Tacoma Christian Counselor
Most of us are familiar with infidelity and affairs in marriage, but how many people fully understand what an emotional affair is? Is an emotional affair a real thing? How does it happen? When it does happen in a marriage, what does the couple need to recover? Those are questions people ask when they are either the one who was in the affair or they are the partner who is left wondering what went wrong.
4 Steps to Emotional Affair RecoveryWhether you are the one who is trying to define the relationship you are having with someone outside of your marriage or you are the spouse who wants to understand what to do next, this article might be just right for you. These are 4 steps to emotional affair recovery with the help of a Christian counselor.
Step 1: Recognize that you are in an emotional affair.
So, things haven’t been great in your marriage lately and you have felt disconnected. What do you do? You find someone you enjoy talking to at the gym who listens to your stories, laughs, and cries with you and gives you advice. As you grow closer to this person, you grow further away from your spouse.
You find yourself longing to be around your friend from the gym more and it feels confusing but really good at the same time. All is well! Even though you realize you have these love-like feelings, you also know nothing more will happen because you respect yourself and your marriage too much and will never let things move past just being friends.
Months have gone by and you are celebrating the special moments in your life with your friend from the gym exclusively. Time continues to flow and you are pretty convinced your friend is the only one who loves you and they are providing the love and care that you need. You are no longer thinking twice about who you turn to for support, as the person who is always there for you is your friend.
It is your wedding anniversary, your spouse has convinced you to go out, but you are hesitant because your dinner reservation is around the same time you usually go to the gym and talk with your friend. You go out with your spouse anyway and they surprise you with memories of all of the special moments you have shared year by year, except for this last year, which was filled with almost nothing because you have been so preoccupied with someone else.
It is at that moment you realize that you have taken away your time and emotions from the one who truly loves you and given those gifts to someone else. After the dinner, you go home and reach out to your friend and let them know that you think your relationship has not been healthy and you begin looking for a new gym the next morning.
As you are reflecting on the events from last night and how you felt emotionally connected to your spouse through the memories, you wonder about the validity of your emotional affair with your friend. You are not sure how you arrived at the place where your appropriate relationship turned inappropriate, but you now recognize that it has to stop.
You want to move on to the next step of making things right with yourself, your new awareness, and with your partner, doesn’t know yet what has been going on in your life. Here are a few things from the book Anatomy of an Affair that are helpful in recognizing you are having an emotional affair (Carder, 2008).
- You share marital and relationship difficulties with this friend believing that they are a mentor to you and they also share their difficulties with you believing the same thing.
- You find yourself looking forward to being with your friend more than you look forward to being with your spouse.
- You start comparing your spouse to your friend wishing that they were more like them.
- You find yourself providing special gifts for your friend as you remember some of their favorite things.
- You start to spend more alone time with this person.
- You are uncomfortable with sharing your texts or computer history involving this person with your spouse because of how much you two are in contact with one another.
- You are noticing conflicts between you and your spouse when you mention your friend’s name.
- You are not honest with the amount of time you spend with your friend.
- Your texts and social media interactions start to become more flirtatious.
Step 2: Have a conversation with someone.Now that you recognize that you were having an emotional affair with a person outside of your marriage, you are possibly wondering what to do next. A conversation with someone should be the next step in your recovery process. This is where it may differ for some people.
There are many different scenarios at this stage. You could be at the place where you are comfortable with talking to your spouse and explaining what has been going on, you might be seeing a counselor on your own already and you decide to have a conversation with them that will be helpful in sharing with your spouse, or you may talk with a trusted person like your pastor who can support you as you prepare to either tell your counselor or your spouse.
As you can imagine, sharing what has been going on with you and another person can be difficult. You may be dealing with guilt or shame. You are possibly still confused about what went wrong and are only fully aware that the emotional affair happened but haven’t yet arrived at the reasons why.
You could feel reconnected with your spouse and want to do the right thing by telling them but struggle with fear of the outcome if you do so. All of these things can be reasons you do not confess at first, but be assured, telling someone will help set you free and be on your way to healing you and your marriage.
You may be wondering, “what should I say?” or “how should I say it?” when you share your story with someone initially. Many people after realizing they have been in an emotional affair are still trying to figure out the whys and hows of it but want to talk it out with a person they trust, so they begin with something simple such as “I really got caught up in a situation that went too far emotionally” or a statement like that.
Maybe that is all that needs to be said to your spouse at first to alert them to the fact that something has been going on that you want to let them know about. If you are talking to your counselor, you might be able to do some work based on that statement before you reveal anything to your spouse.
If you are talking to your pastor, you may work through some of your spiritual questions and get prayer. Either way, your goal should be to communicate with someone what has been happening and then work towards a deeper conversation about what led you there and how you will stay away from emotional affairs in the future.
