By Danielle Jacobs for DivorcedMoms.com
As a divorce coach and mediator I come across many situations involving infidelity. It’s a complex subject with much debate about what constitutes being unfaithful, why people are unfaithful and whether it’s possible to salvage a martial relationship afterwards. One topic of debate is emotional affairs. When does a friendship cross the line to an emotional affair and is an emotional affair a reason to end your marriage?
In this article that originally appeared on DivorcedMoms.com, author and mental health professional Danielle Jacobs argues that how cheating is defined is very much a personal question and not about how someone else might define it. Understanding what is happening in your marriage may start with getting clarity on your boundaries of what is and is not acceptable and then deciding whether your spouse has violated them. And this doesn’t apply just to the classic definition of an affair but could also apply to social media relationships or even when there’s no specific third party involved. Here’s Danielle:
The question “is cheating a reason for divorce” is highly personal. The answer depends on the state your marriage was in before the alleged ‘cheating’ occurred. An unstable marriage is more likely to reach a breaking point if infidelity is suspected. Ultimately, the question can only be answered after you first take a closer look at what YOU define as ‘cheating’ and what YOU feel is acceptable or unacceptable in your marriage.
For some women cheating is having a physical relationship with someone outside the marriage (i.e. kissing, fondling, oral sex and/or intercourse). Other women have more liberated ideas about fidelity when they allow a third person to join them in the bedroom for a threesome. They don’t consider this ‘cheating’. For others, having an emotional relationship with another woman counts as cheating. Some men still talk openly to ex-girlfriends and this is accepted in the marriage. In other marriages this is an absolute no-no, especially if this is happening secretly.
Then there are gray areas where no specific third person or emotional involvement is involved. Would you consider going to a strip club as cheating?
Does watching porn in magazines or on the web qualify as cheating? In this case it seems to be only the fantasy of another body that the husband is looking for.
What about more indirect contact like ‘friending’ an ex on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Would it make a difference if communication is open or hidden?
How you define cheating depends on your personality, your threshold (i.e how much discomfort you can handle), your level of self confidence, how strict you set the rules at the beginning of your relationship and your level of trust.
Over time, relationships change. If you were comfortable with allowing other women close to your man and felt secure in your relationship at the beginning, your level of comfort and security may change as life and the relationship changes. In long term relationships, the focus gradually shifts from physical attraction to love and intimacy. That initial spark may wear off as you get caught up in daily routines. If you have kids and your daily life gets busier and more focused on the children, the relationship needs to be nurtured to keep the connection alive. Regular date night and effective communication can be the key.
Before you make the decision to file for divorce when you feel hurt and betrayed… pause…Decisions made in a highly emotional state of mind are not always the wisest.
Consider the consequences of divorce for everyone (especially the kids) and weigh the pros and cons of your relationship. If infidelity is your reason to consider divorce, make sure your definition of what is ‘cheating’ is clear to you and your spouse.
Bottom line is that every relationship has ‘rules’ that need to be clear to both partners. If boundaries are vague, they can easily be crossed. Open communication is key. If one of the partners is hiding something, it is time to have a serious talk together. If you feel that talking doesn’t get you the results you want, couples counseling could be an option. A therapist can help both of you clarify your needs, set healthy boundaries and help resolve trust issues you may have.
For suggestions on how to weigh the pros and cons in your marriage, improve your communication and spend quality time together, I highly recommend reading self help workbook To Stay Or Not To Stay.
For insight in what challenges children face when they do end up living in two houses, I suggest to read children’s book Nina Has Two Houses. The book also contains helpful tips for parents.