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emotional affairs are still cheating
August 3, 2012 5:53 PM   Subscribe

What to do about an emotional affair?

My girlfriend and I have been together for over six years now [we're high school sweethearts]. We've been through a lot together and surprisingly, we're still together. I love her to death and would do pretty much anything for her.
About a year or two ago, she started talking again to her ex-boyfriend. It seemed like they were just friends at first, until I came across her AIM logs and they were flirting and there were several cases of him telling her his sexual desires for her and she encouraged such behavior by saying things like "that's so hot." Eventually I found out that she was sending him erotic photos of herself and trying to pass it off that she was sending them to me [she wasn't]. There was a terrible fight about it which ended up being more about my "horrible breach of trust" instead of her cheating on me. She still insists that he is just a good friend and she didn't do anything wrong. She doesn't make friends easily, so her excuse is that she doesn't want to lose one of the few friends she has. I don't have a problem with her being semi-flirty with our other male friends because they aren't sexually interested in her and trying to win her back.

The other day she casually asks me if it is ok for her to go visit him [by herself] or for him to come here. After thinking about it, I said that it would be ok for him to come here provided he didn't stay with us and I was home at the time. She became angry that I "insisted on babysitting them" and woudn't leave them alone. This was a giant red flag for me, and I later e-mailed her my concerns about the issue. She refuses to talk.

We have a generally sexless marriage because she insists that she "just isn't into sex" [despite seeming to really enjoy it on the instances in which we do]. But I do love her- I honestly think that she is my soulmate. We have a really good time together and she understands me in a way that I don't think anyone else ever would. I love all of her family and feel that she is part of mine.

I'm starting to feel like I am being used. I am the main breadwinner, and it feels like she's going to leave me as soon as she can afford to. She has threatened to break up with me on multiple occasions ans still uses the threat of not marrying me to bully me into doing things she wants me to do. She is intensely private and refuses to talk to me about most of the emotions she has- insisting that I am difficult to talk to and I don't listen. I have never had anyone else accuse me of that before, so I don't buy that one.

I honestly don't think that she sees what she is doing as cheating, despite my best efforts to convince her that yes it is. We are going to see a couples counselor for this, but I have such a terrible habit of folding and caving to her wishes as soon as an argument comes up because I'm terrified of losing her. I am planning on coming up with a list of talking points so I don't just give in to her again.

My question is:
What advice do you have for me in this situation? Am I being unreasonable? Is there any easier way to try and stand up for myself? Is there anything I should bring up with the therapist? What do I do?
posted by shesaysgo to Human Relations (43 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: I have no idea what's going on here, but Ask Metafilter is not for posting falsified information, whatever your purposes were. Please do not abuse the good will of the community this way again. -- taz

 
This is obviously completely beyond the pale. You're in a bit of denial. That's okay - when I was in my early 20's I cheerfully participated in some similarly unbelievable proceedings.

The sooner you get out of this, the less you'll be shaking your head ewhat a sap you were, 10 years from now. Easier said than done, I know.
posted by ftm at 5:58 PM on August 3, 2012 [28 favorites]


Yes, you are being used. Right now you are getting a preview of how married life would be: you provide resources and she receives sex from a man she finds more exciting. She does not respect you as a man, and that fact will not change with a list of "talking points".

She was cheating with the IMs and even though you have confronted her, she decides to escalate it by expressing a desire to visit him. Amazingly, you decided to permit such a thing if you got to chaperone. Then, you let her shame you about your decision. The reason she shames you is that a man's decision would have been to tell her "no". She does not consider you to be a man worthy of respect.

You say things are sexless, and they may be - for you. If I were you, I would invite her to get out there and discover America. It sounds like the ex-boyfriend could take her off your hands.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hmmm. Read that description to yourself, pretending that it's not you writing it. What advice would you have for that person? You describe someone who is being regularly emotionally blackmailed, who is unhappy in the relationship, and whose best reason for staying seems to be some vague protestation of "love." I think the fact that you use the word "married" then say she threatens not to marry you as something of a sign in itself.

A question you might consider asking your therapist is why you are afraid of moving on from this relationship and what you can do to find the strength to end it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I honestly don't think that she sees what she is doing as cheating, despite my best efforts to convince her that yes it is.

