(Excerpt from Dr. Judith Orloff's national bestseller The Power of Surrender: Let Go and Energize Your Relationships, Success, and Well-Being)
A soul mate relationship is based on trust, commitment, and a strong desire to be together.
Still, despite this powerful bond, it’s also true that your hearts will be stretched in countless ways. The danger, especially during challenging times, is that you may be vulnerable to having an emotional affair. This can damage trust and stop you from surrendering to the growth needed for your relationship.
What is an emotional affair?
I describe it as when you turn to a friend or co-worker for emotional (not physical) intimacy. The seduction is that this person gives you what you feel your mate doesn’t: support, ego boosts, empathy, playfulness, an undercurrent of flirting or attraction. Initially, this can seem innocent but you may begin to share more with this “safe” person than with your mate.
I understand how it can be easier to talk to someone sympathetic who’s more peripheral. You’re not wrestling with the same hot-button emotions such as anger or disappointment that can arise with a soul mate.
Your dark sides aren’t engaged which is what causes most impasses among couples.
However, if you keep sharing with your special friend and not your spouse, your primary relationship will suffer. You’ll become distant, less present, and therefore less able to resolve conflicts. Your partner will sense something is wrong.
Basically, these affairs are a form of cheating, and like any infidelity can lead to deception and betrayal.
In fact, research reports that about half of these “innocent” liaisons eventually turn into full blown sexual affairs. With a true platonic soul friend, there’s no deception, hidden sexual agenda, nor is anyone diverting your emotional energy from your primary relationship.
How do you know you’re having an emotional affair?
Watch for these signs:
If five to seven signs are present, it strongly suggests you’re having an emotional affair. Three to four signs indicate that you’re either primed to have one or you already are. One to two signs suggest the possibility of an emotional affair. Zero yeses indicate that you are not involved with one.
It takes honesty to admit you’re having an emotional affair. The first step is to recognize what’s happening. Then you have the choice to either continue the affair or decide to focus on your partner. The truth is that you can’t do both. If you choose your partner, you must surrender to doing what it takes to heal the relationship.
First, this means cutting off the emotional affair.
In a respectful, clear way you must tell the other person, “I can’t cyber-chat, text, meet up with you, or talk on the phone anymore. It’s not possible for us to be ‘just friends.’”
Then, openly talk to your partner about what’s causing the distance. Is it his or her long hours at work? A lingering hurt? Lack of affection?
Many therapists recommend confessing your emotional affair. In most cases I agree, but how and whether you decide to do this depends on what will be most caring and helpful to your partner. At the very least, I suggest that patients lovingly communicate, “I’ve been sharing my feelings more with a friend than I have with you. This doesn’t feel right. I want us to be closer.”
Or you can acknowledge that you’ve crossed a line and how far you’ve crossed it. Use your intuition as a guide for how much you want to share.
But be prepared for your partner’s hurt and angry feelings. Listen without getting defensive. Then, together or with a therapist, begin to address where you’ve grown apart or shut down. Despite great pain, soul mates have what it takes to withstand difficulty until things are resolved.
It may take time, awareness, and love, but with bonds as strong as these, I know it’s possible.