I was the lazy spouse. My wife’s idea of a “fun” Saturday is to rearrange the kitchen cabinets and make them more “efficient.” She is a self-confessed Type A perfectionist. She is goal-oriented, detail-conscious, and absolutely driven. She makes to-do lists, keeps detailed calendars, and if I ask her if she had a good day at work, she’ll say, “Yes, I got a lot done today.” Tasks.

Then there’s me. My idea of a fun Saturday is sleeping in and laying around talking. Then making a mess of the kitchen with a fun breakfast or brunch before we watch a couple of movies. I’m a people-person, a relationship person. I do poorly with organization, rarely make a to-do list and rarely mark anything off of it. If I’m asked if I had a good day at work, I think through conversations I had, creativity, and ideas that got kicked around. People.

If you came around my house on a Saturday, who would you think is lazy?

The main task of our first few years of marriage was figuring this out. My wife would say, “At least I get stuff done!” I would reply, “Yeah, but I’ll live longer because I’m not stressed out!

Finally, we realized that different was not only okay, but it was complementary.

Here’s a pretty common scenario:

Let’s say both spouses work outside (or inside) the home. One spouse (according to research, usually the husband) does their work for their employer and is done working for the day. The other spouse (according to research, usually the wife) finishes her work for her employer, BUT then has a “to-do” list a mile long once she gets home including household chores, helping children with homework, caring for the baby, preparing meals, handling the finances, and finally, ending her day probably finishing work for her employer. The husband hasn’t left the couch, except maybe to come to bed and expect sex—more work the wife doesn’t want to do. (Sound familiar?)

Ugh. The wife has dropped some subtle (and not so subtle) hints that she needs help. She’s tried bottling up her frustration, nagging, blaming, shaming, making threats, even eventually just embracing the role of the “responsible spouse.”

Nothing changes. The husband is still lazy, passive, and selfish. The wife eventually loses respect for her husband. (Marriage Killer.) Bitterness builds toward her husband. (Marriage Killer.) She becomes resentful of her husband. (Marriage Killer.) 

She gets tired of being “the responsible spouse” and eventually becomes what marriage therapist and author Michele Weiner-Davis, borrowing a term coined by Paul Akers, refers to as a “walkaway wife.” 66-75% of divorces are filed by women who are tired of unsatisfying marriages and oblivious husbands. And even if she doesn’t “walk away” physically, (yet) emotionally—she is gone. And that’s a dangerous place to be. 

But is this as simple as lazy vs. productive? What about just being different? What about conversations about the division of labor around the house? Does this have to be a marriage killer?

Even though this is a fairly standard marital breakdown, it doesn’t have to be like this. Here’s what to do when you think your spouse is lazy:

Make sure you are dealing with true laziness. Try some different approaches to address the issue.

Hey, I hear the profanity that you just mumbled. I get it. The only exercises he’s ever done are diddly-squats. But let’s practice some empathy and try to exhaust all other explanations besides pure, unmitigated laziness. You with me?

  • Has he always been like this or is it a recent development? Can you think of an “inciting incident” that maybe hit him hard and needs to be dealt with?
  • Could this be pandemic-related? Stress and anxiety can make people shut down. Is it possible in the past you didn’t want help but now you need more?
  • Has he screened for depression or other mental health issues?
  • Does he complain that too much is being asked of him and even small requests are treated like a big huge deal? You might need a sit-down about the division of labor.
  • Has he been able to maintain employment?
  • Has he had a full physical? Some vitamin & mineral deficiencies leave you lethargic. He could also have some significant undiagnosed health issues.

Now, about you…

  • Are you a Type A person and he’s a Type Z Z Z Z Z z z z z z z z? If you are a driven, Type A, perfectionist, overachiever, make a list and get it done kinda person, almost EVERYONE is going to look lazy by comparison. Not everyone is wired like you are. He may feel inferior or concluded there’s no pleasing you—why even try?
  • What are your standards and expectations? Some men look at the honey-do list and realize that it is easier to avoid it than not do it your way and suffer the consequences.
  • Let’s talk about assumptions. What roles did mom and dad play in your home growing up? What roles did they play in your husband’s family growing up? This could have taught some “norms” that need to be talked through. Communicate!
  • Do you function more like his mom than his wife? Did you enable this lazy attitude? When he runs out of clean underwear, he’ll get the message.
  • Does he play with the kids, drive them to practice, do anything? Do you express gratitude or appreciation for what he does?
  • Do you nag, show disrespect, or contempt? These things are like kryptonite to motivate a man to do anything. Now your relationship has the potential to become adversarial. Don’t fight your spouse—fight for your marriage.

