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February 2007

A Brief Explanation of Emotional Affairs

I received an email recently from a woman who was asking about emotional affairs.  She has started an online support group for those who believe his/her spouse is involved in an emotional affair.  The address is, http://groups.msn.com/EmotionalAffairs.

Here is my response to her.

I'm sorry for all the difficult truth coming your way.  Yet I'm also glad it is coming into the light to be dealt with.  I don't have any yes or no answers to your questions.  They are all complex and specifics depend on the individual story.  I'll do my best to address them. 
First, every affair has a lot of denial, rationalization, minimization, and justification involved.  Otherwise the person would have to admit and face the deceit going on outside and inside. He or she would also have to deal with the betrayal and pain caused by those choices. 
The wandering spouses generally do have love for his/her spouse.  We are all born into a world that doesn't satisfy us.  Too often in our world it is communicated that the 'right' spouse will somehow negate that truth.  So we marry, love our spouse but also secretly believe that we can fill that gap where we aren't satisfied with something that will satisfy our souls and remove our existential angst.  So people try busyness at work or church, raising perfect children, drugs and alcohol, food, romance, affairs (sexual and emotional), sports, knowledge etc. to fill that gap.  Ultimately, it doesn't satisfy because this world is rigged so we won't be satisfied so we'll realize we're built for something more.    
I fully believe that your husband loves you based on what you say.  I also believe that he still doesn't understand the depth of pain it causes you to know that he is offering important and significant parts of his heart to another woman. 
In some ways she is like a 'gap drug' for him at this point.  To give her up would be to face the angst and also he'd have to look at what it means to be more emotionally intimate with you. 
Shame is almost always a significant factor in affairs.  In life in general really.  A marriage is such an important relationship that sometimes where shame is significant in an individual it is easier to find some sort of emotional or sexual satisfaction in a relationship that doesn't matter quite so much.  In other words if you reject him it is a huge deal because you are his wife but if another woman does it's not quite as big a deal because a divorce is not at stake.  The shame factors in because ultimately it falsely tells us that we aren't worth loving.  So to be rejected by a spouse confirms the lie of our shame. 
As far as his view, the secrecy does fuel affairs.  They have their own little world that nobody gets into.  There is usually some arrogance that goes along with that which would mean everyone else in the world is seen as not quite as smart as those two are.  They don't see though that their pattern is one that is repeated over and over in life and history.  The best they can hope for (though they don't know it) is to end up repentant like David is in psalm 32 and 51.