You may know the feeling. You were just introduced to your new co-worker and there was an immediate chemistry between the two of you. The only problem? You’re married.
Or perhaps you have been spending a lot of time with your best friend and her husband, listening to them and encouraging them along during a rocky time in their marriage. Recently you have felt something more than just friendship for her husband, who confides in you often, and you are worried that this connection you two share isn’t appropriate or right.
Or maybe your ex-girlfriend is in town and invited you to dinner, just to catch up “after all of these years.”
How can you protect yourself from the possibility of an emotional affair?
Emotional affairs often begin innocently and slowly, often without you even realizing they are happening.
If you want to protect yourself from an emotional affair, be wise, pay attention, and don’t let what happened to Joe & Raegan happen to you.
Joe & Raegan
Joe met Raegan at work. They saw each other every day and naturally got to know each other pretty well. Raegan was single, ambitious, and outgoing.
She and Joe were on the same team (Joe was her Senior Manager), had the same clients, worked on the same projects together, and always ended up on the same work trips together.
It was easy for Raegan to talk to Joe and he always had good advice for her. They both liked politics, and they also liked the same TV shows, so they always had a lot to talk about when they were stuck in airports together or eating lunch with other team members or clients.
Joe found himself enjoying spending time with Raegan and he felt like she respected him and looked up to him. She would always compliment him on things he did well and she stroked his ego in just the right way.
Raegan was single and not necessarily looking for love. She had recently broken up with a long-time boyfriend and didn’t think she was quite ready for another relationship.
However, she was starting to feel a spark of romance about her friendship with Joe. He always gave her his complete attention, often commented on how nice she looked, and always had a listening ear for her to vent frustrations about extended family, her ex, or politics. He was gentle, kind, and respectful, and he had a marvelous sense of humor. She loved how he could make her laugh – genuinely laugh – on a daily basis.
Joe was married to Beth, and from what he had told Raegan, Beth complained and whined about life all the time. Apparently Beth never had anything interesting to talk about, and she had kind of let herself go. Joe didn’t like being home because he felt like he could never do anything right, and that Beth didn’t appreciate or respect him at all.
Joe & Raegan didn’t necessarily recognize how much they loved spending time together. However, as the days went on, they found themselves eating lunch together, texting back and forth, and sending each other funny meme’s and jokes via Facebook. They randomly decided to start running together three times a week, after Raegan convinced Joe and a few others from their team to run a 10k with her. They found that this was a fun way to fit in a workout andhang out together.
While flirting and complimentary words were often exchanged, Joe & Raegan never held hands, cuddled, kissed, or were physically close in any way. They simply shared a beautiful friendship.
Or was it?
Secrets, Lies, and Facades
Raegan only felt a little bit bad about spending so much time with a married man. She honestly wasn’t worried about it because she knew that Joe didn’t really like his wife, Beth, and that they would end up getting divorced someday.
Plus, it was kind of fun being secretive and making sure that Beth never found out about the two of them.
For Joe, things were a bit more difficult.
He felt guilty all the time and only escaped his feelings of guilt when he was around Raegan. She helped him feel justified in the feelings he felt about Beth and she always tried to help him forget the reality of the life that awaited him back at home.
Joe hated keeping secrets from his wife though, and was constantly deleting texts and feeling anxious about being caught. Beth was kind of snoopy and it annoyed Joe that she always asked him who he was texting. He would always say he was texting his boss, which was a lie, but he knew the truth would hurt Beth, so he felt like lying was simply a way to protect Beth from being hurt.
For the most part Joe was able to keep Raegan a secret from Beth – he even would intentionally complain about “Raegan” (who was beautiful and classy and very accomplished) by referring to her as the “kind of heavy” girl at work who is lazy and mostly clueless about her work, in order to ensure that Beth would never worry about him when he was on business trips with Raegan.
Things Got Ugly
Well, these kinds of secretive affairs never can last long, and so just like every other affair, one day the secret was out.
Yes, everything unraveled – as it always does – when a neighbor made a comment to Joe’s wife in the grocery store,
“I saw you and Joe running the other morning and was so impressed. Are you two training for a race?” Joe’s wife laughed as she responded that she never runs with Joe, and that the neighbor must have mistaken Joe for someone else.
However, the neighbor insisted she saw Joe running, and with another woman, then she even laughingly suggested it must be Joe’s girlfriend. Beth started putting pieces of the puzzle together and realized that it probably was Joe’s girlfriend and that Joe had probably been cheating on her for quite some time now.
She confronted Joe at the office that afternoon – in front of Raegan – and things got ugly. Real ugly.
Joe told Beth that the reason he cheated on her emotionally was because he felt like Raegan met his needs. And she made him feel good about himself. She was a fun friend. She liked the same things he liked. She was confident, competent, and cute. And she didn’t complain about life.
Beth was completely devastated, and she often felt worthless and depressed. Her husband was completely attached to, and in love with, another woman. He needed another woman – Raegan – because she met his needs.
Beth started to wonder what would happen if she made some changes, and if she could start to meet Joe’s needs, just as Raegan had done.
Although Joe had been unfaithful to her emotionally, Beth still felt that there was hope for their marriage.
After talking with Joe she realized that the emotional affair wasn’t as ugly as she thought. Joe & Raegan hadn’t been physical at all (if Joe was telling the truth, and she wasn’t sure he was), and that made her feel a little better.
