The Emotional Affair: How to Recognize Emotional Infidelity and What to Do About It

The Emotional Affair: How to Recognize Emotional Infidelity and What to Do About It

by Ronald Potter-Efron, Patricia Potter-Efron
     
 

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Even without the complication of sexual infidelity, affairs of the heart can damage the stability and intimacy of a relationship. In The Emotional Affair, noted psychologist Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron offer readers advice on recognizing, addressing, and preventing these common relationship crises.See more details below

Overview

Even without the complication of sexual infidelity, affairs of the heart can damage the stability and intimacy of a relationship. In The Emotional Affair, noted psychologist Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron offer readers advice on recognizing, addressing, and preventing these common relationship crises.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Relationships are fraught with dangerous pitfalls, the most current being the "emotional affair," which the Internet has made a major temptation and a painful problem. Psychotherapists Ronald T. Potter-Efron (Angry All the Time) and Patricia S. Potter-Efron define an emotional affair as "an intense, primarily emotional, nonsexual relationship that diminishes at least one person's emotional connection with his or her committed partner." They provide an excellent list of questions to help determine if your partner is involved in such an affair and discuss why these affairs take place, whose fault it is, and how to confront the partner having the affair. They also offer advice for the person having the affair on how to end it and move on. The Potter-Efrons emphasize the "five A's" of a relationship-attention, appreciation, acceptance, admiration, and affirmation-and identify seven common problems-mutual anger and hostility, lack of emotional commitment, mutual distrust, emotional overdependence, continuing power battles, excessive focus on family or children, and oversensitivity to insult. Straightforward, well written, and full of good advice for couples facing this problem and those who may be drifting toward what could become an emotional affair, this is recommended for all public libraries.
—Mary E. Jones

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781572245709
Publisher:
New Harbinger Publications
Publication date:
01/02/2009
Series:
Unassigned Series
Pages:
184
Sales rank:
553,916
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

We humans are a species of bonders. From birth onward, each of us makes a concerted effort to find people with whom we can connect. Once we locate those individuals, we work hard to keep close to them, often for the rest of our lives. We form deep, powerful attachments with parents, partners, children, friends, teachers, spiritual leaders, and so on. These bonds make our lives meaningful. There’s one catch though: a personal responsibility accompanies every significant attachment we make. The name for that obligation is "commitment." A commitment is a promise to those we have bonded with that we will honor our mutual relationship. We won’t just walk away from a serious relationship as if it means nothing.

This book revolves around the concept of honoring our commitments. Actually, we’re only focusing on one area of commitment, namely, the relationship between two adult partners that used to go by the name of marriage. Nowadays it’s wiser to speak of "committed relationships" though, so that’s the term we’ll use herein. We’re referring to long-term, usually sexual, usually heterosexual, multifaceted attachments. Partners in committed relationships also commonly want to be each other’s best friend, at least in typically romanticized American courtship scenarios.

Unfortunately, sometimes one partner strays from the path of mutual commitment. The result may be a sexual affair. Who hasn’t seen many a good marriage founder on the shores of that rocky shoal? Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written about the causes of sexual affairs, the damage they do, and attempts to repair relationships damaged by these occurrences.

Affairs are the subject of this volume but not sexual affairs. Our interest is in something far subtler than sex. Our concern is with emotional affairs. An emotional affair is defined as an intense, primarily emotional, nonsexual relationship that diminishes at least one person’s emotional connection with his or her committed partner. Intentionally or unintentionally, participants in these affairs act like sneak thieves. The difference is that, instead of money or jewelry, these thieves purloin feelings of trust, openness, and emotional connection. Worse yet, they proceed to hand over these family treasures to someone new. They share their important thoughts and feelings with special third parties instead of with their committed partners. And then they return home and act as if nothing is wrong! They pretend, sometimes to themselves as well as to their partners, that nothing is missing in their relationships. Furthermore, they hope their partners won’t notice that anything is missing. From the partner’s perspective, that would be like coming home after a thief has made off with your computer, television, bed, and kitchen table and saying that everything looks fine.

Each chapter in this book is designed to answer a major question about emotional affairs. Of course, the first question is, exactly what is an emotional affair? We’ve already defined that term but will go into more detail about these affairs, as well as contrast them with sexual affairs, total affairs, and friendships, in chapter 1. We’ll also include a questionnaire to help you decide if your partner might be having an emotional affair.

