In parts one and two of this series, we discussed what defines an emotional affair and some of the reasons they may happen. Now we move onto perhaps the most difficult aspect-what to do if you find your spouse is participating in an emotional affair.

If you DO discover (or even suspect that) your spouse is having an emotional affair, you will no doubt feel simultaneously stricken with horrific hurt and wild anger. The feeling of betrayal is so overwhelming you will be surprised that you actually have space in your psyche for the nagging compulsion to get ALL the details. So, armed with rage you long to confront your partner NOW.

1. STOP. Think for a minute-when we confront someone while filled with rage and hurt, is that behavior going to encourage them to open up or will they just resort to saying anything to “keep the peace”? Your feelings and your desire for information are at odds with each other. Your rage will produce only silence, defensiveness or answers designed to buy some time– Not what you are looking for.

2. CALM DOWN. Take some time to sort out your feelings before confronting your spouse.  Consider the end game here– You can do irreparable damage in an already fragile situation. If you want to uncover the truth, consider how to best begin a conversation that will help you meet the goal.  Don’t act in haste, you may regret it later. Calm always trumps screaming. Listening more than talking is a far more effective way to gather information. It may actually take a few days or weeks for you to be able to do this. It can help to first process your feelings with an impartial friend, a trusted clergy member or a therapist.

3. DEFINE your own goal. After hearing your spouse’s story, figure out what you want- not as an end game, but for right now. You really aren’t in the state of mind to make any big decisions at this moment.  For example, your goal may simply be to develop patience or maybe to not deal with this until after the holidays. Whatever your goal, make sure that your own behavior is consistent with obtaining that goal.

4. NEVER resort to contacting the other person, their spouse or calling them names. YOUR partner will only become upset with you and feel the need to defend the other person- remember there is an emotional connection there, don’t strengthen it by testing it.

5. ARE your goals compatible?  Is his/her goal to rebuild this relationship with you?  Does your partner show remorse and contrition? Does your partner have the same desire to “see this through” as you do? Or  is he/she ambivalent and not willing to commit totally to repairing the relationship?  If your goals are not compatible, now is the time to consider working with an individual therapist to help clarify your options and deal with your pain. However, if you have the same goal, that’s good news! Together you can set up a program/contract that helps you both reach that mutual goal.

Consider some of these suggestions for creating a “Healing Contract”

    • a full confession
    • absolutely no contact with the third party
    • participation in marital therapy
    • full disclosure of phone, e-mail, text messages for an agreed upon time period
    • Remorse and contrition
    • times spent together rebuilding trust ,intimacy and fun
    • a forgiveness ceremony

 These are only just suggestions. Each couple needs to agree on a set of parameters that works for them. For example, if your partner works with this other person, you both may agree the “no contact” aspect is impossible. Together you need to define and create boundaries that insure the emotional affair does not continue. Or you may feel that a “full confession” will only cause you more pain and that you are “better off not knowing the details.”  

 This relationship belongs to BOTH of you and healing it is the responsibility of BOTH parties. If you cannot come to an agreement on how to do that, then you definitely need the assistance of a couple’s therapist.  Without a common set of goals and parameters, healing with not take place and the relationship will only stagnant or deteriorate.

 Lastly, if your spouse was in an emotional affair, undoubtedly there will be feelings of loss in giving up that connection. The need to talk about the demise of that emotional entanglement is important but not something one should do with their partner. It is simply too painful. A therapist can help your partner process those feelings of loss and obtain closure, so as a couple you can recommit to your relationship unencumbered and with a deeper awareness of how to protect and care for each other.


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