So maybe you’ve been texting each other a little too much lately. Or you head out for lunch at work, well, pretty much every day. Or you just “grab drinks” after work once or twice a week as well. The problem? You’re living and loving someone else, yet spending an increasing chunk of time with your colleague and it’s rapidly turning into something more. While we tend to think of an affair as a physical intervention—the kiss at the party that led to regularly seeing each other, and eventually sleeping with each other—an emotional affair can actually be more devastating.
“Once the emotional connection is there, the physical becomes easy. It’s easy to share a lengthy hug or a kiss when you’ve got that emotional connection,” says Dorothy Ratusny, a Toronto-based psychotherapist. “If you’ve got that emotional connection with someone, your drive and energy is focused on a new relationship and it’s being taken out of your original relationship because the excitement and interest and keenness is going into this new relationship.”
So we asked Ratusny how to tell the difference between a good friendship and how to turn things back if it’s gone too far.
Q: What is a good friendship and what is an emotional affair?
A: First, it’s quite normal to become connected to someone else. Women do it with women all the time and reveal innermost thoughts and feelings all the time. What distinguishes between a friendship and an affair are that two people are confiding in each other and sharing and evoking on an emotional level. So friendships would give advice or feedback on, say, venting about your relationship with your partner. An emotional affair would be a depth of sharing that’s considered to be personal and intimate and the depth is typically reserved for what you do with your love partner. And an emotional affair can occur because you’re delving into personal, intimate information that should be reserved for your relationship.
Q: So how can we tell when things are moving from friendship to emotional relationship?
A: Number one, you’re spending extended periods of time with that person, be it over lunch or coffee or on the phone or whatever. You’re finding time to be with each other beyond what’s considered typical or normal. You’re also sharing personal information about your day or life, calling that person first or repeatedly during the day versus your partner. It’s almost like you’re bypassing your partner and sharing your life with this person. You also begin to notice a reciprocal feeling or your feelings are growing stronger—and that’s usually the step before the physical occurs. Finally you’re distancing yourself from your partner, picking fights, finding excuses not to be around them, that kind of thing.
Q: So how can we fix things, so to speak?
A: There are many places along the way when you can turn this back—the problem is once you’re emotionally involved, it’s harder to do that. So first you have to look at your original relationship—are you able to talk at a deeper level with your partner? Have you felt like you’ve never been really connected with your partner? And if you’re consciously aware of what’s happening, you may not want to turn things around with this new person and then you have to ask yourself—what are you going to do? And realize an emotional affair can potentially end your relationship and you have to be prepared to look at that and decide: is that what I want? And if not, the first thing to do is reconnect with your partner.
Q: And if you decide you want to stay with your original relationship, do you need to distance yourself from the new one?
A: The short answer is yes. You can bring it back to just a friendship but often it means taking a break from each other and stopping the relationship because you need to focus back on your partner.