Emotional Infidelity – Adultery In Your Heart
By Miss T
Their relationship started at the kindergarten gate. Keith was, as usual, the only father in the crowd; Melanie, the only single mom. Their respective daughters would nag for a play date after class, and that’s how Keith and Melanie became friends – over lattes at Starbucks, as their girls ran around exchanging stickers and secrets.
“At first we talked about parenting,” admitted Keith. “After a while, I started telling Melanie about the problems in my marriage. Right or wrong, my wife never wanted kids. So I said I would take care of the baby if she would agree to get pregnant. You can imagine what it was like after the baby came. I was totally responsible! It didn’t help that she saw the whole thing as some kind of favor that she did for me – spoiling her figure, stretch marks, and giving birth.”
Keith started meeting up with Melanie outside of kindergarten and eventually the wife accused him of having an affair. “No, I’m not,” Keith replied, “I’ve never even touched her.” But his wife felt that a close friendship like Keith’s with Melanie counts as cheating too.
Then there’s my erstwhile friend Gina, who is upset and jealous that her boyfriend has a large group of female colleagues and relatives whom he insists that he has as much right to spend time with as his guy friends.
I did some research and to my surprise, quite a few relationship and marriage therapists agree that “if your primary emotional gratification is outside the relationship and your partner is excluded, if you’re consistently going to your friend for the emotional nourishment that you’re not getting from your spouse, there’s a good chance you’re having an emotional affair”.
I remember an intense relationship I had in my mid 20s. He had half a dozen women friends who counted on him to put up curtain rails, jump start the car and be a shoulder to cry on when their pet hamster died. I remember being both upset and furious that it took me ten reminders for him to take the garbage out, but just a phone call to have him running over to fix some other girl’s blocked drain. I honestly felt that unless and until he made me feel secure enough as his best friend, his most important priority and his one and only love, he had no business being good mates with any other girl. Yet, I would never have accused him of ‘cheating’ on me.
The traditional definition of ‘cheating’ is when one person in a committed relationship is physically involved with someone else. Today, it seems, the experts have contemporized cheating behavior to include ’emotional infidelity’, technically any infidelity that occurs through feelings or thoughts.
Cheating can now include having intimate correspondence with someone while on a cell phone, meeting someone over the Internet and maintaining a relationship, and even viewing pornographic material.
BZZZRRR!!! Whaaat??? Stop!!! Rewind!!!
I got to this point of research and felt I was drowning in an overwhelming wave of puritanical conservatism. My inner feminist strongly objected. As much as I would like my relationship partner to be wholly committed to me, as much as I acknowledge that all relationships need work and nurturing, there comes a point when freewill and compatibility is more important.
Pity the poor chap who dreams about Angelina Jolie. Come to it, what about when we girls dream about Brad Pitt? Let’s be honest now: we rarely admit it, but I know for a fact that when we’re under the sheets with our eyes closed, we often pretend its David Beckham on top of us.
Yes, of course affairs can develop out of friendships (otherwise, they’d be known as one night stands!) but to propose that once you’ve made a commitment to someone, you should cease to be friendly with those of the opposite sex just to protect the sanctity of that commitment, well – if you turn it around, it would then be perfectly alright for the man to ask us womenfolk to don a burqa when we get married. How is it different? It’s to protect our chastity, isn’t it? It’s saying there are dangers out there that can ruin our marriage and our relationship if we let even the smallest smidgen of temptation into the equation.
To me, it is utter rot to say that your partner is cheating on you because he or she his paying emotional attention to someone else. A relationship is a two-way street. With traffic. Not an isolated and static spot.
I would be one of those women outraged at the suggestions of a certain Miami Beach psychologist: “Are you a woman who shares secrets with a male friend? Are you the kind of man who reviews his weekend plans with a female co-worker? Or do you go out for drinks with a colleague of the opposite sex? If you are married and answer yes to any of these questions, then therapist M. Gary Neuman has a word to describe your behaviour: Unfaithful.”
He sees opportunities for inappropriate behavior behind every lunch, every trip for drinks after work, and every business trip where men and women are thrust into prolonged social contact without their spouses. Modern ‘team building’ retreats where male and female co-workers climb walls or rappel down cliffs? Neuman would like to see them come to an immediate end. I too have a word to describe Mr Neuman’s thinking: Primitive.
Not surprisingly, within a couple of months of his book hitting the stands, he was receiving hate mails from women angrily accusing him of rekindling a Victorian attitude toward women.
Thankfully, other experts at least put in some conditions. Friendship between members of the opposite sex, says Dr Shirley Glass, must have 3 traits to be considered infidelity: emotional intimacy that is greater than in the marriage, sexual tension, and secrecy.
My verdict: we’re all sexual beings and having friendships, flirtations and even crushes is a normal part of life. After all, you may be married, but you’re not blind nor brain dead. It’s not a crime to pal around with a guy or girl. But! Be mature enough to realize that problems can arise if you spend most of your emotional energy on your friend and you begin to withdraw emotionally (and possibly physically) from your partner.
Here’s the acid test recommended by most experts – introduce your partner to your friend and ask yourself when you’re alone with your pal, would you be ashamed if your partner is watching?