Adultery is one of the gravest blows to a marriage, as well as a painful rejection for one partner. But you don't have to be intimate with anyone else to be unfaithful. Emotional infidelity is just as -- and at times even more -- destructive to your marriage. Couples I counsel are absolutely outraged when I tell them that they could well be committing emotional adultery when they flirt with coworkers, send around funny emails to colleagues, or hang out with members of the opposite sex at gatherings. But they are, and so probably are you.
Stopping this kind of relationship is the single most important thing you can do for your marriage. It's not about where it may lead. It's about where it has already gone, far from your focus on your marriage.
When you find yourself getting irritated with what I have to say, consider: Why does it bother you? Why are you resisting the idea? Why not see if I'm right by making some changes? What is it that you're trying to protect by maintaining the kind of relationships you're presently involved in? If these relationships aren't as "damaging" as I say, because you say you don't find them that important and they aren't going to lead anywhere, then prove it to yourself by letting go of them. If they don't mean that much to you, why the irritation when I ask you to cut back on these friendships? Remember what it is you've always wanted from your marriage, and start considering the large, determined commitment that is absolutely necessary to creating a happy marriage.
Placing primary emotional needs in the hands of someone outside the marriage breaks the bond of marriage just as adultery does.
Most of us won't fall in love in cyber space, yet we find it okay to share a different kind of space with friends of the opposite sex. We discuss our problems, air out our issues, and settle disagreements with our business colleagues. We chat with our friends and neighbors. What's the harm in a man having a casual friendship with a woman when either is married? Surely, every friendship doesn't lead to an affair. Yet we forget the emotional harm of relating to someone outside the marriage when that same energy can be used to relate to our own spouse. Marriage is about relating to a member of the opposite sex with an intimacy felt with no other.
When a spouse places his or her primary emotional needs in the hands of someone outside the marriage, it breaks the bond of marriage just as adultery does.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU'RE BEING UNFAITHFUL?
Consider your own personal relationships:
- When you hear a funny joke or good piece of gossip, do you first tell other colleagues? By the time you get home, have you chewed it all over so much at the office that you don't feel like telling that joke again to your spouse?
- Do you discuss all of your work problems (or issues involving volunteer work or other important things you are involved in) so thoroughly with colleagues that you're all talked out by the time you return home? Do you feel like it would take too long to review and explain the entire issue from scratch to your spouse?
- Do you go out alone to lunch or after work for drinks with members of the opposite sex?
- Do you enjoy harmless (by your definition) flirtation with someone of the opposite sex at a cocktail party?
- Do you believe that getting emotionally excited by flirting with someone of the opposite sex is helpful to your marriage? Do you think it helps educate you as to what you need more of from your spouse? Do you tell yourself that the juice you get from flirting brings more vitality to your marriage?
- Do you spend as long buying the "right gift" for a colleague of the opposite sex as you do for your own spouse?
- Do you share intimate issues about yourself or marriage with a member of the opposite sex?
If you're doing any of these things, you're being emotionally unfaithful to your spouse. You have only so much energy. If you're spending it with coworkers or outside the home and then getting home and feeling too tired to spend any more on your spouse, that's emotional infidelity. You're effectively relocating vital marital energy into the hands of others. Forget about where it might end up. Even if you never touch this other person, you have still used that person to relate to, and in doing so, you relate away from your spouse.
You may be shaking your head and disagreeing. But I've spent years helping couples pool their energies toward each other, and it has changed their marriage immediately. Stop all of these outside relationships and bring all your emotional and sexual energy home to your spouse, and you, too, will change your marriage immediately.
EXCLUSIVITY MAKES SENSE
The first step in developing a happy marriage is to close our peripheral vision to others so that we can be fully focused on our mate.
We seem to honor this commitment intuitively when tragedy strikes. Recently, there was an unforgettable wedding in my community. After the engagement, the groom was diagnosed with life-threatening, malignant melanoma. The wedding was postponed, and the twenty-year-old bride moved in with her future in-laws to help care for her love through his surgeries and subsequent chemotherapy treatments. There were few dry eyes as these two young lovers, wise beyond their years, made a public commitment to each other.
If one spouse becomes physically handicapped, our culture expects the healthy spouse to expend years of energy to stand by the disabled partner, to demonstrate a commitment to love. Why should we wait for that extreme righteous commitment to display itself only after tragedy?
The only way to keep a marriage strong is to put it first and foremost always.
I recognize that some may find my idea of marital isolation archaic and unrealistic. Yet we are comfortable applying the same logic to many other areas in life. If we were to start a business, for example, we'd understand the need to focus serious attention on it. If we were to start two businesses simultaneously, others would count the minutes until we filed for bankruptcy. If we started a family, we'd feel obligated to focus our attention on our child. We wouldn't dream of spending large amounts of time alone with another child. We'd know it would be wrong to limit time with our own kid in favor of another kid who seemed "neater" than our own. As a parent, you'd understand your obligation to find the parts of your child you love and to learn to focus more on those wonderful points. You'd want to find activities that brought out the best in your child and yourself.
Marriage needs the same commitment to developing a loving and satisfying relationship. We can't divide ourselves in many directions without losing the intensity in our marriage. Our energy is already split between our jobs, our kids, and our marriage. The only way to keep a marriage strong is to put it first and foremost always. Just because we live in an ever-changing "enlightened" world doesn't mean we should eliminate healthy marital concepts because they sound archaic.
FOCUS ON YOUR MARRIAGE
When you make the choice to truly commit to each other, you face a huge obstacle: the world around you doesn't understand commitment. They don't know that you really plan to live the rest of your life with your spouse. No, you don't want to do it in pain and misery. But it can be wonderful only if you learn to be there through thick and thin. When you know that you can be at your very lowest and your spouse will put loving arms around you and pledge undying love, you're married forever. If we can just banish the urge to find this kind of love outside our spousal relationship, we'll be forced to put incredible effort into the greatest thing we have going: our marriage. If you feel you are missing that "connection" with your spouse, choose to find the way to create a new bond with your spouse instead of looking to an opposite sex friend to fulfill you.
Countless people have told me that getting involved with members of the opposite sex isn't a problem for them because it would never lead to adultery. Having an affair is far from the only problem. You will simply be chipping away at your marriage every time you get that ping of excitement from an emotionally stimulating moment with someone of the opposite sex. It's dangerous to your marriage, and not just because it may lead to sex. It drains your marriage of the immense energy it needs to grow: the energy to flirt with each other, to be emotionally stimulated by a different point of view, to share the excitement with someone who wants to know who you are. When you place your emotional energies elsewhere, without even realizing it, you don't offer your spouse the opportunity to provide you with that same ping of excitement you are looking for elsewhere.
Refocus on the one you married and how you can get whatever it is you're getting from these other relationships from your own marriage. Find outside relationships with members of the same sex and keep the "chemistry" between you and your spouse.
Excerpted from Emotional Infidelity: How to Affair-Proof your Marriage and 10 other secrets to a great relationship, by M. Gary Neuman. Visit his site at http://www.mgaryneuman.com/