Emotional Infidelity in Relationships

By Guest Contributor Dr. Margaret Paul, YourTango

Emotional Infidelity in Relationships

Emotional infidelity occurs when you or your partner become emotionally connected with someone outside of your relationship, either in person or on the Internet. But how dangerous to a marriage or committed relationship is emotional infidelity?

One way of looking at emotional infidelity is that it is very dangerous, because it not only takes away time and energy from the marriage, but it can lead to sexual infidelity and possibly to the end of marriage.

Another way of looking at it is that it is a symptom of problems that already exist within a marriage. My experience with the couples that I work with is that, when the primary relationship is not emotionally and physically intimate, each person may be vulnerable to a form of infidelity—either emotional and/or physical. Rather than blaming the affair on the problems, why not address the real problem?

Emotional affairs are compelling because it is so easy to be close with someone with whom you have no shared responsibility—no money issues, no children, no chores. It is easy to share your deepest feelings with someone with whom you have no conflict. It is easy to get the good feelings you get when someone who doesn’t live with you and doesn’t see all your issues thinks you are wonderful. But it is a cop-out—an easy way out of dealing with the real issues at hand. And if this affair does lead to a break up of your marriage and into a new permanent relationship, the chances are you will end up with the same problems! So why waste your time? Why not deal with the problems now?

The primary problem that leads to emotional infidelity is emotional distance between partners. While emotional infidelity is a symptom of emotional distance within the primary relationship, the emotional distance is also a symptom of the deeper issues within the relationship. These deeper issues might be:

1. One or both partners trying to have control through anger, blame, and criticism—which are overt forms of control.
 
2. One or both partners trying to have control through caretaking, i.e. giving themselves up and taking responsibility for the other person’s feelings—which is a covert form of control.
 
3. One or both partners withdrawing and resisting being controlled by the other partner.
 
4. Neither partner taking emotional responsibility for his or her own feelings of pain and joy. Each partner abandoning themselves—with self-judgment and ignoring their feelings through addictions, and/or making the other responsible for their feelings.
 
5. Power struggles that result from the control-and-resistance dynamic and an inability to resolve conflict.

The relationship system that develops when neither partner takes responsibility for his or her own feelings, and when each partner tries to have control in overt or covert ways, grinds down the love until each person feels disconnected from their partner and lonely in the relationship. This is when they are susceptible to emotional infidelity.

However, these patterns do not disappear just because you move into another relationship. You take your overt and covert forms of control with you into any relationship, as well as your underlying fears of rejection and engulfment that underlie these forms of control. These patterns don’t generally show up early in a relationship or in an emotional or physical affair, but that doesn’t mean they are gone. If your new relationship were to become your committed primary relationship, these patterns would again surface.

Why waste what might turn out to be a wonderful relationship by not dealing with your fears, controlling patterns and self-abandonment now, in your current relationship? Instead of looking for someone else to fill up your emptiness and take away your aloneness, why not learn to do this for yourself so that you can break your dysfunctional patterns and become the loving human being you are capable of being? Imagine the wonderful relationship you and your partner might have if both of you were to learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings and your own ability to love!

More at YourTango:

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6 Signs You’re Married to a Bully

The Dirt on Dating After Divorce

 

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