Extramarital affairs are not unusual – one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional in forty-one percent of marriages.* Almost a third of those marriages do survive. No statistics on this but I believe emotional affairs can be as damaging as physical affairs.
Following the advice of a lawyer-friend, the goal of my current guest, Sandy had been to stay married until her youngest child was through high school. She didn’t make it – her youngest was thirteen when the divorce was final. One of the triggering events was an emotional affair Sandy had. Here’s Sandy:
I think it happens to a lot of people. I was emotionally so vulnerable. I felt so completely alone and unheard and misunderstood in my marriage.
I was going away every year and working in sleepaway summer camps with my kids and my ex-husband would be home. He would come up on the weekends and he hated being up in camp. After the very first sleepaway camp I knew that I had to get divorced because the differences between us were so much more obvious with the distance.
Then during summer 2004 I met a man who was working at the camp for the month and we really bonded. We connected on so many levels. I was really, really emotionally vulnerable and I didn’t realize that I was very much falling in love with him, because he paid attention to me in a way that felt really good, that felt like he saw me and understood me. He wanted to have an affair with me and I said, “No.” But I did emotionally fall for him.
I came home that summer and it actually was the catalyst to being able to say, “No,” to my husband, because this guy gave me hope that there would be other men that I could fall for, because up until that point, I didn’t really think there would be. I just thought, “This is the best it gets.”
My husband started digging. He went into my emails. He said, “You must be in love with someone, because you’re—,” I was very detached. I was in another world. I was like in high school. I didn’t even know that I was feeling these emotions, because I was so shut down that I had this awakening. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I didn’t know what it was.
Now I know that what I was feeling was like high school infatuation and yes, so there is a betrayal, I guess you could say.
I was emotionally weak, but I did say “no” to this man and I was proud of myself for that. That was my wake-up call.
I thought, “If it got that close to where I could actually see myself having an affair, I have to get out of this marriage.”
My husband took that one incident of me falling for someone else and blew it up to be the whole catalyst for the divorce like there was nothing he did wrong and it was all about that and “I’m going to tell the kids.”
He interrogated my son first, who had been in camp with me and he said, “Did mom have any special friends?” He interrogated me. He went through all my stuff and he just kept asking me and asking me until I just finally said, “Yeah, there was this guy, but I didn’t have an affair with him.”
He was hellbent on telling the kids. When we went through mediation the first lawyers that we saw, the lawyer just kept saying, “Don’t tell your kids. I don’t care if she actually had an affair or didn’t have an affair. You don’t tell your kids this.”
And he did. He did and I had to have this conversation I never wanted to have with my children. I was able to really be honest with them and I said, “Look, this is not a conversation I ever wanted to share with you. This is not your business. It’s really something that I’m not proud of having this happen in my life, but I’m also not ashamed and it happened for a reason.”
Just recently he told my youngest. She’s now eighteen. She didn’t want to talk to me for a couple of weeks, but we’ve worked that through too.
I appreciate Sandy’s willingness to share this part of her story. It takes courage to share parts we’re not proud of.
While opinions differ on whether an emotional affair constitutes cheating, experts generally agree that there’s always self-learning for all parties that can come from an affair regardless of whether it was emotional or physical. That’s also difficult to hear if it was your spouse who had the affair.
In Sandy’s case the affair brought her clarity about staying in the marriage and it also boosted her self-esteem. Another of my interviewees, Pippi also ended up asking for a divorce after her emotional affair. IronSpineSally also had affair and she ended up leaving her marriage for this man. Again, her affair brought her clarity that her marriage was not the way she wanted to live her life and that the dynamics between her and husband wouldn’t change.
Have you or your spouse had an affair? What did you learn from it? What advice would you give others?
Sandy Weiner is a dating coach at Last First Date where she blogs about dating and offers coaching services for completing your online dating profile. You can also sign up for her free report: Top 3 Mistakes Midlife Daters Make.
*Source: Statistic Brain, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 09-08-2012
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