Sexual Affair or Emotional Affair? Questions and Answers
Do you know the difference between a sexual affair and an emotional affair? Is one more ok than the other? Can someone have a “mental affair,” even if he or she isn’t seeing anyone?
Have you ever had a feeling your partner was cheating on you? You may have seen or heard something that made you suspect your spouse was being unfaithful.
If you did and you asked your spouse about it, you are very likely to have gotten a denial of cheating. Pushing harder in such a situation actually would just create an even stronger denial.
Evidence of cheating won’t be enough to accomplish anything
If you had good evidence that your spouse was indeed having some sort of relationship with another person, then you are still likely to get a denial about an affair. A likely reason is that your spouse doesn’t want you to know the extent of the relationship. But another likely reason is that your spouse truly does not consider it to be an affair.
Many people who are having affairs do not believe that they are cheating. They characterize their relationship with the other person more as a friendship or even as a business relationship. And, if you try to say differently, you will be accused of being paranoid and controlling.
When you go seeking confessions of guilt, you should always be expecting either denial or blame. Most people do not recognize they are doing wrong. And they certainly don’t seek to change. What makes things even more difficult when it comes to affairs is that there is so much pro affair social pressure and validation.
Many people feel like they are not normal or are missing out if they are not cheating on their spouse. That is how backward society has become. But wrongs never can become right no matter how much people want them to.
If you confront, be ready to be attacked
When you confront your spouse about an affair, you are very likely to get so many justifications and wordplay that you will be made to feel like you did something wrong even to find out about the affair! You may walk away apologizing for violating your spouse’s privacy by looking at his or her phone.
Let me make something clear right now. Look at your spouse’s phone or computer any darn time you like. If you are married, that is no more an invasion of privacy than it is to look in your spouse’s underwear drawer. Marriage is about being one. What’s mine is yours. Anything different is not marriage. Check out Genesis 2:24 if you would like to hear it from God himself.
Anytime you find yourself needing to hide something from your spouse, other than for your spouse’s good, then you are doing wrong. What do I mean by your spouse’s good? I mean we don’t need to reveal things we don’t like about our spouse or things that will make our spouses feel unloved. If you are in a funk and wish you had never married, there is no good reason to share that with your spouse.
If your behavior would make God think you don’t care about what He says, you are doing wrong. Anytime you are doing something that demonstrates your lack of concern for your spouse’s welfare, you are doing wrong–no matter how you feel.
So, what should you do if you find something suspicious or suspect your spouse is having an affair?
Well the first thing you need to do is to be clear about two things.
The first is what constitutes an affair. If you don’t know, then it is going to make it easy for your spouse to get you to doubt yourself and prevent you from being able to stay calm and use good boundaries. If you can’t draw a clear line between what is an acceptable friendship and an unacceptable one, do not confront your spouse until you can.
The second thing is you have to be clear about what you are going to do. You see, what you say won’t change things. It is only what you do that will change things. When you are deciding what to do, you had better include both a plan A and a plan B.
When you confront, your spouse will either:
- deny, or
You need to be ready for all three responses. For example, if your spouse admits to cheating, then what? And what if your spouse won’t go along with your plan? You need a plan A and B for that, too.
Typical reactions to confrontations about cheating and affairs
When you confront a person with something bad they are doing, most of the time you will just get defensiveness. Not guilt, not confession, not repentance, and not reconciliation.
There are two ways to deal with guilt. One is healthy and one is unhealthy. The healthy way is to admit what you are doing and stop doing it. That’s not pleasant. People don’t like to do that. Instead, people justify, excuse themselves, and blame someone else.
Here are some typical things people say when confronted about an affair:
- I am not cheating on you. We are just friends.
- I am not cheating on you because we didn’t have sex,
- I’m not cheating on you because it was just sex, there were no emotions involved,
- I am not cheating on you because we are separated,
- I deserve to have a relationship with someone else because you treated me badly five years ago,
- and so forth.
Make sure you know what cheating is and what to do about it. And don’t confront your spouse unless you do. Otherwise, not only will the cheating continue, but it will get worse because your marriage will become even more distant.
You need to make sure you know what cheating is
First, if you are single and dating someone who is also single and dating other people, it’s not cheating unless you have both agreed to be committed to each other.
An affair (unfaithfulness or “cheating”) can only happen in a committed relationship. Commitment requires agreement. Just because you have committed yourself to someone you are dating, doesn’t mean he or she has committed to you.
A common mistake is for needy people to commit as soon as they start dating someone. This is neither normal nor healthy. Commitment should not come until much later in the relationship. Until then, dating others is not only not cheating, it is the best thing to do.
