You, me and Friends! Part II

After publishing the post You, me and Friends, I thought I needed to further discuss about that ‘friendship’ hurting the marriage which does NOT involve sex.

Isn’t that crazy? Ideally one would have thought an extra-marital affair with one partner finding sexual gratification elsewhere would in some ways be more difficult to deal with. The betrayal there is evident! The sexual act becomes the centre point of all discussions revolving around what went wrong with the marriage.

But then why is it not any easier to deal with the situation where there is no sex involved? In fact it’s the mental connect with someone else that is wreaking havoc in your relationship, something that Michele Weiner-Davis refers to as an ‘emotional affair‘. She confirms, emotional attachment is equally powerful and destructive. It has the potential to threaten the very foundation and fabric of a marriage. The partner might feel emotionally abandoned and that is as much a betrayal of trust in the relationship.

strayJust friends, good friends are some of the terminology used to define such relationships.  We still love our spouse. It’s not like there’s anything going on. It’s not physical. We just get each other — in fact we help each other understand our own spouses better! An article on the 10 signs you’re having an emotional affair tries to break this down further.

An emotional affair happens when you put the bulk of your emotions into the hands of somebody outside of your marriage,” explains psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman, author of Emotional Infidelity.

Most often emotional affairs happen at work as spending working hours together can lead to familiarity. As one spends more time with colleagues, the conversations tend to move from work to hobbies to life to personal lives to partners and marital issues. Sometimes you share secrets that you haven’t even told your partner or the ‘friend’ becomes the first person you want to share good news with. The transition is so gradual that by the time you realise that you can share and discuss certain things with ease you’ve already crossed into unmarked territory.

Such relationships require as much investment in terms of time and effort and becomes a special bond that is separate from each other’s marriage. Suddenly there arises the need to be secretive about the relationship leading it to potentially threaten your marriage and theirs!

So where do you draw the line?

I’ve known many friends (mostly women) who have opted for having an emotional affair for various reasons – one of them being that it is less complicated. Is it really?

A girlfriend recently acknowledged that she had an emotional affair since she felt emotionally disconnected from her husband. His demanding job, frequent travels and the hours they spent online instead of with each other, they became increasingly distanced both physically and emotionally. She felt as if they’d stopped caring for each other.

This feeling of emotional detachment plants the seeds for an emotional affair,” says relationship expert Steven Stosny, Ph.D., co-author of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, “because when you feel emotionally detached from your husband, you are faced with a choice — either to improve the bond you share with him or to look elsewhere to get your needs met.”

And understandably working towards rebuilding trust in one’s marriage is hard work and less attractive an option that receiving attention from someone new.

When I enquired further what my friend found attractive about her affair partner, she said, “having another man give you undivided attention makes you feel special. Deep down I was upset with my husband for spending long hours at work and giving more attention to our sons instead of me. I felt as if I was only a bystander. To complicate matters, I was struggling with my own sense of self, especially my roles as a wife and mother: Was my working from home making me a good parent? Shouldn’t I be working full-time to add to the family income? My affair partner understood me well and made me laugh. I felt smart, alive and beautiful, sexy even, because he respected what I had to say and engaged me in stimulating conversation. He reminded me of the person I used to be — and perhaps hoped to find again!”

This friend of mine had an outwardly ‘happy’ marriage. She did love her husband and sons but overtime they had become so mired in their mundane lives that their emotional connection waned. Perhaps at some level she had the maturity to understand this and therefore never contemplated walking out of the marriage. And it was this same realisation that made her break ties with her affair partner.

Many will identify with what she was saying. In fact it indirectly answered the question why such relationships felt justified. It’s generally a relationship where there are no expectations other than accepting each other at face value. And the simple fact, of not having sex makes the connection seem all the more powerful. It feels genuine, romantic even, and more importantly, “safe.” Perhaps that is also the reason why it is so difficult to let go of emotional affairs!

I recently met a couple whose marriage is on the rocks because the husband had an emotional affair with a work colleague. Their constant interactions, texts, late night calls and office parties made his wife insecure. Their constant heated arguments led to him berating her, making her feel physically unattractive and comparing her lack of sensitivity to his work colleague’s ability to accept him as the person he truly was. In turn to rebuild her confidence in herself, she went in for a complete physical makeover and had an emotional affair herself! She reasoned that it was her way to hit back at him and make him feel equally miserable.

Interestingly, a friend in a similar situation was actually relieved when she found her husband spending more time with a female work colleague. She felt that having a similar experience would help him understand better her reasons for having the emotional affair in the first place!

While emotional affairs rarely break up couples, they can leave a marriage torn and tattered. “The affair saps so much emotional energy and core values away from your relationship,” says Stosny, “that you’ll undoubtedly feel guilty and irritable and blame your spouse for these bad feelings.”

Sometimes people are unaware that they might be having an emotional affair!

The realization dawns when they understand that with spouses we bond both as physical and emotional beings. If the emotional needs are fulfilled elsewhere then there is no need for any connect at home. The distance in the marriage widens as conversations are mostly limited to mundane, family needs, or children’s needs. When one partner tries to address this issue then the distance tends to increase even further since the other partner feels misunderstood.

