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The Affair You Don't Know You're Having

Too Close for Comfort continued...

Getting Out

Even after you've recognized your emotional affair and the damage it's causing your marriage, slamming on the brakes is easier said than done. Says Stosny, "Many emotional affairs turn almost obsessive simply because you never had sex to consummate your fantasies." It took months for Rebecca to tear herself away from Lyle, even after her husband came across an e-mail from Lyle and called her out on their too friendly exchange. He demanded that she show him all of her e-mails with Lyle, which she did, and asked her to stop talking with him. She agreed, but secretly maintained contact. As time went on, though, she says, "I became riddled with guilt and grew increasingly aware of how my time and energy spent on Lyle was taking away from my family, from myself. But I couldn't help myself." In fact, she still hasn't completely cut ties with Lyle. "We still e-mail now and again," she says. "I'm just more guarded with him."

As tough as it is, quitting the relationship cold turkey is the best way to move past an emotional affair for real and for good. "Setting boundaries for continued contact will only raise the taboo level and, along with it, the excitement, the obsessions, and the motivation," says Stosny.

The aftermath of an emotional affair can have an upside: "Failing your own values can make you more committed to them in the future," says Stosny. So consider the experience a wake-up call to what is missing not only in your relationship but also within yourself. "I realized that if I can't talk to my husband the way I talk to Bobby, then there's a big problem that I need to fix first in my marriage," says Toni. And while Stosny and Neuman say it's not imperative that you admit your affair to your husband — in fact, you may even hurt him needlessly by doing so — some women don't feel like they can fully move on unless they come clean. After she cut things off with Bobby, Toni opted to tell her husband about the situation. "He was hurt that I'd been sharing personal thoughts with another man," she says, "but he was mostly relieved that nothing physical had happened." The couple is in the midst of trying to find a marital counselor, and Toni is hopeful she can rebuild her marriage.

Severing your connection to the other man — whether or not you ever tell your husband about him — is only step one. You also need to funnel all the energy you were putting into your affair back into your marriage. And while setting aside more time to spend with each other — away from kids and other couples — is important for patching things up and maintaining intimacy in your marriage, it's just as crucial to adopt a new attitude toward your guy. "Emotional connection is a mental state," says Stosny. "You choose to feel connected to your husband. You decide to be loving and compassionate toward him. You will feel emotionally bonded and sexually stimulated with your husband because you've committed yourself and all your positive energies to him — and he'll definitely pick up on the vibes you're giving off."

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