Joe recognized his error and took responsibility for his poor choice. He knew that no matter what Beth did or didn’t do, there were and never would be excuses for his affair. He knew that affairs are always wrong. They are what they are – a form of cheating, lying, dishonesty, and carelessness on the thought of the spouse who chooses to cheat. He recognized that he was thinking only of himself and his needs, and not about the promises he made on his wedding day so long ago.
Joe started to wonder about what he could be doing to draw closer to Beth, rebuild trust, and to strengthen their friendship with each other.
Beth was ready to make changes in her own life and to completely forgive Joe, and although they now faced big obstacles – including major trust issues – both Beth & Joe were both ready to start over and begin to heal from the wounds of this emotional affair as they intentionality nurtured their marriage.
Once Beth & Joe both realized what went wrong, they were in a better place to focus on what to do in order to build their relationship and protect against the danger of future affairs.
1. Nurture your marriage.
Take care of your marriage. Date. Kiss. Be thoughtful and respectful. Say, “I love you.” Listen.
Joe & Beth had let their marriage fall to the back burner. They had stopped nurturing their marriage. They never touched, let alone made love; never complimented each other; never planned date nights; never found ways to serve each other. They simply lived together, side by side.
2. Find out your spouse’s needs – their true needs – and make it your life’s work to consistently and happily meet those needs.
Joe & Beth had been ignoring each other’s needs for years. So, when Raegan came along and filled a need that Joe had, he made the poor decision to cheat on Beth.
3. Take care of yourself.
Be the best version of yourself that you can be, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. You’ve got this.
Joe & Beth had both stopped taking care of themselves. Especially Beth. She never made an effort to take care of her hair, her weight, or her hygiene. She didn’t pursue hobbies or talents, develop herself, or do much to take care of herself and find her own happy.
4. Be transparent, open, and honest.
No lies. No secrets. Be an open book. Share usernames and passwords, and have an open phone policy (There shouldn’t be anything on your phone that you wouldn’t want your spouse to see!). Also, give your spouse a heads up text if you have to have lunch with a member of the opposite sex or are traveling alone with someone. Don’t leave your spouse wondering who you went to dinner with or who you are with on work trips.
Joe & Beth kept things from each other. Beth became quite the snoop about Joe (because she felt so insecure about herself) and that drove Joe to hide things from her. They didn’t trust each other and Beth was always worried that Joe would leave her.
5. Beware your vulnerable moments.
Turn to your spouse first. Decide not to open up and share all your thoughts and feelings with someone who isn’t your first confidant.
Joe & Beth could have protected themselves from this affair if they would have learned early on to turn to each other, to listen to each other, to be there for each other, and to support each other.
True love, deep love, grows out of shared moments of vulnerability and intimacy, based on a deep foundation of trust.
This is why Raegan was so drawn to Joe, she could be vulnerable and open with him and he didn’t judge her or shut her down, he simply listened and encouraged. If Joe would have done that with Beth, things would have been very different.
6. Don’t text, email, call, or message members of the opposite sex “just because,” without your spouse knowing.
You can quickly build trust if you tell your spouse, “Hey hun, I’m going to message so and so about this, or because I wanted to say this.” You can also quickly destroy trust if you try and hide these interactions.
Joe & Beth never had a problem with this one until Raegan came along. It would have been nice if they had set boundaries in their marriage about their relations with members of the opposite sex, as a sense of protection and a reminder of the promises they made to each other so long ago.
7. Build and maintain trust.
If you are working on re-building trust, and/or not snooping, it would be wise to set clear boundaries and to create an accountability system. Then you can check in with each other and report to each other about your loyalty, in order to build trust.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!
Joe & Beth didn’t have them and they needed them.
8. Don’t flirt with, touch, or tease members of the opposite sex.
Self-control is the word to remember here. #8 is an example of boundaries that will help prevent you from an emotional affair.
Thankfully Joe & Raegan got caught before they let their friendship and emotional connection move to the next level, which is sharing physical affection with the one you love. However, if the affair would have continued, it would have led to a full-blown physical affair, because that is just the nature of affairs.
If you don’t want to have an affair, don’t even take the first steps that may lead you to have an affair.
9. Be smart and intentional about the times when you can’t avoid being alone with members of the opposite sex.
This is another example of boundaries that can be set. For example, if you have a lunch meeting, try and have another co-worker come along. If you have a trip and it is just you and your opposite-sex co-worker, see if another team member can come along, or if you can come up with a better solution.
If Joe & Beth would have talked about boundaries, it would have been easy for Joe to have Beth join him for lunch once in a while, or to invite other team members to go on work trips that he went on alone with Raegan.
10. Be committed to keeping your promises and being an honest, loyal spouse.
Loyalty is a choice. It’s in your hands. Choose to be loyal.
Joe & Beth started their marriage with the full intention of being completely loyal to each other. Little steps in the wrong direction caused a wedge in their relationship, and invited Joe to let down his guard and let go of boundaries that would have protected him. If Joe would have been determined to choose to be loyal, no matter what, this wouldn’t have happened.
Thankfully, it is never too late to start over or to try again. Yes, it is never too late to become a more loyal and true person and spouse. So talk through these ten guidelines with your spouse today and set some boundaries that will help you both feel safe, secure, and protected.