Is it an affair if you don’t have sex? Since the birth of the internet, people can connect with others they may never have crossed paths with before. People “meet” people for information on everything. This includes entertainment, travel and good deals to medical information and making new friends. In cyberspace, there are few, if any, limits and boundaries. So what’s wrong with a little innocent chatting here and there? Bruce is a nice married guy in his forties with two children and one on the way.
His wife and he, both lawyers, are the couple trying to do it all — have the perfect careers and family life. Bruce, however, was beginning to feel neglected by his wife. She was either working, busy with the kids or exhausted from being pregnant. He was lonely. He began to “surf the net”. Bruce has always been committed to his wife and family and would never think to stray. Bruce began talking online to other spouses who felt neglected in their marriages. This was the beginning of the end, or close to it. Bruce developed an “ongoing conversation”, as he referred to it, with a married woman who was frustrated in her own marriage. She called herself “Sue”. Bruce described feeling as if Sue really “cared” about him. He did not feel as if his wife cared anymore. Sue would ask Bruce how his day went, she laughed at his jokes and she never complained to him. Bruce would feel good after speaking to her, either online or over the phone. Being that they never met in person and certainly never had sex. Bruce felt as though he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Instead, he felt he might be doing his wife a favor by having his emotional needs met elsewhere. He rationalized this gave his wife one less thing to do.
Sarah, Bruce’s wife, soon discovered that he was involved in the “ongoing conversations” or as she referred to it, a “relationship”. After seeking out my help, they learned that any connection with a person outside the marriage to meet needs that should be met within the marriage, is an affair. Yes, in fact, Bruce was having an affair, more specifically, an emotional affair. An emotional affair is one in which you rely on another person outside your marriage to meet needs that should be met by your spouse. In fact, an emotional affair is often more challenging to recover from than a sexual one. How? I’ve heard many betrayed spouses say, “If it were just sex, I could live with that. But I think he loves her.” That connection is often more difficult to break.
So what then is the best way to handle a situation like this? The following is a list of things you can put into action immediately to either avoid an emotional or sexual affair or to cope if it is past that point for you.
- If you are feeling neglected by your spouse, tell him or her. Say it in a way that is not blaming or accusatory. For example, “When you are busy with work and the kids, I miss spending time with you and feel neglected.” Chances are better that your partner will hear that versus something like, “You never pay attention to me anymore.” (Be careful not to use words like “always” and “never”.)
- Talk to a professional therapist if you feel you cannot help yourself from getting involved with someone else. You and your partner have a history and if you once felt great with your partner, you can absolutely get that back!
- Be persistent with your partner. Don’t Give Up! If you feel as though you have tried to talk to your partner but her or she is just not changing, change yourself. Change your approach. You and your marriage will benefit.
Incidentally, Bruce and Sarah were able to work through this. Not only did they both feel understood, they reported feeling closer than ever before in their relationship.