I recently had a friend ask me if I thought an emotional affair was dangerous. She asked me this question because she has been having some difficulty in her marriage and she found herself being drawn to a close family friend. They had a lot of shared history and she felt comfortable talking to him. However, when her husband found out he became concerned that she was having an emotional affair. That is why she turned to me.
As a therapist, I wanted to know more. What was really going on in her marriage? Was she adequately addressing their issues? Why was she confiding in this friend as opposed to her husband? Why was she concerned about this friendship? Was she afraid it would lead to more? Was she afraid it would impact her marriage? Did she want it to unconsciously or consciously affect her marriage?
Every individual is different and every marriage is different but in general, emotional intimacy outside of the primary monogamous relationship with a person of the opposite sex can have an impact. It can certainly threaten and alter the intimacy that exists or is struggling to exist between two people.
The danger with emotional intimacy outside of a monogamous relationship is obvious. It is threatening to the primary relationship. Some people are interested in open relationships. That is something else. But if two people think they are having a monogamous intimate relationship and one part of the couple has deep emotional intimacy outside of that dyad it can definitely be a threat to the primary relationship. And if one person is expressing concern about the outside relationship it needs to be taken seriously. A perceived threat, in this regard, is a threat. Often the person involved in the emotional affair is defensive and may say, “it is not serious or it’s just a friendship or it just exists at work.” Whatever the case may be…intimacy can only thrive when both partners experience a sense of safety and trust.
Creating ongoing intimacy between two people over time is a constant challenge and requires work. When it is working, as relationship expert, Sue Jonhson states, it is like watching two people dance the tango. They are in sync physically and emotionally and any challenges or surprises are maneuvered together. When one person in a couple steps out of that dance, dissonance, confusion and hurt can ensue.