Eventually, I found out I wasn’t a lazy spouse, I just had a different perspective and priorities. We learned to balance each other and bring out the best in each other. More communication.

Listen, if you have considered, tried, and talked through all of these things, it might be time to call in the professionals. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for marriage counseling. You might not have discovered the correct angle yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there. You got this!

***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.***

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Full transparency here: I’ve dealt with feelings of depression and anxiety through much of my adulthood. In fact, I brought it right with me into my marriage. Through it all, my wife has been a solid rock of support and encouragement for me and my mental health during those difficult times. And looking back, I’ve been able to catch a glimpse of what she was feeling for me: 

I’m worried for his well-being. I know he isn’t himself. His heart is hurting. His mind is swarming. He’s just on edge all… the… time. There’s no life in his voice. He just has a sense of hopelessness, tension, defeat. And I just want him to be happy again so we can enjoy our life together like we once did. 

Does any of this sound familiar?  

Maybe you’ve had the same thoughts about your spouse. It’s difficult to see the person you love the most experiencing challenges like grief, sadness, anxiety, and stress. It impacts not only your spouse but also your marriage. And you want to help, but maybe you just don’t know how. 

Fortunately, there is hope. How can you show care and support for your spouse’s mental health? Here are eight ways: 

1. Remind them you are there.

One of the worst feelings someone can have who is experiencing emotional difficulties is feeling like they are alone in their predicament. The continual reminder that you are there for them, you’re there to listen, and you are not there to judge or think less of them because of what they’re going through means the world

2. Encourage your spouse with The Big 3: Exercise, Diet, and Sleep.

These are the three best things we can do to help ourselves when our mental health is under attack. They are the “hubs” of self-care. Physical activity, especially cardio, and clean eating have been shown to improve emotional health. And I can’t tell you enough just how important sleep is to fight off stress, anxiety, and depression. Most people need 8-9 hours of sleep each night, and each one of those hours is precious to care for yourself. Encourage your spouse to maintain The Big 3 and join them in the mission to work out, eat clean, and sleep well. 

3. Do everyday activities together.

When I’ve felt particularly out of sorts, my wonderful wife would invite me to go on an errand with her or to do something seemingly mundane with her around the house. The sheer act of being together and focusing on some activity — picking up the groceries, folding the laundry (lots of bonding happens over folding fitted sheets), getting the car washed (for an added bonus, jamming out to Led Zeppelin as your car shuffles through the automatic wash, an instant feel-good) — can help pull your spouse out of a funk. 

4. Coach your spouse to choose their “Something to Look Forward to.”

Long ago, a friend of mine gave me this life-changing, simple piece of advice, and my wife has encouraged me with it: every week, choose that one thing that you’re going to look forward to on the weekend (or whatever the “end of the week” looks like for your spouse). It can be anything enjoyable: a hike, watching the football game, ordering pizza, eating that piece of cake in the fridge, a fishing trip, working in the yard, smoking some ribs, visiting your favorite fast food place. I’ve found that whatever setbacks I experience through the week, sometimes my “Something to Look Forward to” is what helps me to keep taking each step forward. Help your spouse find their “Something to Look Forward to” each week. 

5. Experience some fresh air together.

There’s something about being outside in the open air and the warm sunlight that takes the edge off strong emotions. Invite your spouse to share some outdoor time, whether it’s hiking in the woods or sitting on the front porch to watch the sunset. You certainly don’t have to be an “outdoor person” to gain the benefits that clean air and the vitamin D from sunlight provides (which, by the way, has been shown to reduce depression and boost weight loss). 

6. Be physically intimate with each other.

Physical touch, whether it’s sexual or non-sexual touch, like holding hugs or hand-holding, has been shown to help improve mental and emotional health, not to mention increase closeness and connection with each other. Healthy physical touch from someone who cares (that is, you) causes those feel-good chemicals to squirt through the brain, defending against feelings of sadness and anxiety. And don’t laugh, but scheduled sex is where it’s at. Hear me out. If your spouse is someone who, say, really enjoys sex, more than likely it’s a stress-reliever for them. When the two of you schedule your lovemaking, you give them something they can count on to simmer down the emotions while you, well, heat things up. 

7. Encourage time with friends and family.

It’s easy for someone weighed down with heavy feelings to isolate themselves. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to reach out to others. When I’ve felt like this, my wife would sometimes say something like, “Why don’t you call up your friend Brian and see if he wants to watch the football game?” Or, “Why not go over to your mom’s house and take her some cookies” Being with others helps a heavy heart. And sometimes a person just needs a shot of encouragement to make that connection. Encourage time with someone they are close to when the mood is down. 

