“I have a dilemma.” An old co-worker mused as we headed back to the office after a quick lunch date, reconnecting after I had recently changed jobs.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” I asked, but the tone of his voice already raised a red flag in the form of my quickening pulse and intuition that his answer was going to change everything.
And there it was. The unspoken attraction, the endless flirtations, the lighthearted jokes were suddenly in question. Was he serious? But he was married. And I was married–HAPPILY married, in fact. So I told myself, “No… we’re just friends. He’s just sad we don’t work together anymore.”
But then the emails got more suggestive and the text messages ramped up. We’d send each other smiling selfies at work with accompanying messages about how we missed each other. We started exchanging songs with lyrics that implied more intimate feelings were evolving in our friendship.
I didn’t know how to handle what was unfolding. I loved my husband with all my heart, but I didn’t want to lose the friendship (or, if I’m honest, the attention/validation) of this other person. So I eased my guilt by convincing myself that it didn’t really mean anything. We were still just joking, not being serious.
However, with each passing day, the anticipation of another text from him grew and grew. My heart skipped a beat when his name appeared in my inbox. I started having vivid dreams about being physical with him. Consequently, I became more irritated at my husband. It made me anxious when he was near my phone, afraid he would see or read something that he’d question.
The guilt of secrecy weighed on my chest. So I feverishly googled “Emotional Affairs” to see if that’s what this was… even though we didn’t really share intimate details about our lives. In fact, we didn’t confide in one another at all or even lean on each other for emotional support. But we connected on some unspoken level and it was having a serious impact on my daily life since I could think of nothing else.
That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. The way I was acting was so disrespectful to my husband and our marriage. How I was acting was telling people something completely different than the truth. It was saying I was unhappy and unfulfilled in my marriage, that I didn’t really love my husband. When I realized that my actions were painting a false reality of my marriage, I knew something had to be done. Even though I hadn’t physically cheated, all the texts and emails were harmful and inappropriate, just the same.
So I took steps to set things right:
- I admitted it: Shame can only exist in secret. When I was able to voice what was really going on, all the complexities of why I allowed it to go as far as it did and how I had realized the line had been crossed, the shame that surrounded the entire situation dissipated.
- I stopped it: I wrote my ex-coworker a lengthy email telling him our friendship had crossed a line and that I felt it was unfair to ourselves and our spouses to continue it. I let him know that I had told my husband and encouraged him to tell his wife and take time refocusing on his marriage too.
- I set personal boundaries: Hindsight is 20/20, so I was able to look at my mistakes and create a guide for boundaries in future opposite-sex friendships. Such as, I will never write another man something that I wouldn’t want my husband to read.
- I reinvested in my marriage: Obviously no marriage is perfect–there’s always work to be done. With my energy and attention refocused on my husband, we grew stronger, together.
Was any of this easy? Not at all.
Was it necessary? Absolutely.
Looking back, yes, I was having an emotional affair. (Although at the time, my misconception about what constituted as an emotional affair made me deny it wholeheartedly. A line crossed, sure. But an AFFAIR. No way. The label was too strong, it had too many horrible implications.) Ending it before it went any further was emotionally exhausting. I felt everything from embarrassment and anger to guilt and shame to relief and hopefulness. And honestly, it took longer than I expected to let that relationship go completely. But I don’t regret it at all. Ultimately, I came out stronger, wiser and more in love with my husband than ever before.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***