Step 3: Find a Counselor
After having a conversation with someone about your emotional affair you may want to find a counselor for yourself or for you and your spouse together. Individual counseling will help you dig deeper into what you may have been in need of when you first began your interaction with the friend. Through individual counseling, you can discover your ideas around what marriage means to you, what your desire for a healthy marriage looks like, and what your expectations of marriage are.
You will be able to dialogue with your counselor about what you believed you were getting from someone outside of your marriage and how you can recognize that feeling in your life again as a way to prevent future affairs. Sometimes people are dealing with past hurts they brought to the marriage, so individual counseling is helpful for working through some of the pain that people try to live with and manage on their own.If you are the spouse who has just found out your partner has had an emotional affair, this would probably be a good time for you also to find a counselor and begin to talk through your feelings. You may now look back and recognize some signs that your spouse was fading away emotionally and wonder how you could have been a part of preventing this affair.
You may be taking the blame for and ownership of your partner’s actions, so a counselor can help you to distinguish between things you are able to control and things you are not able to control. You may feel hurt and rejected. It is helpful to have a conversation with a counselor about ways for you to regain confidence in yourself and your marriage. Meeting with a counselor can help you work through your confusion and eventually be able to hear your spouse clearly as they share their story with you.
Marriage counseling at this point is very important as well. If you and your spouse begin the journey to affair recovery together you can work through all of the things above in a safe space and gain knowledge about the struggles you both face. A marriage counselor can help you both work through your emotions, both past and present so that you can understand where things may have taken a turn in your marriage.
You will be able to work together to pinpoint moments where you did not meet each other’s needs and how you possibly were unaware of that fact. Also through marriage counseling, the counselor can focus on the health of the marriage and get it to a place where both people feel equipped to communicate with each other through the shame, guilt, hurt, pain, confusion, and betrayal.
Christian marriage counselors are able to have conversations with the couple about where they believe God is leading them in their marriage and how they see spirituality as being a strength to get them through life after the affair.
It is important to remember that both people in the marriage are probably aware of some of the emotional challenges they face as a couple in recovery, so a marriage counselor can use specific theories designed to help couples recognize the way their emotions play in their reactions to each other, such as EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy).
Either way you decide to go, make sure you go that way with a counselor. It is hard to make it through affair recovery on your own or with your spouse without understanding fully why the affair happened, what maintained the affair, and how to prevent an affair in the future. Working with your counselor will be beneficial in understanding your needs, your spouse’s needs, and how to communicate those needs to each other.
Step 4: Forgiveness
Now that you have worked through understanding that you were in an emotional affair, you had a conversation with someone, and you are engaged in counseling either alone or with your spouse, you might be at the place where you are ready to work on forgiveness.
You will likely have to decide what forgiveness will look like for you either as the person asking for forgiveness or having to forgive. You will need an idea in your head of what must take place for this next step to happen.
Some people are more verbal and ask for forgiveness while explaining what they did and how they will not do it again. Others are a little less verbal and simply say that they are sorry and change their actions.
In marriage after an affair, the spouse who is in need of forgiveness may not know where to begin and the spouse who is on the other side of forgiveness may not be able to forgive until they feel safe again, so trust building is an important part to this step.
Through an understanding of what the other spouse is apologizing for, whether it is for hiding the affair, allowing the affair to happen, or emotionally being withdrawn from their spouse, the two people in the marriage should have a conversation about what the offense is and how things will be different in the future. People may rely on their spirituality to lead them to a place of forgiveness and then work on the details later.
However you arrive at forgiveness in your marriage, be open about your feelings and share with your loved one so that both people understand the weight of their honesty and the reward that comes from working through forgiveness together.
Sometimes people need a clear action plan after an affair, so an apology may look like someone saying they are sorry, explaining what they understand to be the cause (using an “I” statement and not placing blame), sharing what they will do to remain open and honest with their spouse in the future, talk about how they will take care of their emotional needs and will make their needs known, what tools they will use to be accountable to their spouse in regards to their internet, social media, and texting/email content, and then asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness is unique to each individual so understanding what you need to offer up forgiveness or ask someone to forgive you is helpful.
You do not have to do any of this alone. If you have read these 4 steps to emotional affair recovery and believe you are in need of a next step, please reach out to a counselor. There is a counselor here at Seattle Christian Counseling that is equipped to help you individually or with your spouse work through this recovery process, so you can begin your journey to healing today.
Carder, D. (2008). Anatomy of an Affair. Chicago: Moody Publisher.Photos:
“It Hit Me”, Courtesy of Claudia, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bride with Big Ring”, Courtesy of Sweet Ice Cream Photography, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Tear”, Courtesy of Cristian Newman, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Bride and Groom”, Courtesy of freestocks.org, Unsplash.com; CC0 License
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