8. Go on dates.

This is arguably the most important item on the list. Try to have a weekly date together. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive or even outside the house. As a matter of fact, take some of what’s above and make it a date: the “Something to Look Forward to,” time spent outdoors, ordering a pizza in, a walk around the neighborhood, a Netflix movie, or maybe even scheduled intimacy. The point is to have a meaningful time together. And remember: because your spouse is dealing with heavy emotions, you may have to be the one to prompt these dates. 

If you observe that your spouse’s mental health doesn’t change for the better or gets worse, encourage them to visit a professional counselor. Offer to go with them if they are nervous or uncertain. Try to help them understand that talking to a counselor doesn’t mean they are “broken” or something “is wrong with them.” They are simply there to talk through some of the difficult feelings they’re experiencing. 

One more thing: the battle to manage strong emotions like anxiety, sadness, or stress is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect instant improvements with a walk in the woods or a night out on the town. 

And let’s not ignore the fact that your spouse’s struggles with mental health are hard on you as well; you feel the exhaustion and stress they feel. Be sure you are taking care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and exercise, and make sure you have a healthy support system you can turn to. Practice good self-care. 

You are your spouse’s biggest support. And you have the power to instill a sense of hope in them with your love and encouragement. Choose at least one of the strategies above to do this week. Assure your spouse you are there for them no matter what. Go on a date. Share a walk outside. Whatever it is, let them know you are right there beside them. Believe me: it will mean the world to them. 

***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.***

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Name something that can help you have a long-lasting, thriving marriage. I’ll give you a moment to run through the usual answers… communication, working through conflict, intimacy, yadda, yadda, yadda. The one you’re looking for is…

Spending time alone.

You might crave it and don’t get enough of it. Perhaps your spouse craves alone time and you don’t understand it. This can be a landmine in relationships, but it doesn’t have to be. Talking about and understanding each other’s need for alone time can make your relationship better.

Here’s why spending time alone is good for your marriage.

Opportunity to nurture your own interests.

Not every couple shares all the same interests. While it’s important to share some interests, it’s also okay that you have some  you don’t share. Don Cole, Master Counselor for the Gottman Institute, says it’s more important that couples support their partner’s interests as opposed to feeling obligated to share interests. These interests are part of what makes you the person your honey fell in love with. 

My wife likes to complete jigsaw puzzles—big ones. Me—not so much. Jigsaw puzzles help to keep her mind sharp, provides her recreation, it’s peaceful and gives her a sense of joy to complete. All these things make her an even better spouse. I’m not a fan of jigsaw puzzles, so when I try to help, we quickly realize that the joy is absent. She’d still be stuck on 500-piece puzzles if she didn’t have some alone time to nurture that interest. Instead, 10,000 piece puzzles have become the norm.

As long as spending time together is a priority, making space for alone time may help you develop a stronger sense of who you are which will increase the intimacy the two of you share.

Leisure and Relaxation.

Everyone needs time to sit and do nothing or enjoy activities which aren’t stressful or taxing to the brain. Not having to worry about attending to kids and letting go of the expectations others may have of you, unwinding, and being carefree, even if it’s just for an hour, can make you a better partner. Research suggests that leisure and relaxation help you have a clearer mind that is better able to think positively and make good decisions.

Yes, relaxing with your spouse is great. Sometimes what is relaxation for one is work for the other. (Can you say “jigsaw puzzle?”)  Taking alone time to relax can recharge you. You’ll be better able to respond to your spouse as the two of you work through everyday life.

Prevent Burnout.

Parental burnout, similar to professional burnout, is a real thing according to the research. (You’re thinking, I didn’t need research to tell me that.) Parental burnout can cause you to become irritable, exhausted, and less tuned-in to your kids much less your spouse. It strips the joy from your relationships when you constantly feel like you’re living for others and not taking time to get recharged. 

When you need time alone, it’s not your family that’s the problem. The need to recharge and give your body some energy to work with is real

Growing more comfortable in your own skin.

It’s easy to subconsciously fall into a space where you need the approval of others, particularly your spouse. While it’s good and sometimes necessary to get affirmation or validation for your thoughts and perspectives, you shouldn’t rely on your spouse exclusively for validation. 

Spending time alone is good for your marriage because it can help you be more self-aware, and clarify emotions and desires. This helps you guard against becoming reliant on your spouse or anyone else for your self-worth. 

Alone with your thoughts.

I’ve had lots of conversations where my thoughts were expressed before they were anywhere near being fully developed. (Introverts can relate to this all too well.) When this happens, you feel like you’re only sharing a part of yourself without the whole story. Getting alone with your thoughts sometimes becomes the key to you being understood. They don’t get interrupted by the spontaneous needs of all those wonderful people living with you who desire your attention. 

