In my previous article (located on my website) on Why Men and Women Cheat, marital researcher Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, wrote there has been a ‘crisis of infidelity’ in the workplace where both men and women work as peers. This can even occur when the coworkers are in good marriages. She further states that “this infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendships into romantic love.” This continues to happen. However, this phenomenon is also going on through the Internet; especially on Facebook. What does this mean?
Couples ask, “Well it’s on the Internet, how can it be an affair?” Even the partner on Facebook claims they have no intention of having an affair. They may say, “I’m just curious what happened to an old ‘love,’ especially my first one.” Do you need to worry? In many cases, yes.
What is an ‘emotional affair?’ It involves secrecy from your spouse about another relationship; deception-being told ‘nothing is going on;’ when it is; and sharing personal, intimate information with another person instead of with your spouse or significant other. According to Peggy Vaughn, author of The Monogamy Myth and DearPeggy.com website, most people who get involved in an ’emotional affair’ were not looking for one and didn’t intend to have one. According to her research, an‘emotional affair’ between friends and in the workplace can move from emotional connection to a sexual one from six months to a year. Online, the intensity can escalate quickly in less than a week. Why is that?
Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of Life on the Screen: Identity In the Age of the Internet, wrote “It’s what’s withheld that makes these relationships so fantasy-rich and intense.” People are connecting in this fantasy world without really knowing each other. This can become even more intensified when you reconnect with a former love, who may have changed over the years and may not be the same person you met when you were younger. This fantasy can quickly turn to feelings of ‘romantic love,’ whereby each person can experience the ‘chemical high’ of falling in love. In Peggy Vaughn’s research, 79% of people she surveyed who had online affairs claimed they were not seeking an affair and 49% eventually developed into a physical sexual relationship. Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, the author of After The Affair, wrote that some people compartmentalize the two relationships – they may not want to replace their partner, but may want the ‘extra high.’
So what should you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Be aware that many of us can be susceptible to ‘crossing the line’ from friendship to an emotional affair with no intentions of doing so. This is especially true in the workplace where colleagues are working closely.
- Be honest with your spouse. For example, if you are having coffee with a colleague every morning (which is not business) or if you bump into an old flame, share that information with your partner.
- Dr. Shirley Glass uses images of ‘windows and doors’ as boundaries to safe guard the relationship. Keep the ‘window’ open to your partner, sharing intimate details of your life and keep the ‘door’ closed about your personal life to colleagues or friends, especially those you find attractive.
- If you are curious about what happened to your friends from the past, find out together as a couple on Facebook without being secretive or deceptive.
- If there are problems in your relationship, find ways to sort them out. If you can’t do this by yourself, you may contact a specialist in couples counseling who can also guide you in bringing more ‘spice and aliveness’ into your sexual life.
Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.