It is. It really isn't an "emotional affair," which is what people generally call an intimate but not sexual relationship; it's a virtual affair, because she is exchanging messages of an explicitly sexual nature with him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:03 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


If it makes any difference, I too am a woman.
posted by shesaysgo at 6:03 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


What advice do you have for me in this situation?

Lawyer up, get your ass covered and get a divorce.

At the same time, see a therapist, as (and I see this gently and kindly) your willingness to put up with this behavior isn't healthy for you. You deserve much better than this from your significant other.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:04 PM on August 3, 2012


I don't know what you expect to be told here. Your girlfriend isn't in an emotional affair she's in a sexual affair that hasn't found the convenience of being consummated yet. You're calling your relationship a "sexless marriage" although you aren't marriage and your girlfriend is blackmailing you with whether you ever will be. You feel like you're being used because you are being used. My advice for you in this situation is to end it. You are not being unreasonable. There isn't any easier way to stand up for yourself because the relationship is already over. You don't need to talk to a couples therapist any more. What you do is say its over and find an individual therapist to help you sort out your terrible attachment to a terrible relationship. I say this with true sympathy but there isn't a shadow of doubt in my mind that I'm correct. If my brother or closest friend told me that he'd discovered his girlfriend had been sending dirty pictures to her ex and she was balking in the slightest at the idea that the first necessary action on her part was to break ties with this individual totally and permanently I'd be giving them the same advice then and there without any of the other blazing red flags. It's not about your heart getting broken it's about how much more you're going to let it get stomped on before the inevitable occurs.
posted by nanojath at 6:05 PM on August 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


... because I'm terrified of losing her.

I hope this doesn't come off as snarky, but I have to ask because I'm genuinely curious: Why are you terrified of losing her?

I read your question over and I can come up with a lot of possible reasons in my head, but they're all speculation. If the OhSoWise Internet is going to be of any help whatsoever, we need you to answer that question.
posted by hypotheticole at 6:06 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only way to win this fight is to break up with her. She doesn't love you, obviously never has, and will continue to treat you like crap until you do what is best for you -- which is to get the hell out of Dodge and seek somebody who'd never do this and would never even consider doing it.

FWIW, you shouldn't be terrified of losing her. She sucks. Plain and simple. Don't settle for her. She's not good enough for you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:06 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You've been with her six years, since high school, yet she has an ex-boyfriend? How old were they when they dated, 13?

I chime in with everyone else. You're being led around by the nose. DTMFA.
posted by zadcat at 6:06 PM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


(I rashly assumed you were a man but your gender is irrelevant)
posted by nanojath at 6:06 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It doesn't make any difference that you're both ladies. Unless she is trying to pull some bullshit about how bisexual people can't be monogamous, which I assure you is bullshit.

Look. Do you want to be in a relationship with someone who is having cybersex with someone else? If not, you can either end the relationship or see if she'll change her behavior after you make it clear that it's a dealbreaker for you. Guess which one I think is more likely?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:06 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are no soulmates. There are people who you love, who love you back, with whom you have a close and trusting partnership that makes them an invaluable part of your life.

Right now, she is very much not holding up her end of that arrangement. It's up to you to decide what you want to do about that, but please don't romanticize the situation in this particular way. Characterizing her as your "soulmate" will only serve to make you feel trapped in a bad situation.

You aren't trapped. You have choices and options as to how you want to deal with this, and one of those options is to leave. And if you do leave, some time will pass and it'll probably such for a while...but you'll eventually find someone else who doesn't treat you this way.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:07 PM on August 3, 2012 [17 favorites]


Thinking that someone who treats you like crap, doesn't want to fuck you, and doesn't respect your relationship agreements in any way is your "soulmate" suggests you don't have a very high opinion of what your soul is worth.

I assure you that unless you are actively forcing children to join your guerrilla army while kicking puppies and kittens for fun, your soul is worth better than this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:09 PM on August 3, 2012 [24 favorites]


Usually, "emotional affair" means that someone is relying emotionally on a non-partner in lieu of relying on their partner. Sending erotic photos to an ex-, and engaging in cyber sex (yes, that is cyber sex) is not an "emotional affair." It's just cheating (unless the partner has given their OK). Does that change the situation for you at all?
posted by muddgirl at 6:10 PM on August 3, 2012


I'm very sorry, but your partner has already departed your marriage: all that's left is the paperwork. Please lawyer up and protect yourself.
posted by easily confused at 6:11 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


What advice do you have for me in this situation?