Alone time is a great opportunity to just be in the moment and collect your thoughts. It’s great for dreaming, planning, being grateful, etc. Not for negative thoughts which can build resentment, but helpful thoughts that can move you toward better understanding yourself, your spouse, and those around you.

See your partner with fresh eyes.

Being away from your partner for some alone time can help you appreciate the greatness of your partner. We can take one another for granted when we’re always working on something for one another or the family. A walk, a nice drive, or some exercise can do wonders in helping your perception of your spouse improve. As research indicates, as your perception of your spouse improves, the relationship is likely to improve as well. Some alone time may be exactly what’s needed to see your spouse with the right eyes.

Spending time alone is not a bad thing. If you become obsessed with spending time apart from your spouse, then there may be some marital issues to address. However, taking some time to invest in you may make you more fun and engaging to your spouse and help you be the person you want to be in your marriage.

Talking and agreeing with one another about the need for some alone time can strengthen your marriage in amazing ways! Explore it!

***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 that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Will having an open marriage increase your happiness? Maybe you’ve seen the trend among celebrities “celebrating” an open marriage situation. Maybe you’ve even thought about adopting an open marriage relationship with your spouse. 

I’d like to help you with some answers. Answers based on research, common sense, the multitudes of couples I’ve worked with, and what we know about healthy marriages.

The goal I have for you is to have the information you need to make an informed decision. Why? Because your marriage matters. 

Here’s what I have come to know based on research and experience: 

1. Marriage is exciting.

But there’s a point where marriage seems to lose its steam. The novelty, newness, and the excitement of what once came so naturally and easily wears off. Suddenly, sex, connection, and the sense of security and happiness don’t just “happen” on their own.

☆ This is the point where many people experience difficulty. And sadly, it’s where many marriages begin to end. 

2. If this is happening in your marriage but you want to avoid divorce, there’s a (seemingly) easy solution: arrange an open marriage.

You can have your cake and eat it, too! Excitement and novelty are shot back into your life, and you can still stay with your spouse! (As long as there’s an understanding between the two of you.) It seems like a real easy fix. You don’t have to work so hard at maintaining all that connection and intimacy. Except for one thing…

3. Marriage is meant to take effort.

I know that sounds cliché. But the problem isn’t that things come less “naturally” in marriage, like sex or connection or a sense of security. That’s actually normal. A healthy marriage doesn’t just “happen.” It takes attention. It takes purposeful action. It’s through the intentionality, the (sometimes tense) communication that your marriage is strengthened.

Because here’s a little secret: your marriage is like a living organism. It’s either getting stronger or it’s dying. There is no status quo in marriage. And an open marriage assumes that you can keep the status quo of your marriage steady while trying to get your sexual needs met by someone other than your spouse.

I’ve worked with lots and lots of couples. And I’m here to tell you: It just doesn’t happen that way.  

 4. Marriage takes a great deal of trust.

And an open marriage is not fertile ground to grow trust. But wait a minute, you say. What about all the celebs who have declared their own open marriages, who have said that trust is better than ever before?

Let me stop you right there
. With respect to Hollywood actors everywhere, when have we ever known the celebrity lifestyle to ever look like real life? I’m not going to say what is good or not good for those in the fame spotlight, but for the 99.9% of the rest of us, is it really fair to base the health of our relationships on those which we absolutely cannot relate to?

Here’s the thing about trust: it has to have an object. You trust your spouse for something. That you are the most important part of their life. You trust that they are reliable. And you trust that absolutely nothing else would get in the way of your relationship. At the very heart of marital trust is the idea that you are the only one for me and there’s not a single thing or person that’ll stand in the way of that. And what I’ve come to know over time is, this is what every person really wants in marriage: for their spouse to be all in.

Open marriage may be fun, adventurous, a bit taboo, but it isn’t all in. 

5. People often (mistakenly) believe the healthiest thing for them is what everybody else seems to be doing.

Well, first of all, we know that just isn’t necessarily true. (Haven’t you ever been asked if everyone was jumping off the bridge, would you do it, too??)

The funny thing is, despite all the TV specials, opinion articles, and celebrity news out there about the awesomeness and benefits of open marriages, very, very few people actually have an open marriage.

In one study, around 3% of adults in the U.S. reported being in an open sexual relationship. And 12% reported having ever been in an open sexual relationship in their lives. (Keep in mind these numbers reflect all open sexual relationships, not just marriage—cohabitating, any committed romantic relationship.) 

And let’s do the math: ¾ of those who are in or have ever been in an open sexual relationship are no longer in one, and there must be a reason. Oddly, you won’t find these people ever being interviewed on TV specials or opinion articles. 

