Regarding Emotional Affair

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I have been with my husband for 18 years (10 of them married). He has never been the type to be affectionate and open up completely. 2 years ago, things started going down hill physically. As much as sex is an important issue in a marriage, I never felt I needed it to be fulfilled. But I guess I was just kidding myself. About a year ago, I found an old friend on facebook, one who I haven’t seen in over 20 years. He was pretty much my first love in high school and the first person I had ever slept with. At first our connection was casual as we just talked about our lives over the past 20 years. But then things changed. He started commenting on how beautiful I was and how much he craved me and any words I wrote to him. It didn’t take long for me to get caught up in all of those words. I love my husband with everything in me as I waited 8 years for him to marry me and I would do it all over again. My husband found out about the other guy and I as I left my facebook page open and he saw quite a few messages. I was saying things to the other guy that one would only say to their spouse. I had no idea my husband knew because he never said anything for months…it was only when I tried to reach out and get the reconnection from my husband that I desperately needed that he told me. I don’t understand why he never said anything when he first found out and now, he says we will never get back what we had…he feels nothing. We have 2 children and my family is my whole world. I want to make things right but feel it is too late. I know that what I did was wrong. I do not love this man the way I love my husband even though those are words that were spoken in our messages. I think I found myself having the relationship with this man only because it was what I was wanting from my own husband because I know I would never have let things get physical with this other man. (He is 3000 miles away from me) and I think it was the security in knowing his distance that allowed me to do this. I’ve tried explaining to my husband it was him I needed all along but I feel it is too late. I would give anything to turn back time and when I found myself getting caught up in the other man, I wish I then went to my husband before it got out of hand. Any advice on what I can do or not do to make things right again. I do not want to pressure my husband. I know he is hurting although he says different and I don’t want to push him completely away. I love him way too much to have our marriage end.

A: Your letter was moving because it so accurately explains the struggle in a partner who wants to heal the relationship. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to respond.

The good news? You caught this before it became physical. The other news? The effect on your husband is almost the same as if it were physical.

There are three broad ways to initiate the healing. The repair on your part involves a total recommitment with amends to your husband. As a couple you both need to explore the conditions that prompted you to look outside the marriage and change the dynamics between the two of you that caused them. Finally your husband must understand that he had some role in what made things not okay, and that has to change. In some instances these suggestions for change may not apply, but I think they are a good place to start for the two of you. This is most often accomplished with couples therapy. You can use the find help tab at the top of the page to find someone in your area.

The best analogy I can make of this is to say the two of you were in a car accident where you were driving and your husband was asleep. He woke up to see the car skidding off the road. Both of you will be traumatized to some degree by this, but you will each feel the pain in a different way. Because you were in the “driver’s seat” you had your hands on the wheel and could see what was coming. Your husband had no idea. His trauma is one of betrayal; yours, a lapse in judgment.

The best book on this healing process that I have come across is After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful.

You can both use this experience as a wakeup call for your relationship and not only heal it, but learn lessons from this that will allow you to flourish.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Nov 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Regarding Emotional Affair. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/11/16/regarding-emotional-affair/