Friendships are important, but…
Ed Cunninham said; “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer”.
There are no two ways about it; friendship is an important part of human life. We need meaningful connections with other people in order to feel secure, to feel happy, accepted, loved and understood. Friendships can be one of the biggest joys in life. Even married people need friendships outside of the marriage relationship!
But, what if a friendship becomes a real problem in your relationship?
In our practice, we often have to deal with couples who are in complete disagreement regarding the role that a certain friend of one of the spouses plays in his/her live. In most cases, this is a friendship that has grown over time and includes two people of opposite genders.
The spouse, who is in the friendship with the 3rd party, would respond: “but we are just friends” and might in many cases honestly believe this statement. However, that doesn't mean that this friendship is not problematic. The mere fact that this relationship between you and a friend is causing your partner to feel uncomfortable already creates an issue. But does the fault lie with your partner or with your friendship.
Many clients have either never heard of the term “emotional affair, or have never even considered the term remotely applicable with regards to this specific friendship that they have formed.
So how would you know whether or not this friendship is actually an emotional affair or just plainly a platonic friendship?
Emotional affair vs friendship
One of the first things that differentiate a friendship from an emotional affair is secrecy. Now, before you think you're off the hook here; let’s just explore this a little further. Your spouse might very well know of the friendship, the coffee dates and the times spent together – no secret there; but are you keeping certain conversations or details secret? If your spouse were to sit at another table; watching the two of you, overhearing your conversation, would you be comfortable with him/her witnessing your mannerisms, the length of eye contact or touching, the tone of your voice…if not, then secrecy is very definitely forming a part of this friendship.
The next aspects are daydreaming or fantasising. Are you daydreaming about spending more time with your friend? It is important to note; these little fantasy scenarios do not necessarily have to be sexual in nature…all this means is that your time with your friend is gaining importance and that even time that you are not spending with this person, is becoming time and energy spent on this person.
This brings us to the next one; alone time. Are you actively creating reasons for you and this friend to be alone? Do you feel that other friends or your spouse is getting in the way of time alone with your friend? Note again, you guys might not be fooling around when you are alone, you might not even be thinking in that direction…yet. But spending time with your friend, alone, just the two of you is a priority for you. Ask yourself – are you going to as much effort to create alone time between you and your spouse?
Emotional support and companionship are our next topics of discussion. There is nothing wrong with being there for a friend in good and or bad times, but if your friend is becoming your primary source for emotional support and companionship; red lights should definitely be going off for you. This is the role that we as partners should be fulfilling for one another. Another helpful tip is to ask yourself the following; if something good or bad happens in your life, who is the first person you would like to share this information with…your partner or this friend?
Another aspect that distinguishes a friendship from an emotional affair is sexual attraction or chemistry. We will definitely meet people in our lives that we are attracted to – that’s the way we were created. If you are, however, sexually attracted to this friend, you are playing with fire. The whole “trying to ignore it”, or “trying to pretend it’s not there” just makes it worse and more intense. This is probably not the safest friend to have…
Put all, or even just some of these together, and you could be guaranteed that this friendship is not what you think it is. You are in dangerous territory. And yes it might not be completely there yet, but be warned; it is almost certain that it will end up there.
It is easy for a platonic friendship to evolve into an emotional affair. All it takes is time, emotional investment and a little denial. Make sure that you and your spouse have very clearly defined boundaries when it comes to friendships and stick to these and respect them. Talk about these boundaries with your spouse often and really be honest with yourself when doing a little introspection regarding friendships in your life.
Don't be caught off guard - that little voice in your head; whispering that this could be trouble; should be listened to! Don't justify this relationship or the time spent, or the thoughts involving this person.
Break the secrecy, break the emotional investment and keep your relationship safe.