Leave her.
posted by heyjude at 6:12 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


To further develop what muddgirl is saying: in an emotional affair, one partner develops very close but platonic intimacy with someone outside the marriage while simultaneously distancing themselves emotionally from their spouse. Erotic messages and photos are a straight-up perfectly standard affair. You might be in a relationship, but she isn't.
posted by KathrynT at 6:14 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Usually, "emotional affair" means that someone is relying emotionally on a non-partner in lieu of relying on their partner. Sending erotic photos to an ex-, and engaging in cyber sex (yes, that is cyber sex) is not an "emotional affair." It's just cheating (unless the partner has given their OK). Does that change the situation for you at all?

The distinction I think the OP is trying to make is that the affair has not yet been physically consummated, and that there is definitely a long-standing emotional component.

Back to the question itself, your partner has made it very clear that she is going full speed ahead with this affair. To be honest, I think your choices are decide to be ok with her exchanging sultry emails, flirty photos, and eventually having hot hookups with her ex; or cowgirling up and breaking up with her. I don't see a happy, healthy third alternative here, sadly.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


You deserve better. Leave her, she is not present or in or the long haul.
posted by manicure12 at 6:43 PM on August 3, 2012


To use a gambling analogy, "Don't throw good money after bad." You have invested a lot of time in this relationship; don't let that make you stay hoping it will turn around--it won't. If you get out now, you may be able to rebuild a friendship down the road, after you've met your actual soul mate. Whatever you do, don't marry this woman. Depending upon your jurisdiction, it may be impossible to get a divorce without establishing residency for a year or more somewhere where you don't have a job when you actually find the package that has it all. I'm sorry--it sucks right now and will for a while but someone is out there waiting for you; do it for her.
posted by Morrigan at 6:44 PM on August 3, 2012


She is not in a monogamous relationship with you. I do not think she is likely to choose to be so in the foreseeable future. Unless you are happy with your partner finding her sexual fulfillment with another person while neglecting your own, you need to leave her immediately. In my opinion, I think you should leave her, but that's entirely your decision to make.

You can love someone real damn hard, but it won't change who they are into who you wish they were. This was very, very hard for me to come to terms with, and it may be so for you as well. I still don't believe it at some visceral level, but I know it's completely and utterly true. It's completely true. How much you love this woman is not the issue.
posted by samofidelis at 6:50 PM on August 3, 2012


OP, I'm sorry, but you have given us no indication at all that she wants to be in this relationship for any reason that isn't self-serving. I think it's also really worth noticing that she's choosing sexual activities/interaction with a man instead of you. She's doing not one of the many things she should be doing to reassure you or fix things or anything that would help you at all, and is deliberately doing several things that are really hurtful and rejecting of you, your relationship, and so on.

I recommend very strongly that you print out the question - exactly as you have written it above - and bring it to an individual counseling session. Try to read up on codependency before you go. Also, try to spend some time with your own friends - you really need to strengthen your social network and get a stronger sense of self to extricate yourself from this situation.

(Other good codependency articles.)
posted by SMPA at 6:50 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have a generally sexless marriage because she insists that she "just isn't into sex" [despite seeming to really enjoy it on the instances in which we do]. ... I came across her AIM logs and they were flirting and there were several cases of him telling her his sexual desires for her and she encouraged such behavior by saying things like "that's so hot." ... If it makes any difference, I too am a woman.

I don't know that it does make a difference, because I don't know you or her except from this question. I am an Internet stranger. So let me begin by saying that this is speculation for you to either consider or reject, and by all means please do the latter if it seems off-base to you. I'm just thinking aloud here.

Maybe she is unsure of her male/female sexual preference ...?

You say that you were high school sweethearts, and that you've been together for 6 years. According to my calculations, you'd be age 24 or 25 at most if you got together in senior year at age 18. Before this, she had (at least?) one boyfriend (though we don't know for how long she was with him, or at what age?).

So then, you state that she insists she "just isn't into sex," though she seems to enjoy it during the instances when you do. And in the AIM chats you discovered between her and the ex-boyfriend, she appears to be encouraging his sexual desire by telling him "that's so hot."