To further the point: the vast majority of people out there still value good ol’ fashioned monogamous marriage. A Penn State study reports that a whopping 98% of women and 97% of men still believe monogamy is very important.

The bottom line:

Not everyone is doing it. And for those out there who have done it and are no longer, no one has thought to ask them, how come? Doesn’t it kind of make you wonder? 

That’s what I have come to know about marriages in light of the supposed “open marriage craze.” But let me also tell you one thing I don’t know (along with everyone else out there). 

We don’t (yet) know what open marriage happiness looks like in the long term.

No one has done any long-term studies to measure overall happiness in open marriages. Sure, you’ll come across some articles reporting claims that satisfaction, happiness, and trust is the same or even more than in monogamous marriages. But much of this is either based on either severely limited research or writers with agendas who just plain bend the numbers.

So, here’s the question to ask yourself: Do I want to take my marriage down a potentially dangerous path based on something so few people are actually doing? Open marriage goes against what researchers have known for generations about what makes a healthy marriage.       

 ☆ Ultimately, we know very little about the long-term impact of open marriages.

It’s not a gamble I’d be willing to take, and as an advocate for healthy relationships, I wouldn’t want you to take that gamble, either. 

***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.***

Your marriage has been blindsided by an emotional affair. One of you is struggling with thoughts and feelings of betrayal, shock, and hurt. One of you is struggling with thoughts and feelings of confusion, guilt, and sadness. How can your marriage move past this? The good news is, your marriage can not only move past this emotional affair; it can grow stronger because of this difficult circumstance—but both spouses need to be willing to to navigate the aftermath well, both individually and together.

The Spouse Who Had The Emotional Affair

Maybe you weren’t even sure you were having an emotional affair. You might have slid down the slippery slope of innocent friendship to emotional dependency and intimacy with someone who’s not your spouse. Maybe there were issues in your marriage that made it easier for you to begin to disconnect from your spouse and build a relationship with someone else. Maybe this is all about you and the little spark you got from the novelty of someone new and the secrecy of your interaction with them.

Bottom Line: You were doing marital work with someone who wasn’t your marriage partner. You crossed the boundary of faithfulness, exclusivity, deception, and betrayal.

Please read this account of how this individual was able to move past an emotional affair and how their marriage survived and grew stronger. ★ Note the steps that were taken.

[Information in brackets is mine.]
  • 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. [This is the first step. Friendships that are innocent don’t have to be kept a secret from your spouse and are nothing to be ashamed of. Come all the way clean with your spouse.]
  • I stopped it: I wrote my ex co-worker 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. [Inform this person that your relationship is over. Full stop. Your spouse might want to read your email or listen via conference call. This is one of the first steps in rebuilding trust with your spouse.]
  • 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. [Your spouse will likely have input for the boundaries to protect your marriage. Be willing to do whatever it takes.]
  • I reinvested in my marriage: Obviously no marriage is perfect. There is always work that needs to be done. With my energy and attention refocused on my husband, we grew stronger, together. [This is the key. Your marriage is in the ICU. The “what came first” question doesn’t matter. It’s time to reconnect with your spouse and pour your energy and attention into your marriage.]

I would only add to that excellent advice that you need to apologize to your spouse, ask for their forgiveness and express your commitment to them and your marriage.

If you want to move past the emotional affair, communicate your willingness to do whatever it takes to rebuild trust and your relationship. ☆ You may need professional help to break out of the fantasy world you created and to deal with the addiction-like dynamics of your experience. You may also need professional help to reconnect with your spouse and to pour yourself into your marriage. 

Emotional affairs can be just as shocking and damaging to a spouse as a sexual affair. Your spouse might bounce back and forth between hurt, anger, and normalcy. Be open to their needs, whether it is to answer questions or be alone. Understand it will take more than words and it will take time.  

You need to be open to and compliant with any accountability related to your phone or other devices as you begin to rebuild trust. You need to accept any other accountability that your spouse deems necessary, including whatever else they need to feel secure, heal, and continue to rebuild trust (even if you think they’re going overboard or being unreasonable). They are probably navigating severe anxiety and hypervigilance. This is not the time to try to negotiate; it’s the time to live out true self-sacrificial love. 

This is when you need good friends who are for your marriage and accountability.

The Spouse Who Was Betrayed By The Emotional Affair

You didn’t make your spouse have an emotional affair. Know this, believe this, feel this, but it is also true that affairs do not happen in a vacuum. There is always a context to infidelity and betrayal. The marriage and the affair are usually connected. 