Too many people have married the wrong person because they committed to the first person they dated when they were single or following a divorce.
When you are single, dating is a process of elimination, until you end up with the best possible partner. It is only then that you agree to be faithful to each other. That either leads to marriage, or to a step back and dating others. During this time of faithfulness, dating others would be cheating and an indication you are with the wrong partner. That partner failed the test and needs to be disqualified. I refer you to my book on overcoming neediness if you want to find a marriage partner right for you.
While we can use the word cheating for single relationships, the word affair is more appropriate to marriage or engagement. Engagement is when there is a time limited promise of marriage. An engagement that lasts more than a year is just two people fooling themselves or one person being played for a fool. If that has happened to you, it is time to go back to shopping around.
There are two kinds of affairs
In marriage and engagement, there are two kinds of affairs or infidelity. One is called sexual infidelity and the other is called emotional infidelity. Infidelity means unfaithful. It is absolutely possible to be unfaithful with or without sex. Unfaithful just means breaking an agreement. So, unfaithful, affair, and infidelity all mean the same thing.
Sexual Affairs or Sexual Infidelity
Sexual infidelity means that your spouse or fiancé is: 1) participating in some kind of sexual behavior with someone other than you and, 2) that behavior conflicts with an agreed on or understood expectation that you both have about the relationship. In order to be considered sexual infidelity, both of these conditions must be true. So, if you got your spouse to have a threesome, that is not sexual infidelity because you agreed on it. Even so, you will be divorcing somewhere down the road.
Emotional Affairs or Emotional Infidelity
Emotional infidelity means that your spouse or fiancé is: 1) sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with someone other than you and 2) the sharing involves secrecy which conflicts with agreed on or understood expectations that you both have for the relationship.
Perhaps even more so than with sexual infidelity, the expectations regarding emotional faithfulness need to be clearly understood before committing to someone. It is not prudent to assume that any two people will draw the lines exactly the same on what are intimate thoughts and feelings.
If you want to share intimate thoughts or feelings with someone and know that it is not acceptable to your spouse, you are being emotionally unfaithful to your spouse. If you are not sure, then ask your spouse for permission first. That should clear things up.
Intimate–that which is shared privately. The fewer the number of people something is shared with, the more intimate it is. Our relationship with God should be our most intimate; that with our spouse the second most intimate. Having more intimacy with our spouse than with God is unfaithfulness to God; having more intimacy with another person than with our spouse is unfaithfulness to our spouse.
Questions and Answers
“What about lustful eyes, pornography, or fantasies about others?”
Although everyone draws the line differently on what unfaithfulness is, affair definitions do not include such things as visiting topless bars, strip clubs, viewing pornography, lustful gazes, or fantasies about others, although those behaviors also break trust and damage relationships, if unacceptable to a spouse.
“My spouse is having a sexual or emotional affair. What should I do?”
Anyone who gives you a standard answer to that question is doing you a disservice. To me, as a marriage and relationship coach, the pertinent questions are not how long your spouse has been having an affair, how many affairs there have been, or how many problems there are in your relationship.
The pertinent question is, “Do you want to continue your relationship with your spouse if he or she ends the affair and commits to working on your marriage relationship?” If not, then don’t seek to reconcile because you will only delay the inevitable while doing more damage. Divorce instead.
While God values marriage, He does not value a conflicted marriage in which people behave unlovingly toward each other. If you stay married because of your Christian beliefs, then you have to love because of your Christian beliefs, too. You can’t just pick the beliefs you want to follow.
If you can be loving enough to do tough things that will help your spouse to end his or her affair, then I recommend you work on ending your spouse’s affair. I view affairs much like addictions. Helping someone to end them takes much the same kind of work. Women are likely to benefit from my book, A Christian Guide to Preventing and Ending Men’s Affairs. That book however, is not helpful for men because of the gender differences in affairs.
I have coaching packages for both men and women who would like to work with me to end their spouse’s affair. Couples counseling or couples coaching is not effective for ending a spouse’s affair. A cheating partner will not collaborate on ending an affair, although a cheating partner will go to counseling to delay ending an affair. If you want to do marriage counseling, you must end the affair and re-motivate your spouse first.
“Is there really hope for a marriage when there is an affair?”
Many people divorce when they discover an affair. But, an even greater number of people work on their marriage after they discover an affair. Many happy couples have had the traumatic experience of an affair early on in their relationship and have gone on to have great relationships. An affair, like addictions, or abuse, doesn’t mean the relationship has to end, but it does mean that appropriate boundaries and relationship building methods have to be used.