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Health & Sex

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The Affair You Don't Know You're Having


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."

While emotional affairs are not a totally new phenomenon — the late Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D., wrote about them in her groundbreaking 2003 book, NOT "Just Friends" — experts agree that they're on the rise. "Emotional affairs are happening more often because so many of us feel emotionally isolated," says relationship expert Steven Stosny, Ph.D., coauthor of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. Whether it's because of our demanding jobs and packed schedules or the hours we spend on the Internet instead of with our families, friends, and communities, we've become increasingly distanced both physically and emotionally from other people, including our spouses. And when we're not regularly sharing our lives and feelings with those close to us, we ultimately begin to feel that they've stopped caring. "This feeling of emotional detachment plants the seeds for an emotional affair," says Stosny, "because when you feel emotionally detached from your husband, you are faced with a choice — either to improve the bond you share with him or to look elsewhere to get your needs met." And working to improve your marriage is just that: work — work that's a lot less alluring than a little special attention from someone new.

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