Often, the marital context allows for a better understanding of the emotional affair. As marriage therapist Esther Perel points out, “The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage.” As the therapist puts it, “The betrayed spouse, to one degree or another, can be one dimension of the infidelity—just like narcissism, low self-esteem, addiction, or a mid-life crisis can be a key for understanding your spouse’s [emotional] infidelity.”

But make no mistake, your spouse chose to have an emotional affair. Probably in a series of little choices. It all could have been avoided by choosing to ignore a text, to not eat lunch with a coworker, to unfollow someone on social media, to not divulge things to someone that only a spouse should hear. They could have chosen to work on your marriage.

At a minimum, you should know the following:

  1. Who the emotional affair partner was.
  2. How long the affair lasted.
  3. How often they met.
  4. Where they met.
  5. How they communicated. (Email, secret texting apps, phone or burner phone, etc.)

If the marriage survives, this information is essential to avoid future affairs and for appropriate accountability and to put boundaries in place. Take time to think about what would be most helpful for you to know. Sometimes when affairs are uncovered, the betrayed spouse says they want to know every single detail of the relationship, only later to discover that all that information wasn’t really helpful.

Understand that men and women generally view emotional affairs differently. In fact, according to a survey by VictoriaMilan.com, an online affair dating site (the U.K.’s AshleyMadison.com) for people who are already married or in relationships, there are some clear distinctions between how men and women view emotional affairs.

Here’s what they discovered:

  • 72% of men said sexual affairs were worse than emotional affairs.
  • 69% of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs.
  • 76% of women said they would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair
  • Only 35% of men said they would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair.
  • 80% of men said they would forgive an emotional affair.
  • Only 30% of women indicated they would forgive an emotional affair.

According to this and other research, women are much more unforgiving of emotional connections while men are much more unforgiving of physical ones. Again, understand that, in general, men and women look at emotional affairs very differently

This is important to acknowledge as you work toward understanding what happened, heal, rebuild trust, grow in security, and strengthen your marriage. Take care of yourself so that you are physically and emotionally healthy and whole.

When you’re ready, you need to offer and communicate true forgiveness. Be open and willing to change as an individual and in how you relate to your spouse. You can’t “dance the same dance” anymore. This is your new, second marriage even though it is with the same spouse. Be intentional about making it strong and healthy!

Expect good and bad days, ups and downs, three steps forward and two steps back. Healing as an individual, healing for your spouse, and healing as a couple is a process. Don’t be discouraged by bad days or setbacks. Have a friend who is for your marriage who can keep you accountable, and you can be honest with and vent to. 

Don’t blame and focus on their affair partner. This is understandable but completely counter-productive, can re-traumatize you, fuel intrusive thoughts, and impede healing. 

Find resources that work for you. Don’t hesitate to seek out professional counseling for yourself and marriage counseling for you both. 

★ Only about 15% of marriages break up directly because of infidelity and end in divorce. According to counselors, couple’s therapists, and marriage coaches, whether the marriage will survive is based on how each spouse responds to the emotional affair.

Some Other Helpful Resources:

***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 that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Have you ever had a fight with your spouse as you were walking out the door to work and actually thought to yourself, “I can’t wait to get to work to talk with so-and-so because he/she is such a good listener and gets me.”

This thought may feel completely harmless to you at first, but once you know the warning signs of an emotional affair, it’s much easier to pinpoint what could snowball into a much bigger problem. 

Do you send and receive texts with a friend or co-worker that you wouldn’t want your spouse to see?

At work, do you intentionally time your visit to the breakroom or to make copies to hopefully run into a certain person?

Are you having more conflict and less interest in your spouse as your relationship is deepening with this co-worker or friend?

These are all warning signs of an emotional affair in bloom.

It’s ironic that we can know very reliably that the two most popular times for cheaters to contact their cheating partners are Mondays between 8 AM–9 AM and Fridays between 9 PM–10 PM. It makes sense if you think about it. But take sex out of the infidelity, and it can seem very difficult to pin down when a harmless, platonic friendship or working relationship has become something that threatens the very core of your marriage.

So, what exactly is an emotional affair?

It’s when a spouse is getting an emotional need met by someone other than their partner. Perhaps they begin to make you happier than your partner and you begin to seek affirmation from this individual, or you become emotionally dependent on them, or you take your problems to them instead of your spouse. This is not just friendship. It’s an emotional attachment that should be reserved only for your spouse. It opens doors that should remain closed. You are doing your marital work with someone other than your spouse. (You’re basically “dating” someone emotionally.)

Emotional affairs also create an emotional distance from your spouse. In other words, not only are you getting emotionally entangled and closer with someone other than your spouse, but you’re creating emotional distance between you and your partner and getting further away from them. As you connect more and more with this person, you are disconnecting more and more from your spouse.

One of the biggest warning signs of an emotional affair is secrecy.

Does your spouse or partner know about this person and the friendship you share? Do you hide meetups, texts, and phone calls from your spouse? If your spouse knew how much time and energy you devoted to thinking about this person, communicating with this person, and the “tingles” you feel when you are with this person—would they feel betrayed? Would your spouse think you have stepped outside the boundaries of your marriage and your faithfulness to them?

Remember when your spouse gave you the “tingles?” Now they are locked in a battle they don’t know about which could be difficult to win. An emotional affair partner will always have the benefit of being in an idealized state and partner in a fantasized “relationship,” but your spouse will always be a real person in your real world—warts and all.

In marriage, innocent friendships aren’t hidden from your spouse, they are shared with your spouse.

But we haven’t had sex or any kind of physical relationship! This can’t be cheating or an ‘affair!’

In emotional affairs, instead of an actual physical relationship, there is flirting, sexual fantasizing, sexual tension, or sexual talk. (It is possible that all that is keeping this emotional relationship from becoming sexual is a set of circumstances, geography, one person’s conscience. Or it’s just a matter of time.)

People can easily and quickly go from:

 Acquaintances —-> Friends —> Emotionally Codependent —> Physically Involved.

Emotional affairs are the most common form of infidelity and often are the gateway to a full-blown sexual affair.A new crisis of infidelity is emerging in which people who never intended to be unfaithful are unwittingly crossing the line from platonic friendships into romantic relationships” – The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

Emotional affairs are becoming increasingly more common because they can start out very innocently and are easily written off as friendships. Many couples are on guard against sexual infidelity, so emotional infidelity catches them off guard. The AAMFT found that about 45% of men and 35% of women have admitted to having an emotional affair.

Here are 20 very telling signs that your friendship is turning into an emotional affair:

  1. You put more effort into your appearance for him/her than your spouse.
  2. You lie to your spouse about talking to and/or seeing him/her.
  3. You’re spending more time with him/her than your spouse.
  4. You’re texting with him/her while trying to keep it a secret from your spouse.
  5. You laugh more with him/her than your spouse.
  6. You think about him/her more than your spouse.
  7. You compare your spouse to him/her in unfavorable ways.
  8. You feel more understood by him/her rather than your own spouse.
  9. You tell him/her things about yourself that you have not shared with your spouse.
  10. Your emotions for him/her are growing more powerful and intense.
  11. You keep your meetings and conversations secret from your partner.
  12. You say and do things with him/her you never would do in front of your spouse.
  13. You make a point to arrange private talk time with him/her.
  14. You are withdrawing from your spouse as you draw closer to your “friend.”
  15. You are preoccupied and daydream about him/her more and more.
  16. You have no interest in being intimate with your spouse, either emotionally or sexually. Instead, those feelings are toward another person.
  17. You and your spouse spend less time together.
  18. When confronted about the apparent emotional affair, you respond with, “We’re just friends.
  19. You think “crush-like” thoughts like, “He/she would love this song/shirt/book!”
  20. You are keeping your friendship a secret from your spouse, or you no longer feel comfortable telling your spouse about this person and begin to cover up your relationship.

We often try to live in a black and white world and emotional affairs don’t fit as neatly into black and white, either/or thinking.

They exist in the grey world of our feelings, intentions, and motives. You have to be honest with yourself, but don’t underestimate your ability to rationalize, justify, and plain fool yourself about what’s really going on. If your relationship with someone is an innocent friendship, lay it out—completely—with your spouse and see if they are comfortable with it. Your spouse may be in a better position to evaluate this friendship than you are. Ultimately, your spouse’s feelings on the issues of faithfulness, exclusion, deception, and betrayal are the feelings that count. 

Check out the resources, quizzes, and help for rebuilding your marriage after an emotional affair HERE.

***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.***

Fast forward to being married. You text your spouse about how long your day is and how you’ll be home late. They respond saying they actually got to go home early and can’t wait until you get home. 

You think to yourself, “Ah, so glad they’re getting home early, now they can get started on dinner and some of the dishes that have piled up.” 

You walk in the door and let out a big sigh with the clank of your keys on the key tray and just as you’re about to say “I love you. How was your day?” you see the dishes still in the sink and the second thing your spouse says after “Hey!” is “What’s for dinner?

I imagine you’re frustrated at this point. Your day was long and coming home to more things to do and no time to relax was not how you pictured the night going. However, did your spouse know your expectation was for them to do those things? Normally you take care of the dishes and dinner! 

No one can meet an expectation they don’t know is there.

Unrealistic expectations are also unspoken expectations. If you and your spouse hadn’t talked about what you expect each other to do when one spouse gets home late, then it’s unrealistic to believe they would know what you want. 

