Many people who end up in an emotional affair didn’t set out to be unfaithful, writes psychiatrist Gail Salz, M.D., in “Emotional Affairs 101” on Oprah.com. The slippery slope from “just good friends” to affair partners can seem innocent until you realize that you kept the relationship a secret and deceived your partner about the time spent with your “friend” and the amount of emotional energy invested in the relationship.
Emotional Affairs Are Infidelity
You don’t have to engage in sex to have an affair, affirms Dr. Salz. If you aren’t sure if you are involved in an affair, ask yourself if you would continue with the same activities and intensity level if your spouse stood beside you. Consider whether you share things with your "friend" that you don’t share with your spouse or if you invest time and energy that should be spent with your mate. If the answer to these questions are “yes,” you are involved in an affair, counsels Dr. Salz.
Ending the Affair
To recover the broken trust, end your emotional affair and take responsibility for your actions, advises Dr. Salz. Assess why your relationship was vulnerable to the affair and then take steps to resolve those issues, investing the time you spent with the affair partner with your spouse. Begin a more open, honest and accountable relationship, including confessing the affair, even if you never met the affair partner face-to-face. Apologize at the deepest level possible for the affair, listening to your partner’s pain and acknowledging in your own words the damage you have done to your partner and your marriage, suggests clinical psychologist Dr. Janis A. Spring, author of the book "How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To," in the “Reader’s Digest” article “10 Steps to Healing a Relationship After an Affair.”
Rebuilding trust requires the offending spouse to change habits, advises Dr. Salz. Stop flirting with others, treating it as a risky and addictive habit. Be careful to maintain friendship boundaries at work or on the internet. If you are going to see an old flame, take your spouse along to ensure your behavior is appropriate. Cultivate friends who don’t tolerate cheating. Allow your spouse to check what you are doing when you are on the internet to verify you are keeping your promise to avoid contact with the affair partner and other potential partners, suggests YourTango life coach Heather Baker, CPC, in “After an Affair: 4 Steps To Rebuilding Your Relationship,” published by "The Huffington Post." Give the betrayed spouse time to rebuild trust.
Joint Recovery Steps
Work with your spouse to set rules for acceptable behavior, suggests Dr. Spring. You both need to examine your relationship for the factors that led to the affair. You also need to build a support system of trusted and safe friends who hold you up and accountable, advises Baker. Work with your spouse on identified problems in your relationship. If you can’t get through the recovery alone, seek help from a professional counselor.