to my husband in a "Can you believe this guy?" kind of way. But I interacted with John only occasionally, always through work and mostly over e-mail, so it wasn't a huge deal. He's just one of those people who gets under my skin, I told myself.

But a little over a year into our working relationship, something changed. One day, John let down his guard with me and I responded, I suppose in part because I couldn't help but be curious about his mostly hidden soft side. Our conversations turned to easy banter and later — I have a hard time admitting this even now — flirtation. Our e-mails, which could number several in one day, never included outright expressions of affection toward each other. Instead, our notes were mostly business peppered with friendly sparring. We shared a similar sense of humor. I felt that he got me.

I told myself I wasn't doing anything wrong. I had to talk with this guy for work, after all. And couldn't I have a friend who happened to be male? I also told my husband about him, even sharing when we'd meet for coffee or lunch (always scheduled with the intention of discussing business). My husband, busy with a demanding job, trusted me completely.

In the midst of working part-time and caring for a preschooler, a toddler, and, later, a new baby, e-mailing and talking with John felt like an innocent escape. I never would have said at the time that I was in a bad marriage — my husband and I got along well; we just didn't have a lot of quality alone time together — and I had no intention of crossing any physical line. But I increasingly found myself sharing more and more of my hopes and dreams with John instead of just with my husband. I anticipated my regular interactions with John in a way that was all too consuming. And it was John — not my husband — who was beginning to fill a key emotional need in my life. I was, in fact, unknowingly cheating on my husband; I was having an emotional affair.

More Than Just Friends

The signs of an emotional affair may be more subtle than those of a sexual affair, but they're just as unmistakable. "An emotional affair happens when you put the bulk of your emotions into the hands of somebody outside of your marriage," explains psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman, author of Emotional Infidelity. It's not so much that you're not talking with your husband — there's always stuff to discuss, thanks to kids and mortgages — but you're not sharing with him. Your innermost thoughts, funny jokes, and interesting personal experiences are saved up and spilled to the other guy instead of your spouse. And even if you never so much as touch him, this emotional attachment has just as much potential as a sexual fling to damage your marriage. "We only have so much emotional energy; the more of it we spend outside of our marriage, the less we have inside our marriage," says Neuman. "And after a while, we simply do not have enough emotions and love and caring and time for both."

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