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Sexless Affair or Just a Friendship?

Sexless Affair

He’s someone I work with. I didn’t think much of him at first. We talked a little but mostly just went out for lunch with other coworkers. After awhile we broke off from the group and the two of us starting going out to lunch together. Then we started talking outside of work, mostly just text and email. He was a good listener and I could tell him anything. I didn’t think anything of it, he was just a friend.

The workplace is one of the top places where cheating happens, and the above scenario is one I repeatedly hear. This type of affair is the sexless affair, also known as the emotional affair. The boundaries between it and a friendship can be blurry, so how do you know the difference?

Here are four questions to consider:

  1. Is there little to no transparency? Your partner should know about your friendship. Most of my clients say that their partner either didn’t know this person existed or to what extent their communication was! Transparency also means you don’t discourage your partner’s questions about what’s going on. Another aspect to consider is whether you share more of what’s going on in your life with your friend than you do with your partner.
  2. Would there be discomfort? If your partner asked to see the communication exchanges between you and your friend, do you think your partner would feel uncomfortable? Would you feel embarrassed if your partner stood next to you during any texts, emails or conversations?
  3. Have boundaries been violated? If your partner asked you to stop doing things with your friend because it makes them feel uneasy, but you haven’t stopped, that’s a boundary violation. Although you and your partner may need to find a workable compromise, something to consider is why maintaining your friendship has become more important than respecting the wishes of your partner.
  4. Are there fantasies? Every relationship has its ups and downs, but do you find yourself fantasizing about your friend when your relationship has hit a tough spot? Do you start comparing your current partner negatively to your friend, thinking life would be better with the other person instead?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, chances are your friendship is too intimate.

He’s someone I work with. I didn’t think much of him at first. We talked a little but mostly just went out for lunch with other coworkers. After awhile we broke off from the group and the two of us starting going out to lunch together. Then we started talking outside of work, mostly just text and email. He was a good listener and I could tell him anything. I didn’t think anything of it, he was just a friend.

As a relationship coach and therapist, I regularly help couples who are dealing with issues of infidelity. The workplace is one of the top places where cheating happens, and the above scenario is one I repeatedly hear. This type of affair is the sexless affair, also known as the emotional affair. The boundaries between it and a friendship can be blurry, so how do you know the difference?

Here are four questions to ask yourself to determine if your connection with someone else could really be a sexless affair or merely a friendship:

1. Is there little to no transparency? Your partner should know about your friendship. Most of my clients say that their partner either didn’t know this person existed or to what extent their communication was! Transparency also means you don’t discourage your partner’s questions about what’s going on. Another aspect to consider is whether you share more of what’s going on in your life with your friend than you do with your partner.

2. Would there be discomfort? If your partner asked to see the communication exchanges between you and your friend, do you think your partner would feel uncomfortable? Would you feel embarrassed if your partner stood next to you during any texts, emails or conversations?

3. Have boundaries been violated? If your partner asked you to stop doing things with your friend because it makes them feel uneasy, but you haven’t stopped, that’s a boundary violation. Although you and your partner may need to find a workable compromise, something to consider is why maintaining your friendship has become more important than respecting the wishes of your partner.

4. Are there fantasies? Every relationship has its ups and downs, but do you find yourself fantasizing about your friend when your relationship has hit a tough spot? Do you start comparing your current partner negatively to your friend, thinking life would be better with the other person instead?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, chances are your friendship is too intimate.

It’s important to communicate with your partner. Start a dialogue: What guidelines do you want for your relationship? One couple has a rule that they don’t have drinks alone with an opposite sex friend after dark. Another couple decided to delete their exes from their Facebook friends list. Some couples have the passcodes and passwords to each other’s phone and email. These may seem like good guidelines for some but for others it might feel like they are policing their partner. What works for one couple may not work for you, but start a conversation to figure out what works best for both of you.

A note about irrational jealousy or controlling behavior. Some of you reading this really will have nothing going on with your friend, but your partner may make demands or exhibit irrational jealousy and try to control you. It is beyond the scope of this blog to address this behavior, and instead I recommend seeking the guidance of a professional therapist to help.

What starts out as an innocent friendship can turn into a sexless affair. By considering the questions above and communicating with your partner, you can protect your relationship.

In my last blog I wrote about common myths about cheating. Research indicates that infidelity is on the rise, with more relationships being affected by it. If good people are cheating, how can you tell if your partner (who I’m pretty sure you think is a good person) is cheating on you? It’s not easy to detect given that most affairs are not discovered.

 

Although people can be very effective at compartmentalizing their lives that their affairs are never discovered, there are a few things to consider if you have any suspicions. You can’t tell if your partner is cheating based on just one piece of evidence, but you can look for a pattern of behavior that’s different from the norm in your relationship.