I suppose that is also because innately we feel the need to protect ourselves as we’re conscious of the choices we’ve made which has led us down this path and that acknowledgement can be unnerving!

Fair fights!

Everything is fair in love and war.

Fighting fair works beautifully when you’re courting – your partner tends to be more accepting of your drawbacks, more open to forgiving and more open to seeing the complete picture. You’re keen to be together and portray yourself as the ideal partner.

Fighting fair is equally important after marriage but it does call for a certain amount of discretion and prudence. You’ve been together for a while now and everyday reality has ensured that you no longer feel the need to be the ‘ideal’ partner. Now the mantra is ‘accept me as I am!’

Differences are natural – there can be no marriage without differences. Conflict and confusion arise out of the pressure of living with someone you love dearly but who sometimes appears unreasonable! It is acceptable to argue and voicing differences is a wonderful way to understand each other. Fighting fair helps to build a sense of comfort and trust.

But, what is a ‘fair fight?’

– Dealing only with the issue at hand and not bringing up past wrongs. Avoid generalisations.

Well, that’s a tough one. Our emotions and its responses are built on layers of interactions and it’s difficult to pick and choose when you’re upset! But sometimes, it’s good to ascertain the situation and its relevance first. Every argument cannot be fought with equal intensity and you’ll realise that it’s mostly unnecessary to do so. You ‘always’ and you ‘never’ kind of statements makes your partner defensive and the argument tangentially moves to a different plane – which isn’t the intention so avoid.

– No name calling and insults.

The point of the argument is to solve something, not to win. If something is bothering you, then it’s also bothering your partner. The reasons might be different, your expressions might be different, your mode of solving it might be different, but at the end of the day, you’re in this together so you have to solve it together. Name calling only leads to hurting the one person who matters to you the most.

– Feel your feelings

State what is upsetting you with honesty and openness. You owe it to yourself to make your partner realise what about the situation makes you ‘feel’ bad or is disturbing. But be careful though about ‘how’ you express it – if your partners’ statement made you miserable, and you express it in a similar manner, it will make your partner feel miserable too. Unless you ‘want’ to hurt them, do remember that is not the intention.

– Take personal responsibility. Open your mind.

It’s good to reflect on your contribution to bringing about a situation that upsets you. Rarely, if ever a partner is exempt from contributing to it in some way.  Open your mind about a different interpretation to a situation or response. If you don’t then you’ll continue to be in a rut and progressively dig deeper with every conflict. Soon your partner will just assume your reaction and ignore its impact on you and the relationship.

– Remember you care.

Your partner is ‘not’ you so accept this fact. Learn to empathise with their point of view. Guard against the belief that you are having difficulty with your partner. It’s more likely that your relationship, that is made up of different interactions, emotions, facets of your lives ‘together’ needs a change of attitude. There is more to your partner and your relationship than this one argument, issue or difference.

– Resolve it!

Do this as soon as you feel the first signs of thawing. Make the first move – don’t fret or let your ego take precedence. You’re in this together, it’s an equal partnership, he matters to you as much as you matter to him. How does it matter who makes the first move? How important is it? How long are you willing to carry the burden? Will you be less miserable if you carry on the fight for another day waiting for your partner to initiate the making up process? Apologise and move on – accept that you had a role to play in the fight too.

After all, making up can be ‘expressed’ as passionately, so go ahead and have fun!

The Power of Love

Love, the universal language is an interesting concept.

According to Wikipedia, love refers to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to interpersonal attraction (“I love my partner”). Love may refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros, to the emotional closeness of familial love, to the platonic love that defines friendship, or to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. Love may be understood as part of the survival instinct, a function to keep human beings together against menaces and to facilitate the continuation of the species.

This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, compared to other emotional states.

Love changes over time. Does it really? Or is it that just our response and reaction to the love we feel changes?

Wanting to spend every waking hour together, constantly sharing thoughts and an admiring look, the urge to touch, however briefly all adds to the charm and excitement of love before marriage.

The same immediately after marriage – begins with the feeling of euphoria at having got what you’ve wanted, the open acceptance of sexual attraction and display of physical intimacy, then settles in with the reassurance of having comfortably become part of your partner’s life.

Sometime later, the urge to spend every waking hour together recedes – not because your love changes but you take it for granted that you are together anyway, so what’s the point of wanting to express it. The mundane, surrounding environment, demanding careers, money matters, building a future, in-laws, relatives and children’s influences seeps in slowly, vying for equal attention. The response to the love you feel translates gradually into acceptance of the duties you must perform.

Perhaps sometimes the duties no longer feel as pleasurable and then, you respond to the love as pressure to adhere to the norm wanting to break free from it all.

Then again, sometimes a brief recollection of a moment spent together or a passing comment from a stranger makes you relook at your response. You delve into that moment to rebuild on the love you had felt, to draw strength from it and change your response.

That I suppose is the power of love – to adapt, mould, conform, accept, let go and refresh itself as and when required.