Emotional Affairs – Let’s Talk Live

Outline of my appearance on:  Let’s Talk Live – Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What is an “emotional affair”?

  • It is a relationship with a friend or co-worker of the gender of your sexual preference that is “intimate” without being “sexual.”
  • This intimacy is characterized by privacy, closeness, and sharing emotional vulnerability – vulnerability not shared with your partner.
  • This emotional intimacy fills a void in your primary relationship.
  • The closeness of this secondary relationship is a secret, and is marked by a level energy and excitement that likely involves sexual attraction.
  • The affair becomes a private focus in your life

What is the difference between an affair and an “emotional affair”?

  • Many people define affairs by the presence of sexual intimacy, and do not consider emotional intimacy dangerous because it is not “cheating” if there is no sex. But this isn’t true.
  • Notwithstanding the proverbial one night stand, emotional intimacy almost always precedes sexual intimacy. And for women especially, emotional intimacy is an important element of sexual arousal.
  •  Because the relationship is already intimate, a secret, and likely involves sexual attraction, it is only a matter of time before the affair turns sexual. The continuum of intimacy is more systematic that many of us think, and crossing the line of physical intimacy is easier than ever once an emotional affair is in place.

KEY POINT – What are the risk factors for affairs?

  • The two most critical risk factors for all affairs – emotional or sexual – are (1) unmet needs, and (2) opportunity.
  • Unmet needs
    • Being “asleep” in your life/primary relationship;
    • Work/family/social demands and responsibilities create the experience of “autopilot,” where our emotional/sexual are regularly suspended for those of others.
  • Opportunity (easier than ever)
    • Volume of time spent at work, compared to home;
    • Mutual interests/experiences with work colleagues;
    • Leisure/down time spent away from home (e.g.business travel/ outings where professional relationships can become more personal);
    • Internet/Social networking (e.g., Facebook, connecting with old friends/new friends with mutual interests).

KEY POINT – How can we avoid emotional affairs?

  • Do not let your needs or your primary relationship “go to sleep”.
  • Involve your partner in your life. Make time for each other (e.g. schedule regular date nights where you don’t talk about money, the kids, or other responsibilities).
  • Communicate more with your partner – talk to him/her and listen.
  • Beware of “high risk” opportunities – long hours at the office, business travel, reconnecting with old flames, social networking sites.
  • Beware of “high risk” internal cues – attention-seeking behaviors, flirting, sexual attraction, or feeling guilty.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD