What Does Emotional Infidelity Consist of?

You tell yourself you are faithful. You love your spouse. You pray every day, attend religious services once a week. You believe in the strength of your will — the ability to resist temptation, the perfumed heat emanating from a delicate hand.

Ah, how we fool ourselves. All around are enticements. They are the banana peels you don’t notice, the black ice waiting to skid the vehicle of your soul into dyscontrol, the quicksand but a step ahead. Springtime and flowers and a glass of wine. A comely presence attached to a sympathetic listener (a therapist, maybe) when you are unhappy about something.

There can be so much in a smile and a tilted head. And those eyes!

How do you know when you are unfaithful, even a little? Or heading for it?

A few questions:

  • Do you sometimes think about the “other” when talking to your spouse?
  • Do you, even a bit, wish your mate were more like someone else?
  • Do you imagine what you’d do if free to pursue something elsewhere?
  • Does your present lover know the stranger exists?

The ice is getting thin, no?

  • What do you imagine your mate would think if he/she overheard you talking with this special person or read your email?
  • Does the arrival of a new message give you a rush?
  • Can you sense the “sex of things” even if you haven’t acted on it?
  • Do you lie to disguise any aspect of the new relationship?
  • Is the mental and emotional space devoted to the stranger enlarging?

None of the above necessarily includes any sexual contact, not even a kiss.

  • Do you engage in secret phone calls with the other?
  • Have you arranged meetings in a park, coffee shop, restaurant or the like?
  • Do you share confidences not offered to your spouse?
  • Is your sexual desire for your mate now much smaller or larger than before you became otherwise preoccupied?
  • Are photo exchanges part of your new, hidden life?

Many of these actions can be rationalized. The new friend perhaps is a co-worker or someone you met on a commuter train. Each step seems small enough and might be something you minimize. Flirtation is enlivening. Sympathetic listeners are necessary in any life. A new person is fresh by definition and the glare from the unwrapped cellophane hides whatever imperfections reside in the package.

At some point the frail self is caught in a wave, swept away, young again. The experience moves you from underneath a pedestal to the top of one. Routine breaks. Your spouse knows you too well, but the fresh friend is dazzled. Your life goes from static to ecstatic. You assume your mate will not find out. You don’t face what your friends or kids or parents might think. No one will be hurt, you say to yourself. STDs? You laugh thinking they can’t happen to you and nothing will pass to your mate.

You are a fool in love. The early stages of love make us all fools. I do not disparage amour here, but surely you recall muttering (in the past, of course), “What was I thinking?” The question comes too late.

Some argue you should simply enjoy the ride, ignoring that you are not encased in protective bubble wrap. Better, ask yourself what is of ultimate importance in your life. What are the reasons you chose your spouse? Consider the gratitude you feel still toward him or her; all you share and have shared. How can you enliven the relationship to make it better? Who are you really, your best self? Who do you want to be?

An emotional affair is still an affair of sorts, even if not yet so dreadfully complicated. The new romance will almost make you believe the other is Christopher Columbus and you are the America he discovered. And vice versa. All this while you are upside down and so much the plaything of your emotions that you will not even recognize you are drowning. Your stable life was built of blocks made of prose (and prose is essential to sustain any lasting relationship), but the weights pulling you under are full of poetry.

Perhaps you can find some of the old poetry back at home, too.

You have my best wishes and deepest condolences. No judgement here: these things happen even without seeking them. Friends and therapists are waiting to help.

Just remember:

The brakes on your being are balky. The steering wheel is unresponsive. You’re heading for a cliff at high-speed.

Think about it.

Oh, but wait!

I forgot your brain no longer works.

11 thoughts on “What Does Emotional Infidelity Consist of?

  1. Emotional infidelity is a normal part of life among a species forced into monogamy that naturally isn’t! After three “failed” marriages, if I were of the advice giving kind, I’d encourage all and sundry, particularly before they “tie the knot” to agree that they will experience “emotional infidelity” and that each should pursue it to satisfy the heart’s longing. If the primary relationship collapses as a result, so be it. Who wants to live in emotionally constraining conditions? Not I, hence why I’ve lived alone and happy for some time now. Vive la liberté!


    • drgeraldstein

      I love the comments you and Suzuki offered, Sha’Tara, because they are so different. Yes, “before” tying the knot, assuming no pledge of fidelity, would be quite different than after. Of course, other human lives are involved in such things, especially if there are children. I probably could have written much more; from several different angles, too. Thanks again.