What I'm thinking is that I've known a lot of people who have changed their views on what they want in a partner. Sexually, emotionally, lifestyle-wise, etc. It's part of growing up, after all. I'm sure there are people on MeFi who could tell you how they realized at age 55+ that their sexual preferences had changed. At age ~24, with what you've described in this question, it's something I might consider if I were you.
posted by hypotheticole at 6:51 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Time to bounce. She's not giving you the respect you deserve. Ask her politely to sponge off of someone else. Its going to hurt like a mofo, but staying in a dysfunctional relationship one minute longer is more painful.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 PM on August 3, 2012


Honey, if you spend your entire relationship being terrified of losing your partner, your relationship is not a good relationship. It's bad. It's broken. As a metric, it never occurs to me my partner might leave me. Twice in seven years in super-stressful periods, it has occurred to me that for our mutual well being, we might to better apart, but when we fight, we never hang the relationship out over the water, ever. It isn't a tool or a weapon.

You cannot possibly be older than what, 22? 23? You are too young to be trapped and desperate and caving and sexless and manipulated in a relationship. Do you really want to spend the next fifty fucking years with someone who treats you like this? You can be happier. Go do that.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:54 PM on August 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


Since you're being cheated on, you might want to look at the Surviving Infidelity forums. They have a theory that the best way to deal with this is basically to leave. I think it's called 180? There will be lots of good resources for you there.
posted by salvia at 7:07 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relationship issues are only ever resolvable when both individuals are operating in good faith. Your partner is not operating in good faith.
posted by milarepa at 7:14 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're terrified of losing your partner, that's not love, that's a hostage situation. You can do better. I'm sorry.
posted by kat518 at 7:15 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it makes any difference, I too am a woman.

It doesn't. You are being treated poorly and being gaslighted. Someone who does this AND shows no remorse or acceptance of the consequences of her actions should be dropped, post haste.
posted by phearlez at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


If it makes any difference, I too am a woman.

None at all. Set a meeting with her. Explain that the relationship will be explicity discussed.

If she refuses, break up. If she does meet, explain that if she wishes to continue with you she will have to do the following:

(1) Break it off with him, no contact after sending an E-mail to him ending it.

(2) Her to be totally transparent in her communications until she has regained your trust.

(3) The two of you to go to couples' counselling.

If she refuses any of this break up. She has lost your trust. She must now regain it.

I suggest going to a website like www.survivinginfidelity.com for support.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:21 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your partner has an ongoing and longstanding sexual relationship with an ex. Are you okay with that? You either are or you aren't, and it really is that simple.

On top of that, you're supporting her financially, she constantly threatens to leave you and manipulates you, you have no sex life at age 23, and she shuts you out emotionally all the time. This sounds like a terrible relationship. I don't understand what you're afraid of losing, considering what you already don't have.

Look, you can negotiate who takes out the trash and who does the laundry with level-headed talking points. You can't negotiate something as fundamental as whether you will be monagomous and faithful with level-headed talking points. That's a boundary that you need to agree on and insist on, or it's over.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:30 PM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Time & experience have taught me there is no point in trying to hang on to a relationship where both partners are not completely invested - if your partner is checking out of the relationship, let them.

I know that can sound purely logical and dispassionate, but it isn't at all: I have a visceral, incredibly emotional reaction to the mere idea of loving without appropriate reciprocation - and it's basically "if you're not all in, then I wash my hands of this". My conception of relationship love is symbiotic - it requires the love of the other to sustain and support your love for them, and vice versa. Why would you want to be in a romantic relationship where you already know you are not being loved to the level that you are giving love - what is healthy about that? A romantic relationship is a choice - why would you not make the best, the most satisfying, the most fulfilling choice you have available? Why settle for mistreatment & misery when it's not necessary?

When people show you how they really feel & who they really are, respect that information & use it to take care of yourself accordingly. You can't force something that isn't there, and you shouldn't; it's not worth your time, and it's a huge flashing sign that it won't end well either. Despite the tropes of romantic comedies and books, love is not transformative if the beloved uses your love for them against you. Love is not about needless suffering.
posted by flex at 7:52 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's supposed to work out that the longer you know and love someone the MORE you respect them. If it works the other way around, then something is powerfully wrong.

You're not being treated respectfully. You're being treated as an obstacle. If this recent challenge -- her request to spend time with him -- feels like a test, that's because it is. If you hold your ground, you guys break up and she gets to claim that you were jealous and controlling. If you cave in, it sets a precedent in which she can walk all over you.

