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ASK THE THERAPISTS: Uh oh, I think I’m having an emotional affair

Is it OK to encourage an attraction to someone else if you’re married?
Is it OK to encourage an attraction to someone else if you’re married?

I recently met someone who I find very attractive. The problem is, I’m married with children. Although I would never cross the line and have an affair, I am constantly thinking about this other person and will create reasons why we should meet to talk. Since I’m not acting on it, is this such a bad thing?

Blair

It’s important to remind yourself that no one person can meet all your needs.

This is a surprisingly common situation (some claim that over 60 per cent of couples have similarly struggled), and yet not everyone is willing to be this honest with themselves while they’re in the midst of it. When we want something badly enough, we can justify almost anything, so I applaud you for checking in with an outside perspective. OK, so you’ve not crossed the line and engaged sexually, but an emotional love affair can have similarly catastrophic consequences. Although it’s not sexual now, there’s a good chance that it will develop into one if it continues to progress.

There’s a good quote from Katie MacAlister, “Those who play with fire should expect to be consumed by it.” Having a strong attraction for someone is natural, it’s what you choose to do with it that will determine the quality of your future. Creating deep emotional ties with someone outside of your marriage is entering the danger zone, and I’m guessing, is also not aligned with your previous commitments to your significant other.

Let’s start by being honest about your growing emotional attachment, which is directing your energy toward this person and away from your spouse. Mindfulness teaches us to be with what is in the moment, so that we can observe the root causes of our behaviour. I wonder what is leading you toward this person and away from your family. Family life can be rough and messy, it’s one of the most demanding jobs anyone could have. Are you looking for an escape? Are you bored in your marriage? Are you ignoring your own needs? Whatever the reason, this is an essential place to start because the answer is your GPS to the healthiest way forward.

If you’re looking for an escape or time for self-care, schedule a solo weekend away to refuel and fill your tank in healthy ways. If your marriage has become stale, which happens, focus on stoking the flames again, instead of seeking out another bonfire. If your marriage is beyond repair, that’s another conversation, but too often things are fixable, and we give up too soon.

It’s important to remind yourself that no one person can meet all your needs. This is why we have other people and friends in our lives to round out our enjoyment. If you can maintain boundaries with this person, then they can become a part of your friendship circle. If the attraction is overwhelming, I suggest you press the pause button (I know, it’ll be difficult) and put your energy into yourself.

Jenny

We often fall into the trap of attraction not because we love the other person, but because we love the way we feel around them.

One thing Blair has taught me to do over the years is to play out my actions in advance by envisioning how things will unfold. If we were to do that with your situation, it would likely look something like this: you continue to be pulled into the intoxicating vortex of your new friendship, building on your emotional connection. What then? You spend more and more time with this person, less and less time with your family. Before you know it, you’ve created a complicated situation where your spouse is suspicious (at best), your children feel confused about your absence and you’re overcome with so much negative stress that you don’t even feel the elation you once felt when you’re in the presence of your new friend.

In times like this, you must revisit your life intentions and explore whether or not the attraction fits into your long-term vision or not. If so, move forward with awareness. If not, set your boundaries, and harness your attention on the stuff that matters most.

I also encourage you to get really clear on the life you want for yourself. Do you want the freedom to pursue energetic charges with other people? If so, this lifestyle isn’t conducive to family life. But beware, pursuing attractions doesn’t necessarily equal happiness, especially the deeply abiding kind that we’re all seeking.

Years ago, a friend told me she went to see her therapist, reporting she’d met a man that she’d never felt more attracted to in her life. “What should I do?” she asked him. The therapist responded with a neutral expression, “Big f-ing deal.” The therapist was saying human attraction is an everyday experience. Yes, intimate, lasting relationships require sizzle, but there’s a whole lot more involved.

We often fall into the trap of attraction not because we love the other person, but because we love the way we feel around them. New relationships can be intoxicating. But that state doesn’t last with anyone, including your new friend, so any action taken while you’re wearing rose-colored glasses may have undesirable outcomes.

We have magnetic scrabble letters on our fridge, which we use to create short statements that welcome responses. Last week I put “Love takes work” because, well, it does. No one gets to enjoy intimate, fulfilling relationships without brave conversations, hard work and tolerance. Good luck!

Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award-winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting. 


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