Emotional Affairs: How Close is Too Close?
Question:My partner wants to actively pursue emotionally intimate friendships, and he is closest to females. I find many articles on how easy it is to slip into an emotional affair, and how if he is emotionally investing elsewhere, it is by its nature detracting from our own relationship. How true is this? It is safe to have opposite-gender friends that you talk about everything with, including things that you or they would not want shared with other people? How close is too close?
Answer:Thank you very much for your great question. I get the feeling that this type of question comes up more often than you would think in a relationship. Society has made a big deal of married partners cheating sexually, but what about any other form of cheating? Is being emotionally unavailable with your partner cheating? Is sex the most important aspect of a relationship or is it an emotional connection? I bet if you asked ten different people this question you would get ten different answers.
I work with clients often who don’t have a problem with their spouse being ‘close’ emotionally with opposite sex friends as long as their spouse is available for them emotionally when needed. I also work with clients who take issue with their spouse having this type of relationship. As much as I would like to provide a clear answer to your question, I think it answer would depend on the specific couple and their personality and relationship. There are many other variables in a relationship that would dictate how close is too close. In a conservative culture you may find more traditional relationships in terms of communication. In a liberal culture, my guess is that partners would be more comfortable with their partners engaging in close relationships with friends. In fact, it would be my guess that a new couple would have different comfort levels with their spouses than that same couple later in that relationship when it comes to their friendships.
Instead of looking at this situation in terms of “how close is too close”, I would ask that you consider communication. It is my opinion that communication is the most important element in a relationship. It starts with each one of you communicating your needs and wants out of a relationship. Simply put, a relationship is successful because you are both having your needs met. If at any time, one of you is not having your needs met the relationship becomes unbalanced. In order for you to have your needs met you first must be in a relationship with someone who loves you enough to consider your needs and wants. Second, it is your responsibility to communicate what you need and want in order for your partner to fulfill those needs.
As the relationship progresses you would begin to set clear boundaries with each other. These boundaries would sound like this: “when you told Megan about our fight last week it made me feel uncomfortable because that is something I feel should stay between us. I am not comfortable with you having the type of relationship with Megan where you talk about intimate details of our life”. What follows could ultimately dictate the success or failure of a relationship. It really depends on what your partner is willing to do to keep the relationship working and what you are willing to endure for the health of the relationship. The important thing to remember is that it starts with communication. You can’t expect your partner to stay out of these relationships unless you make it clear you are not comfortable with it.
I hope this helps with your question. It’s important to remember that this topis is very subjective. What works for one couple may not work for another.