Navigating emotional infidelity
December 6, 2017 1:48 AM   Subscribe

A friend is experiencing a breach in her relationship - on one side there has been emotional infidelity with an ex. I'd really like to give her some good advice but am out of my depth - googling the subject brought up ALOT of dross. I'd also like to understand it further myself now it's come up - I know that many couples go through this. Would anyone mind sharing any useful resources?

Anything like podcasts, articles, books ect. It would also be great to hear people's personal experiences - if you stayed what made you stay? If you left, what was it about the act that you couldn't get over? I appreciate this is a very personal thing so if you don't want to share below please feel free to message me. I also know that experiences cannot necessarily be transferred from one couple to another. I also want to avoid blaming or judging anyone who has had an emotional affair. I'm not condoning it, but I want to understand it more than just telling her to DTMFA!
posted by Nilehorse to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just finished The State of Affairs - it’s more sided on sexual infidelity, but a lot of the book still holds true. Before reading the book, my view was more of cheaters are terrible, terrible people and anyone who stays with a cheater is misguided, but the book helped me see the nuances to it all. I’d definitely recommend it.
posted by umwhat at 3:52 AM on December 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Dear Sugars has two podcast episodes on infidelity (both physical and emotional) from the cheaters side and the cheated on side.
posted by buttonedup at 3:58 AM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites] is basically the go-to resource for this. They treat emotional affairs the same way they treat physical affairs; there's a defined methodology for dealing with them; and the boards are very supportive.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:02 AM on December 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

There are a couple of TED Talks out there that look interesting - I admit I haven't watched them:

Helen Fisher - Why we love, why we cheat
Esther Perel - Rethinking Infidelity

Dr. Shirley Glass (deceased, Mom of Ira Glass) has some books and other resources on infidelity. Some stories from one of her books were featured on a TAL episode.
posted by bunderful at 5:31 AM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites] espouses an adversarial and infantilizing approach to dealing with infidelity. I would steer clear.

Esther Perel is really good on this topic - she has a podcast produced by Audible that consists of her doing relationship counseling with different couples, many of which have experienced infidelity. She does a good job of digging past the victim/aggressor narrative of infidelity to get to dynamics in the relationship and the individuals that underpin the behavior.

Hold Me Now is a great book for repairing and rebuilding intimacy in relationships.
posted by jeoc at 10:25 AM on December 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Check out Chumplady. com. No holds barred. Infidelity is infidelity. Your friend can email her a question or check out the website for information on emotional affairs, and get the real scoop from many, many people who have been there and survived.
posted by Enid Lareg at 4:32 PM on December 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is a really good book that, among other things, helps the cheater understand why they did what they did and helps them sort out their own options for moving forward. It is non-shaming towards the cheater and treats them like a person rather than a worthless piece of trash. At the same time it provides a lot of insight as to why an otherwise decent person can find themselves in a relationship with someone other than their spouse. I think both parties in an infidelity situation could benefit from reading it.

As for personal experiences, I was the emotional cheater in a previous marriage. It was with someone I met online. We never met in person but developed an intense connection through email and chat. When my spouse found out about it, he immediately contacted my affair partner, threatened them to never contact me again, and just like that a relationship that I was deeply emotionally attached to was abruptly over.

Even though I knew I wasn't "supposed" to be entitled to my feelings for the other person, I grieved terribly. Although I had never intended to hurt my spouse I had deep feelings of infatuation for my affair partner and was devastated by the abrupt loss.

Meanwhile, my spouse was grieving as well and I simply could not deal with his grief and anger on top of my own. I think if I could have had a little time and space to deal with my own feelings until the intensity died down, I might have gotten to a point where I could feel love for my spouse again and enough remorse for what I had done to begin to try to repair our relationship. But for his part, he could not give me an inch of space or time... he needed me to perform loving acts and feelings towards him RIGHT NOW, which, while understandable from his position, was absolutely the last thing I felt like doing. The more he pressured me to respond to him the more I backed away because I couldn't act or feel or respond to his overtures like he wanted me to. Which of course made him angry, and having him get frustrated and yell things like "bitch I sent you flowers!" didn't exactly help.