It’s very stressful to realize that your life partner has become emotionally overinvolved with another. Stress is hard on both mind and body. In chapter 2 we’ll examine how your partner’s emotional affair may be negatively affecting you. For example, your ability to think straight might be compromised because of worry and obsession. Your emotions also might be affected, causing you to struggle with anxiety or depression. Another possibility is that you’ve started getting sick more often as your immune system has become overtaxed by this stressful situation. A fourth area of concern is your behavioral choices. It’s easy to say and do things you later regret under these circumstances. Finally, even your spirit can be deeply affected by an emotional affair. If so, you’ll find yourself becoming more pessimistic and feeling pretty hopeless about things.

Chapter 3 addresses this question: why would my partner have an emotional affair? "Why" is a difficult but important question for which there may be no single answer. We approach this issue from a commonsense perspective, namely, that apparently your partner wants something that he or she feels is absent or lacking in your relationship. We’ll describe several of these desires, a few examples of which are the need for more emotional connection, understanding, praise, and emotional intensity. The idea here is to identify what’s missing in your relationship, at least in your partner’s eyes. Later in the book we’ll describe how to use that information to benefit your partnership.

Chapter 4 addresses a particularly painful question: whose fault is it that this emotional affair is occurring? We’ll look at (but reject) the most obvious responses: it’s all your partner’s fault, it’s all your fault, and it’s all the third party’s fault. Instead, we’ll ask you to take what’s called a "systems approach." In that view, whatever happens in a system, such as your committed relationship, is about "us" as well as "me" and "you." We’ll examine seven negative emotional patterns that may have developed in your relationship, any of which could’ve increased the emotional distance between you. Three such patterns are mutual anger and hostility, lack of emotional commitment, and focusing on the family to the point of neglecting the couple bond. Again, this information will help you improve your relationship in the long run, after the emotional affair has ended.

The first half of this book primarily centers on what’s happening to you, whereas the second half deals mostly with what you can do about it. The key question in chapter 5 is how to go about challenging your partner. Essentially you need to insist decisively that he or she terminate the emotional affair. We’ll describe three stages you’ll go through. The first is preparation, during which you’ll need to gather accurate and detailed information, develop your support system, and be able to distinguish between what you’re willing to negotiate and bottom-line issues that are not subject to compromise. The second step is the action stage. Here you’ll need to be assertive. We’ll discuss the four c’s of a good intervention: being clear, concrete, concise, and controlled. Finally, your third step will be evaluative as you reflect upon your intervention, and use your support people and your self-caring to regain your strength.

We’ve designed this book primarily for the partner of someone having an emotional affair. However, two chapters (6 and 8) speak directly to the partner who is engaged in the emotional affair. Chapter 6 directly asks the reader, "Are you having an emotional affair?" We include a twenty-item emotional affair questionnaire there, as well as a brief description of what an emotional affair is and why it damages one’s primary relationship. If your partner is willing to read just one chapter from this book, let it be chapter 6.

In chapter 7 we presume that you’ve gotten your message across and your partner has ended his or her emotional affair. But just stopping that affair isn’t enough to get your relationship back on track. The question we try to answer here is, what do you need to do as a couple to recover from the emotional affair? We’ll use an analogy, asking you to imagine that your relationship is like a house that has been damaged by a long, bad storm. We’ll help you examine and improve all the rooms in that home. By the way, the names for the rooms in your house are trust, commitment, friendship, love, respect, acceptance, forgiveness, and growth. We also include a straightforward dos and don’ts list for healing after an emotional affair to guide you on this critically important home improvement project.

Lastly, the major question in chapter 8 is this: what is it about the Internet that makes it so easy for people to develop emotional affairs? We believe that the combination of intensity, immediacy, and anonymity on the Internet increases the likelihood for irresponsible behavior. This chapter has important information both for readers involved in an online emotional affair and their committed partners.

We’ll close this introduction by discussing our choice of terms to describe the three people involved in an emotional affair. We considered several names for each person, trying to avoid the nastiest accusatory titles while not ducking the painful reality of this situation. The term we’ve decided to use most often for the person having the emotional affair is "strayer." A strayer is someone who drifts off a chosen path, often without even realizing it. However, once the strayer realizes that he or she has strayed away, it’s that person’s responsibility to return to the main path as quickly as possible. So, although using this term minimizes blame and shame, it doesn’t alleviate someone’s moral responsibilities. The name we’re using for the partner who is not having the emotional affair is either just "partner" or "committed partner." The latter emphasizes the idea that this partner is, in effect, the advocate for the relationship bond. It’s this individual who wants the emotional affair to end and to improve the quality of the relationship. As for the third person, the individual with whom the strayer is involved in the emotional affair, we’ll just call that person the "third party." Lastly, we often use the term "committed relationship" to emphasize the sanctity of the original partnership bond.

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