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. It’s shocking (even for those who suspected it), it’s infuriating, it makes you feel like you will never trust anyone again, it makes you feel stupid, and it makes you really, really sad that the life you knew is over, no matter what happens next. But let’s compare physical cheating to an emotional affair.
Let’s say a spouse has a one-night stand and comes to you and begs forgiveness, claims it meant nothing, and wants to work things out. At least there is a chance to try to understand and examine why the person did it, what’s wrong with your relationship, what’s wrong with the person to make such a poor choice, etc. Now, listen to this reader’s story about his wife’s 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.
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 affair is a tough thing. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Here is what (for me) would be so difficult about my spouse having 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 they 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 in which 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 they 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 probably killed him to stay in the relationship, but he had his reasons. Maybe they have kids and he stayed for them. Maybe he felt he and his wife could do the work to repair the relationship. (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 overcome, in my opinion. But, that doesn’t mean couples can’t learn to live with emotional cheating and even become closer as a result.
The difference between couples who stay together after cheating and those who don’t lies in how they both handle it.
Here is what’s needed for the relationship to mend:
1. BOTH partners need to want 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 sort of a contract of what they are going to commit to to make the relationship work and rebuild the trust.
Here’s the thing. 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.
Like this article? Check out, “Were you Cheated On? Advice For The Cheatee”