When someone finds out their spouse is cheating or cheated, it’s awful. I’ve personally been there—not in my marriage but in another relationship. It’s like you just got punched in the stomach, and you keep feeling like you are repeatedly getting punched in the stomach for days, even weeks. But what happens when the physical cheating didn’t actually occur, meaning it was an emotional affair only? Is it worse? Better? And is recovering from an emotional affair possible?
Finding out your spouse cheated is shocking (even for those who suspected it. It can feel infuriating, and make you feel like you will never trust anyone again. Finding out your spouse cheated makes you feel stupid, and it makes you really, really sad that the life you knew is over, no matter what happens next. Whether you decide to get divorced or work things out, things will now always be different.
Here is one man’s story about her spouse having an emotional affair:
I turned to look at her and she ever so slightly moved her phone screen away. I asked who she was texting. “My train buddy” was the response. Immediately, I asked man or woman. She responded, “Man,” of course.
A month passed before I got the sudden urge to look into this. I discovered you can find out who the person was texting and how many times in that billing cycle, not yet done…26 days in, one number appeared 1300 times!!!
She claimed it was an emotional affair and he paid attention to her. Attention I never gave her. She accepted all the fault, even though there’s always blame on both sides.
I opted to stay and we fought through some tough times, but we have a better marriage than ever, no doubt. It is what it should have been from the start.
The problem and how recovering from an emotional affair can be really difficult:
1. I feel like a sucker for not seeing it at the time.
2. I don’t believe the details. She was caught in so many lies. I suspect it was more than emotional. What does bother me is that she still won’t tell me the truth, either because of shame or not wanting to hurt me, or fear I I’ll call it quits. I won’t. I just hate being lied to. I’m over the affair, I’m not OK with not knowing the truth and I know I’m not going to get it.
I am 100% certain that she’s had no contact with him since the discovery. But, recovering from an emotional affair is a tough thing. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Here is what (for me) would be so difficult about recovering from an emotional affair.
In any romantic relationship, I’m not going to say that sex isn’t important, but the emotional connection, trust, likability, loyalty and friendship are a million times more significant.
So, if my spouse fell in love with someone else and didn’t get physical, it would almost hurt worse than if he had sex with someone and it didn’t mean anything, or if they fell in love and got physical. Why? Because they loved the person so much that they didn’t even need the sex. So, what would that say about the relationship he and I have? It would be a huge blow.
Even worse, in an emotional affair, the two people can only fantasize about the great sex they aren’t having, which in all honesty is much better in their minds than the real thing. The sex and the person become idealized. Flawless. Perfect. And if they never have sex with the person, and the two get back together, the cheater might always wonder if he/she did the right thing deciding to forego what would have been the best sex of their lives. Would you want to have sex with someone knowing this? I sure wouldn’t.
Still, this guy took his wife back. So, here is the other side of this. It was probably really, really hard for him to stay in the relationship, but he had his reasons. Maybe they have children and he stayed for them. Maybe he felt he and his wife could do the work to repair the relationship and recover from the emotional affair. (When I say “do the work” I mean go to therapy, work on their communication skills, and delve into what caused her to look elsewhere for a deep emotional connection.)
I’m sure their life isn’t easy together. I know that if I were him, I would always be suspicious that she would strike up a relationship with someone else or reconnect with the train guy. But, maybe through “the work” and because of what happened, their relationship is stronger and better than ever. Maybe he had the self-awareness to take part of the blame for her going elsewhere for attention. (Not that I am condoning an emotional affair, but I’m sure he wasn’t the perfect spouse. No one is.)
The thing is, physical cheating is very hard on a marriage, but if there is an emotional affair (with or without sex) it’s even harder to recover, in my opinion. But, that doesn’t mean couples can’t recover from and learn to live with emotional cheating, and even become closer as a result.
The difference between couples who stay together after cheating–whether it’s physical or an emotional affair, and those who don’t lies in how they both handle it.
Here is what’s needed in recovering from an emotional affair:
1. BOTH partners need to have the desire to work it out and for the right reasons.
2. Both need to be committed to getting help and making changes to help make the relationship better.
3. The cheater needs to SHOW, not tell his or her partner that he won’t do it again.
4. The cheatee needs to forgive and not throw it back in his or her face every time things get rough.
5. Both partners need to be patient because it takes time to learn to trust and respect each other again.
6. Both partners have to come up with a contract (I would suggest a written contract that they both keep handy) of what they are going to commit to to make the relationship work and rebuild the trust.
In closing, I would have a really really hard time reconciling with someone who cheated on me, physically or emotionally. But that’s me. Every couple has their own story, their own, unique situation and their own reasons for why the cheating occurred. And, whether it’s physical cheating or an emotional affair, they get to decide, either individually or as a couple, how they want to move forward. No one should judge them for their decision.
I used to think cheating was cut and dry. In other words, if he/she cheated, that’s the end. Period. No questions asked. But as I’ve gotten older, more mature and more open minded, I don’t think cheating means the relationship HAS to be over. I just don’t. I think recovering from an emotional affair is extremely difficult, it takes a lot of time and patience, and it takes commitment and a newfound trust, but it can be done. Then again, staying with an emotional cheater for the wrong reasons: finances, you’re afraid to be alone, you don’t like change, the kids, can be a choice that leads to a not-so-great life ahead. The choice is yours. If you’re honest with yourself about what you want your authentic life to be, the answer will come to you.
Like this article? Check out, When Trust is Broken, How Can you Ever Trust Again?