  2. I agree dr S.! Commiting adultery is not only the act itself, but also impure acts, gestures, words, thoughts and desires, even anything enticing us. Just like murdering another starts off by dishonouring, hating and injuring the other by thoughts, words and gestures. Only by the grace of God can we fight this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. drgeraldstein

    Thanks for your agreement, Suzuki. Sometimes I don’t even agree with myself! As I wrote in response to Sha’Tara, the two of you have taken rather different positions. As you say, by God’s grace or good luck or good advice from a friend or therapist, we are sometimes saved from ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bpd2know1amworthy

    Do therapists realize the long-term impact their words may possibly have on a person suffering from mental illness? I know we are all imperfect human beings and that my responses are my responsibility – but….you are correct…my brain is no longer working…perhaps never was….in the way it should, or in the way I want….many times causing me to want to literally go over the cliff so I can stop hurting my high school sweetheart/husband (since 1985) – and finally get my therapist of only 11 sessions (five years ago) out of my head.

    I have been totally honest and transparent with my husband (and the therapist) about how his seemingly innocent comments to help me see myself in a different way and to reassure and validate me from all my self-defacating comments, sent confusing and mixed messages to my “yearning to be accepted and loved” undiagnosed at the time borderline heart and mind.

    An explosion of fixation, obsession, desire, irrational attachment and longing has ensued ever since – despite my rational brain and heart knowing it will never happen and is unethical on every level, and not what I “really” want even though I want.

    I initially went to therapy to get help so that I could live healthier as my own person, and as a healthier wife and mother. I did not go to therapy to “fall in love” with my therapist and “out of love” with the only man I had ever loved or been with.

    I am sure that my husband, friends, and therapists therafter are sick of hearing me trying to “get over it” and understand and process this emotional infidelity I commit.

    Mindfulness training. ACT workbook. Two years of weekly DBT group therapy. Two weeks of residential codependency rehab. Radical acceptance.

    Unfortunately Knowing and Believing…doesn’t always = Feeling.


    • drgeraldstein

      Thank you for this. With respect to the misfortune you have suffered, you have my condolences, but also my hope things will change for you. I’ve had a few similar comments on a post or two I’ve written on erotic transference, and a few suggestions of what might be helpful. You’ve identified a risk therapists might do better to consider. I wish I could provide you with a fool-proof method of addressing the problem. In any case, good luck.

      Liked by 1 person

      • bpd2know1amworthy

        thank you so much – I’ve read lots of your blogs, especially those related to this topic….any direct suggestion or advice that may possibly give me a different perspective or help to finally shut this part of my brain off (this is where black and white thinking may work in my favour) would be greatly appreciated! thanks again!


      • drgeraldstein

        I suspect, based on what you’ve written, that you’ve considered the range of remedies via therapy. Since I don’t know you and haven’t evaluated you, I can only offer some generic considerations. Assuming you are not seeing the counselor in question now, one might think in terms of an obsessive condition and examine empirically validated treatments used for OCD. If, for example a person were rereading emails from a lost love, that tends to fix (embed) the ex-love in the mind and, in a metaphorical sense, carve out a groove for the mind to stay stuck in and repeat the obsessive thoughts. Talk about your feelings about the therapist with others might have the paradoxical effect of fueling the preoccupation, unless there is something yet unsaid in such conversations that might lead to a catharsis. Having a “funeral service” for the person has been used by therapists helping patients deal with someone who has been lost. Counselors also have been known to recommend the destruction/trashing of old mail and email and any other memento of the relationship. Keeping all this in mind, the website or office of the doc would be off-limits, as would unnecessary trips to his office neighborhood. Finally, investing in some activity or cause to occupy and intensify life apart from thoughts of the therapist might be useful. Not to mention investing in the relationships still at hand. Good luck.

        Liked by 1 person

      • bpd2know1amworthy

        thank you so much for this – much appreciated!!!


  5. Well done, Dr. Stein, and done with your usual humorous touch. Love the punchline 🙂

    During the early years of adjusting to life in Brazil, my marital relationship suffered all the blows you describe so well. While I stayed at home with our sons, my then-husband’s job as a private English teacher gave him lots of opportunities to stray. As I realized when doing a course on Anthropology as an undergraduate, the male of our species did not evolve to be monogamous. In that regard, I agree with Sha’Tara.


  6. drgeraldstein

    Thank you, Rosaliene. Glad you appreciated the humor. In defense of the male of our species (I’m in trouble already), for the majority who are heterosexual as well as unfaithful, they find females. I wouldn’t therefore say the females are not evolved. Indeed I treated more than a few who found themselves in the situation I described without really looking for an extra-marital companion, as the men I described did also. We are all the descendants of people who had lots of sex. Complications are inevitable, though not for every individual, certainly. I should add that in marriages already dead and abusive, for example, I’d be hard pressed to pass judgement on those who stray with intent. Therapists, in any case, must be careful of judgement. On the other hand, I encountered quite a few people whose inconstancy was simply a matter of choice and lifestyle, a kind of entitlement, not something they could easily justify as anything else. Nor did they try very hard to justify it.

    Liked by 1 person

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