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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When Your ‘Friendship’ is Really an Emotional Affair

It’s essential to have friends — even when you are married. Relying on your spouse for all of your emotional needs is asking too much of any one person. Platonic relationships can provide the extra support and connection you need. However, you can get too close to someone else — even without sex.

Unfortunately, there is no clear dividing line between platonic friendships and emotional affairs. Rather, people tend to slide down the proverbial slippery slope until they wonder how they ended up feeling closer to their friend than their spouse. The extramarital relationship helps them to feel good about themselves, which is good. However, it’s a problem when that relationship becomes the relationship where they feel good and the marriage is simply where they live out their daily routine.

Even with knowing this, it’s important to understand more specifically what separates emotional affairs from healthy, platonic relationships. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs of whether a friendship is really an affair. In an emotional affair, you:

  • Rely on your “friend” for emotional support more than your spouse. You share very personal information and feel intense caring for the person. And, of course, you are in an emotional affair if you are in love with him or her.
  • Hide the extent of your friendship. Perhaps your spouse knows about your friend, but you are inclined to spare him or her unnecessary concern by limiting information about it.
  • Feel sexual tension — even if you don’t act on it. For instance, you might notice that you and your friend touch differently when others are not around. I remember reading once about what keeps the audience of romantic sitcoms engaged — URST: unresolved sexual tension. This tension can be equally tantalizing for people in the real world — and extremely destructive to marriages.

While all three of these factors are clear indications that a friendship is essentially an affair, a relationship can be destructive to a marriage even without the full trinity. For example, a platonic friendship undermines a marriage when it commands more of a person’s attention and energy than their marriage.

Platonic relationships are most threatening when a marriage is weakened. For instance, a marriage is at risk if either partner is not satisfied with some aspect of the relationship that he or she feels is important. Of course, a marriage is also at risk if either spouse is not fully committed to it.

Marriages are one of the most important relationships that people have. As such, it’s well worth spouses’ time and energy to invest fully in keeping their marriage strong and healthy. With this as their focus, they are likely to actually be happy in their marriage. And, in the end, this effort is the best way to prevent an affair.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 8:42 am

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