 

  1. You’re having more sex. People assume if one partner is cheating, the frequency of sex decreases because they’re already “getting it on the side.” Sometimes this may be the case, but also the opposite is true. The excitement of an affair can increase the passion in your own relationship. Your partner may have an increased desire for sex and it could be hotter than it’s been in a long time. They may even ask to try new techniques.

 

  1. Hostile answers to questions. Your partner gets off the phone and you ask them, “Who were you talking to?” They may snap back with hostile remarks such as, “Why do you always have to be in my business?” or “I can’t believe you don’t trust me.” You may even start doubting your own sanity, telling yourself that you should trust your partner. But harsh responses to questions, especially if you’ve never received this kind of an attitude from your partner before, are highly suspicious.
    If you’re in a healthy relationship, you should want to alleviate any concerns your partner has about a potential threat to your relationship. Monogamy cannot be assumed, it has to be confirmed with actions. If you truly have nothing to hide, prove it. Telling your partner who called you or showing them your texts shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not saying you need to show them everything every time, but if your partner asks, would you have an issue with showing them your communication?

 

  1. Consistent change in routine. Spending time with an affair partner takes time and effort. Pay attention to differences in scheduling like spending longer hours at the office, working on “weekend projects” or getting up earlier to go to the gym. Sometimes people are re-energized by an affair and become more dedicated to family life. Your partner may help out at home with chores and errands or be more engaged with the kids. The key is a consistent change in what had previously been present in your relationship or family life.

 

  1. You no longer hear the “friend’s” name – or hear it too much. Has your partner frequently talked about this “friend” or coworker and then, mysteriously, you no longer hear about him or her? When you mention why you haven’t heard about that person, do they get anxious or snap at you? Or the flip side is also true – you never heard about this person and then your partner brings their name up frequently. Both behaviors can indicate that things are evolving beyond “just a friendship.”

 

  1. You’re jealous. Maybe you’ve never been the jealous or suspicious type, but now you’ve developed uneasy feelings about someone in your partner’s life. You suspect this person has intentions beyond just a friendship or a work relationship. If you have a “gut feeling” I encourage you to trust it. Many of my betrayed clients had a gut feeling but dismissed it because they wanted to believe their partner would never cheat on them. If you have suspicions, be curious and get more information, but don’t attack your partner. Express your concerns but be prepared that your partner will dismiss you or even belittle you.

 

Because people often believe they are immune to cheating, they’ve crossed the line before they’ve realized it. If you have suspicions and your partner refuses to discuss things with you, seek the help of a professional to help you.

 

In my line of work as a relationship expert, I work with cheaters. Some are funny, others volunteer, and some go to church every Sunday. Some coach their child’s sports teams, others take care of their elderly parents, and some are the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. Some research shows that, at a minimum, at least 50% of all couples will be affected by cheating.

 

It can happen to you.

 

No relationship is immune from infidelity. There is a lack of education about cheating, especially around how and why it happens. I find myself repeating the same things to my clients and continually debunking myths. Talking openly about the “reality” of infidelity is one of the best ways of protecting a relationship from it.

 

Myth 1: Only immoral people cheat.

Reality: Good people cheat. People are harshly judged for stepping outside the bounds of their relationship. Yes, they made a bad choice, but it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Two of the most common things I hear are: “I never thought I would cheat” from the betrayer, and “I never thought s/he would cheat” from the betrayed partner. If you assume that both you and your partner can cheat, you can be more aware about threats and risky situations.

 

Myth 2: If there’s no sex, it’s not cheating.

Reality: There’s a different kind of affair that’s been on the rise – the emotional one. It usually starts as “just a friendship” but then a deep, passionate connection grows as time goes on. People can fall in love before realizing just how far they’ve crossed the line. Warning signs your “friendship” may be heading toward an emotional affair: You don’t tell your partner when or what you talk about with this person, and you’ve started divulging personal information about your partner to him or her.

 

Myth 3: You only cheat if you’re unhappy.

Reality: One of the ways people leave their relationship vulnerable to infidelity is by assuming that only unhappily coupled people cheat. Not so, as my clients often tell me, “I thought we were happy.” For some, cheating is less about happiness and more about sliding across boundaries. Opportunity is one of the leading variables of infidelity.

 

Myth 4: Affairs happen because of sexual attraction.

Reality: My clients often tell me they weren’t even attracted to the person they ended up cheating with. Research shows that the affair partner isn’t any better than the spouse, just different. If you assume you need sexual attraction, you’re more likely to minimize the close emotional relationship you’re developing with another person.

 

Myth 5: A marriage is irreparable.

Reality: As painful as an affair is on a marriage, healing and recovery are possible. Many of my clients tell me that the affair was a “blessing in disguise.” Often I hear that spouses talked more in the aftermath of an affair than they have all year, or they realized they have been taking each other for granted and needed a wake up call. Although the process is not easy, surviving infidelity and making your marriage better than ever is achievable.

 

An affair can happen in any relationship. Awareness of these 5 myths and the reality of each can help keep you both faithful to each other.