The only way to win is to refuse to take that test.
posted by hermitosis at 8:19 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly? I think she enjoys your attention and your support, but she either isn't really a lesbian, or she wants to reap the benefits of your undying devotion without having to return it. More importantly, she is trying to provoke you into saying "go", because she doesn't want to take responsibility for doing it. If she can't keep taking advantage of you, then she wants you to be the bad guy (figuratively speaking.) She isn't your soulmate; if what she is doing with her boyfriend (notice i didnt say ex) is emotional cheating, then what she is doing to you is emitional abuse. Get her out and start your mourning process now, so you can get over it and move on.
posted by davejay at 8:47 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


She still insists that he is just a good friend and she didn't do anything wrong.
...
still uses the threat of not marrying me to bully me into doing things she wants me to do. She is intensely private and refuses to talk to me about most of the emotions she has- insisting that I am difficult to talk to and I don't listen.
...
because I'm terrified of losing her.


These things sound like the death knell of a relationship.

You don't agree on the boundaries of your relationship (you think sending sexy pics and messages is out of bounds, she insists it's fine.)

You feel bullied and she says she feels you don't listen to her.

You are willing to tolerate otherwise unacceptable behavior/circumstances because you think that treatment is better than being single.
----

My reassurance for you:

You can find someone who has the same boundaries as you. Discuss this with your next girlfriend.

You can learn communication skills that expand and improve the skills you already have (whether you are a good listener or not, there is always room for improvement. Or for learning that no matter how skilled you are, some people are unwilling or unable to be communicate in good faith or with compassion.

Being single is fine. If you are single you will be fine.
---

And if I were you, I would be single tonight. Because I am not willing to tolerate a partner who insists on making me uncomfortable. I am not willing to let my partner negotiate an affair under duress in a monogamous relationship.
posted by tulip-socks at 8:50 PM on August 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


In our lives, we will have many relationships - but when you sacrifice your dignity once, it's gone forever. You're on the verge of doing that. Kick her out of the house right away - tonight - and I guarantee you that five years from now, you'll feel glad you did.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:27 PM on August 3, 2012


You deserve to be happier than this. So, ideally, does she, but that's not your problem to solve. You're very unhappy, and her investment is so fragile that she threatens to leave. I repeat: you deserve to be happier than this. This is not a way to live. Soul mates are a construct -- find somebody who makes you genuinely, brighteningly happy who will be made genuinely, brighteningly happy by you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:33 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry to say this, but I showed a friend this post and her reaction was, as a lesbian, that your partner is using you to fulfill a sexual fantasy of her not-such-an-ex-boyfriend's. Whether or not this is true, I obviously don't know, but she wanted me to relay to you how sorry she is that you've gotten caught up in this mess, and she would like to implore you to leave because you definitely deserve better.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:38 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"she ... [insists] that I am difficult to talk to and I don't listen ... I don't buy that one."

Look, I think everyone is right that this is a lost situation and you need to protect yourself and get out. But you also need to recognize that the above statement is a total FAIL of a way to move forward in a relationship. If she says you are not a good listener, that means that you are not hearing what she says. Period. End of story.

Deciding that she's just wrong about that is only guaranteed to exponentially increase your level of miscommunication.

You need to get beyond you "NUH UH!" reaction, and accept that - whatever the reason - she's not feeling listened to, and it is on YOU to facilitate making that happen. She's met you half-way by candidly identifying the problem, and you really need to step up and try to help solve it.
posted by jph at 9:52 PM on August 3, 2012


I want to apologize, both to you all here, and also to my partner. I let my fears and my anxieties trump both my honesty, and my love for her. Either due to my emotions or a failure to think my words though, what I posted here was blown out of proportion, innacurate, or completely falsified.
We are still going to couples counseling, but for now our focus should be on our lack of communication, and my severe anxieties that cause me to lash out like this.
Thank you, for your feedback. But out of respect for my partner, I must close this thread. Again, I'm so sorry for waisting your time.
posted by shesaysgo at 10:22 PM on August 3, 2012


I want to apologize, both to you all here, and also to my partner. I let my fears and my anxieties trump both my honesty, and my love for her. Either due to my emotions or a failure to think my words though, what I posted here was blown out of proportion, innacurate, or completely falsified.

WTF? Good luck, OP, whatever comes next.
posted by LarryC at 11:42 PM on August 3, 2012


...did she find this thread?
posted by changeling at 11:47 PM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


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