Attention — 30 October 2005
How to deal with emotional infidelity

The dictionary definition of infidelity reads: “unfaithfulness in married persons, adultery”. We know that it also applies to all committed relationships between partners. Infidelity commonly refers to sexual betrayal. So, what is emotional infidelity?

Emotional infidelity is the intense emotional interest, preoccupation, connection and intimacy created between two people, at least one of whom is committed to another person. It is distinguished from friendship or work related connection by: the personal nature of
feelings, one person’s intent, the type of interaction, the content of the discourse, and the length of time spent together.

The emotional involvement of a committed partner to another individual outside the union is a betrayal, a non-sexual adultery. In many cases this type of connection outside of a committed relationship may be more damaging and even a greater blow to a mate than a one time sexual transgression.

People ask: “Does it mean that I can not have a good relationship with a colleague because she is in a committed relationship?” The answer is: of course you can and ideally you should relate well to your co-workers. A good peer relationship on the job is essential for the success of the project and enhances each team member’s well being. It does not become inappropriate unless an emotional, personal interest carries it to another realm.

When someone develops a crush, or has fantasies of a more personal relationship with an unavailable peer, or thinks about that worker away from the job, that individual has crossed the boundary of pure work camaraderie. Switching the emphasis from the work connection to the connection with the worker – alters the basis of this peer interaction. People who do this are very aware of their internal thoughts and feelings and are not confused about the risks that their new emotional state and actions may bring.

When going to lunch with another volunteer is no longer just companionship for a meal during a break, but a mini date with an attached person, the line has been crossed. When the conversation shifts from the mutual interest in caring for others to personal questions about one’s intimate life, the shift in intention becomes apparent. The person being asked may feel some discomfort with the questions as they become inappropriately personal and may realize that this may be a prelude to potential greater emotional exploration. This is the time to redirect the conversation.

Physical affairs may follow conversations about sexual intimacy. Though it may not evolve to that level, this type of conversation is inappropriate between people who are not both single and must be stopped.

The time spent between people who are in an emotional affair is often time that would otherwise be spent by at least one of them with his or her mate. As flattering as this new attention may feel, this is a form of betrayal and abandonment of a partner. The committed person should realize that he or she is stealing attention that should be rightfully reserved for the mate.

People who are in an emotional affair may feel and act like people in love without mutual consent to do so with each other. They are prone to jealousy, physical and emotional suffering, weight loss, sleeplessness or even depression that often beleaguers unrequited love.

When a committed person allows him/herself to engage the interest of an available party, that individual is cheating two people at the same time. The partner is left out of his or her due time, attention and intimacy and the single party is hindered from finding a suitable available mate.

Emotional infidelity is insidious, harmful and should be stopped.

• If you are developing an emotional attachment to a committed person, keep it private and change your situation to remove yourself from that person’s presence.
• Do not initiate an inappropriately intimate conversation, ask personal questions or get seduced into “helping” a committed person with his or her relationship difficulties. It is up to the committed couple to find their own solutions.
• If you are in a relationship do not indulge a single person’s interest in you, tell him or her that you are flattered, but unavailable. Any persistence, or calling it “just friendship” must be thwarted.
• Your deep affection, attention, time and intimacy should be directed to your partner. Other people can be additional friends if they respect the sanctity of your primary love relationship.

October 30, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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