Making it through the storms in a long-term relationship is about commitment and being transparent about your issues with each other. Going outside the relationship container for emotional support is a flaming red flag.
In most long-term relationships (marriages) there are periods of mundane life, where things are not awful, but they are also not awesome. When you have kids, this may happen as they start leaving for a good portion of the day for school. At this juncture, the kid-responsible parent may now be asked to return to the workforce, at least part-time, to help build the financial momentum required by a growing family.
Why Is This Happening?
It was during one of these periods when my then-wife began an intimate (non-sexual, as far as I know) relationship with a young man at her office. She had been working 20-hours a week and trying to find a career that aligned with her long-term goals. I don’t have data about how long this emotional affair went on, but it involved lunches and intimate emails that concerned my then-wife’s frustration at her marriage and her current position in life. She was reaching out for an empathetic ear. She was sharing emotional pain with this young man that she needed to share with me.
The harder reality is “lunches” are exactly how I began courting her before we started down the dating path. (Is “lunch” ever just lunch?) We met on Easter Sunday at a nearby coffee shop and exchanged our mutual admiration and “divorced” status. She failed to tell me, at that very moment, that she was living with a man. And she failed to mention this over the course of about 4 lunches, 300+ flirty texts, and one date with a lot of kissing.
The dear John letter came in the form of an unexpected request for lunch. We had come close on our date to pushing past kissing into something more, um… Anyway, she invited me to lunch to tell me she was living with a guy and wanted to not see me for a while, as she figured out what she wanted to do with her CURRENT LOVER.
Hindsight is 2020
So, when I discovered an email one afternoon while I was working on the family computer, I was hurt a bit more deeply than just a flirty email. They had been having coffee or lunch dates for a while. The young man was thanking my then-wife for showing him the local library and how free coffee and great reading chairs were always available. (What? She took him to our library?) And they were planning some future meetings. But darker and deeper was her sharing of her pain, her own sadness, and loneliness. She was sharing things with him that she needed to bring into couples therapy.
It didn’t occur to me until after the divorce how insidious this seemingly harmless “friendship” was in predicting the course of our future relationship and marriage. In a similar fashion, my then-wife also failed to mention, in couples therapy a few years later, that she had been to see a divorce attorney. (Wait? What? While we’re in couples therapy you are going to go visit an attorney without bringing your complaints and needs into therapy? What were we doing in therapy? We needed divorce counseling.
When You Find Yourself Sharing Too Much
It’s easy to slip into emotional intimacy with another person before realizing you are doing anything wrong. In my then-wife’s case, she never admitted to doing anything wrong, but she did say she could see how this behavior “might” hurt me. She said she would stop “sharing” and “lunching” with this young man. But, she never admitted anything was wrong. Just that she could understand that her behavior could be misinterpreted. Misinterpreted? I don’t think that’s the issue here.
When you find yourself sharing deep and intimate details with a “friend” while you should be sharing those complaints and troubles with your partner, you might want to look at what’s happening. Are you sharing with someone else because you can’t share with your partner? Do you need a professional to talk to? Would couple’s therapy be a good investment?
What happens when you let this emotional connection to bloom is you start sharing less with your partner. It’s called an EXIT. When you should be bringing up complaints with your partner, but are sharing them with someone else, someone who might have intimate intentions toward you, well… You can see where that might present a problem. Your need to share emotional struggles and needs is real. But you need to choose the appropriate container for your intimate revelations. You should be sharing any issues with your partner directly with them. If it’s not possible in the partnership, then you need to get someone who can help facilitate your communication with each other.
If you find yourself sharing intimate details with someone else, check-in with yourself. Are you going outside the relationship for empathy and affection? Are you looking for an emotional connection with someone else? Should you let your partner know you are dissatisfied with your relationship? Wouldn’t that be a required action necessary to get what want? You need to ask your partner for what you need. When you need to share core details about your relationship it’s best to keep that in a therapeutic relationship, and not an ambiguous relationship with an interested party. The young man who was dining and emailing with my then-wife was certainly a potential partner, but he was most definitely an EXIT from our marriage.
Returning To A Loving Partner
I have no way of knowing if that relationship was going to head towards sexual intimacy, but sometimes the emotional intimacy can be even more rewarding for the unfaithful partner, and more devastating for the losing partner. There’s no clear-cut affair to point to, but the damage is similar, it just does not involve bodily fluids. The point of being in a committed relationship is to NOT EXIT for any reason. When you find yourself wanting to exit, you need to do one of two things:
- tell your partner what you need and try to rebuild and stay in the relationship
- let your partner go if you’re interested in pursuing a different partner
If you work on your relationship by sharing what’s good and bad and making critical adjustments, you’re on your way towards building a lasting relationship. If you or your partner begin looking for emotionally intimate connections with people outside the relationship you need to look at what the problems and opportunities are. There are always two sides to any story, and I’m sure my ex-wife would tell this story quite differently than I recall it. But hey, it’s my story.
As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find lives after divorce. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
- The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
- Braving the Wilderness – Brené Brown
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce – John McElhenney
More articles from The Whole Parent:
- Heal Your Heart from the Fear and Loss by Opening with Vulnerability
- Self-Care and Appreciation: Can I Love All of Myself Right Now?
- 3 Required Traits for Building a Lasting Relationship