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Health & Sex

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The Affair You Don't Know You're Having

Too Close for Comfort

Once you're drawn into an emotional affair, it can feel so good that you don't want to stop. In fact, not having sex may make the connection seem all the more powerful. It feels genuine, romantic even, and isn't easy to let go of because it's so "safe" — or so it appears. But inevitably, you start unfairly comparing your husband to this other man, says Neuman, which compounds the damage. "You don't have the stresses of everyday life together, so the new guy can be very humorous, very cute, and very giving," he says. "You go back to your spouse and you're comparing him to this guy in pieces: He'll never be as handsome as this guy or as funny as this guy or as giving as this guy." While emotional affairs rarely break up couples, they can leave a marriage torn and tattered. "The affair saps so much emotional energy and core values away from your relationship," says Stosny, "that you'll undoubtedly feel guilty and irritable and blame your husband for these bad feelings."

Another sure sign your "innocent" friendship has gotten out of control: You would be embarrassed for your husband to witness your interactions or to know what you are thinking about when you're with this other guy. And once you start keeping secrets, even "innocent" ones, your intimacy with your main man suffers even more. Toni Richards, 40, a mother of four from Wiley, TX, who had an emotional affair with a former coworker, says that as she grew closer to Bobby, she began to flat-out avoid her husband. "I wasn't even sleeping in the same bed as my husband. In a sense, I didn't want to be next to him because I worried he would know that something was going on, that I would say something in my sleep," she says. "I started pulling away from him and I didn't talk to him as much."

And of course, with every emotionally engaging or sexually charged conversation or e-mail, phone call, or meeting, taking your affair to the physical level becomes the obvious (though by no means inevitable) next step. "The longer you continue an emotional affair, the greater the chance it will become physical," says Stosny. The first time Bobby asked Toni to meet him for dinner, which meant she had to lie to her husband about where she was going after work, she agreed. "We didn't kiss, but we held hands and sat next to each other — closer than friends should be sitting," she says. In a matter of weeks, she knew that Bobby was ready to get physical. After wrestling internally with the idea of being with him — and realizing that she didn't want things to go down that path — she decided to break off the connection with Bobby entirely. "It was a hard choice, but I still loved my husband and didn't want to ruin my marriage any more than I already had," she says.

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