So, while I accept that the situation was all my fault and I can't fault him for feeling and acting like he did, if he could have somehow managed to give me some time and space without pressure, I might have eventually come around to sincerely wanting to fix the marriage. But he was understandably not able to do that, and the marriage crumbled under the ensuing emotional drama and fighting.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:35 PM on December 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Seconding the Dear Sugar podcast episodes on infidelity (including some with Esther Perel – and there are other ones that look at both infidelity and emotional infidelity in the archive, too – hang on a you go – and there are more if you search through the earlier archives too!)

There was also this excellent episode on a related topic.

I highly recommend these. Cheryl Strayed & Steve Almond give absolutely excellent advice.
posted by considerthelilies at 8:05 PM on December 6, 2017

Hello, I have been the cheated-on person in a similar situation. I could not disagree more with the previous answers here. Cheaters make an intentional conscious decision to do an incredibly cruel and shitty thing when they have the option of instead acting like an adult and ending their relationship. It's inexcusable and they don't deserve forgiveness or sympathy. I think it is bizarre that people are so willing to hand-wave about how it's just so complicated when a cheater voluntarily decides that being horrifically cruel to another person is a fun thing to do, and yet people are somehow much less willing to forgive any other form of cruelty and abuse in a relationship.

I spent a lot of time buying into the lie that people who end their marriages immediately after their worthless piece of shit spouse (or significant other or whoever) cheats on them, are failures who didn't put in enough effort, and also that they must have done something crappy that "forced" the other person to cheat on them. NOPE. I became so much happier when I realized that anyone can leave any relationship for any reason whatsoever, and that there is NEVER a reason to voluntarily put up with someone who fucking CHEATS on you. Fuck that noise.

But if your friend isn't ready to leave, then no amount of advice will convince her otherwise. She'll have to figure it out on her own.
posted by a strong female character at 2:47 PM on December 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oh, and I highly recommend as someone recommended above. She actually gets it. Here is one of the best pieces of advice from her website:

2. Never accept responsibility for their cheating. She didn’t cheat on you because of your penchant for wearing dark socks and sandals in public. He didn’t find fuckbuddies on Craigslist because of your post-baby muffin top. Nor did he cheat because you’re a bipolar, alcoholic shrew who emasculates him with your rages (although you sound pretty lousy as partners go). People cheat because they feel ENTITLED to. Cheaters are 100% responsible for their decision to cheat. If they were unhappy, they could’ve gotten counseling, filed for divorce, taken up scrapbooking… really most anything other than cheating. They cheat because they value the good feelings they get from ego kibbles and affair sex more than their commitment to you and your health and well-being. People cheat because they’re selfish escapists. Many of them are quite happy to blameshift their crappy decisions on to you.
posted by a strong female character at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I know I am a little late to this but I can not disagree more with this statement:

Cheaters make an intentional conscious decision to do an incredibly cruel and shitty thing when they have the option of instead acting like an adult and ending their relationship. It's inexcusable and they don't deserve forgiveness or sympathy. I think it is bizarre that people are so willing to hand-wave about how it's just so complicated when a cheater voluntarily decides that being horrifically cruel to another person is a fun thing to do, and yet people are somehow much less willing to forgive any other form of cruelty and abuse in a relationship.

That's such a black-and-white statement, and a black-and-white way of thinking. I don't mean to insult the person posting it, but that's just an incredibly simplistic and almost old-school way of viewing people, relationships, emotions, marriage, commitment, sex, and beyond. I think to begin to understand cheating, you have to delve below the surface of all the BS we are sort of socialized to think about love, romance, marriage, heteronormativity, men, women, and consider that emotions and sexuality are truly complicated - most people really do love their partners, even when the cheating occurs, and are not evil people at all. There's just so many factors.

That's not to say cheating isn't ncredibly painful, but obviously, not all cheaters are the devil incarnated, and also it's quite common for relationships to deepen after an affair. I also recommend reading Esther Peril, getting counseling, and opening up conversations about what this means going forward. AND yes, it may be this particular cheater really is a horrible person and this particular relationship is doomed, but that's for them to discover.

What if they are able to talk about what they both truly want for the first time after this happens? What if they discover a more dynamic sex life they never had before, because of these conversations? What if they can finally be radically honest about their needs and desires? What if they realize they don't even care that much about monogamy, but more about their commitment to each other that can be expressed and created in other ways? Maybe I'm just speaking from experience, but love and sexuality ARE truly incredibly nuanced places within people - where as "to death to us part"- hmmm- not such much.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:19 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

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