When you have unspoken expectations or aren’t willing to meet halfway, there’s no chance for either you or your soon-to-be spouse to win. What seems to be a very realistic expectation to you is very unrealistic to them because there’s been a lack of communication. You run the risk of resentment and disappointment when you judge your spouse on expectations they can’t meet or didn’t know existed in the first place. 

Common Unrealistic Expectations:

Your partner is responsible for your happiness.

Your husband/wife will definitely play a role in your happiness, but they can’t be the only source. Think about things that make you happy and things that make your spouse happy. Are they all the same? Probably not. They can be your everything without being everything for you. You, like them, are human. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll fall short, and ultimately, that’s okay if you handle it in a healthy way. 

Your spouse will anticipate what you want and all of your needs since you’re married now.

As amazing as that would be, being married doesn’t make you or them a mind reader. Sorry if this is a bummer for you! I’m definitely guilty of this. I often think… “Well, since my husband knows me more intimately than anyone else and since we’ve been together so long, he’ll do things without me asking. He’s just that aware. That loving. That good.” As time and experts will tell, the only way my husband can truly know what I need is by me talking to him about it. It doesn’t make his actions any less genuine because he didn’t come to the conclusion on his own (another unrealistic expectation I held when we were dating). Instead it gives him the opportunity to love and care for me in the way I specifically want and need.

The way you approach an expectation is the only right way.

If we’re honest, being right feels good, and there’s a comfort in doing things your way instead of someone else’s. However, there’s a time to set aside the “right way” if it means you get to a resolution. Choose your battles. If you expect your spouse to do the dishes, then putting the bowls on the bottom rack instead of the top rack like you do needs to be okay. Is the job still getting done? In short, yes! 

You will handle conflict the same way.

You two have to come to an agreement together on how you will handle/manage conflict. If one of you needs space and the other needs to talk it out immediately, find a compromise that benefits both of you, like a timeout, and choose a time to talk about it a little bit later. Or, if your spouse feels like something needs to be said in the moment, be willing to listen first and then take a timeout. It’s important to voice your expectations so the health of your marriage doesn’t suffer on the account of unspoken words!

A Few Realistic Expectations:

  • Communicate well and often; talk about how you’re feeling on a regular basis.
  • Speak to each other with kindness, no matter what.
  • Show respect to each other in every situation.
  • Pursue each other daily.
  • Say “I love you” every chance you get.
  • Give your best effort at all times, and know this looks different depending on the week!

On your wedding day, you’ll vow to go above and beyond for each other, love one another wholeheartedly (flaws and all), and support each during all of the “for better or for worse” times. Remember, you’re starting your marriage with vows to meet halfway and sacrifice your preferences. Don’t let unrealistic expectations keep your marriage from being the wonderful relationship it has the potential to be.

Here are some blogs I think you might find helpful as well:

***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 that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Many things don’t really matter (or at least shouldn’t matter) in marriage. If a dinner gets burned every now and then, it doesn’t matter. One person likes the beach and the other likes the mountains? I can speak from personal experience: doesn’t matter. 

One cheers for the Yankees and the other for the Red Sox…well, some conflict resolution may be necessary. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter

But emotional intimacy… boy, does it ever matter. And here’s why. 

Intimacy in marriage is the ongoing, intentional process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse. There’s a lot packed in this definition, but what you need to know right now is that emotional intimacy is an ongoing pursuit. Why? Because there’s always more to learn and understand about the person you love the most—plus they are constantly growing and life throws different circumstances at them. (And you, too.)

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s going on inside your spouse (and being understood in the same way). It’s knowing all their feelings, hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities, fears, motivations, and desires. It’s gaining a better sense of what drives your spouse, what moves your spouse, what interests and intrigues, enthralls and enchants that person you’ve committed yourself to. Emotional intimacy is simply growing deeper in your understanding of your spouse.

Unfortunately, many couples get stuck in a cycle of operating with a severe lack of emotional intimacy. 

That’s what happened to Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland. The first two years of their marriage were utter bliss. Intimacy seemed to come naturally: staying up at all hours of the night talking, being in each other’s presence as much as possible, and of course, lots of newly-married sex. 

However, real life started to creep in as the busyness of work, the drama of in-laws, the stacking of bills, and the arrival of children took center stage. Emotional intimacy was no longer so natural. There were fewer opportunities to spend time with each other; they no longer spent the weekends enjoying chili dogs at the Tastee Freez like they used to. When Jack and Diane did talk, it was either about their schedule or finances or shuffling the kiddos from one place to another, but never anything deeper. Disagreements quickly grew into all-out fights. It was difficult for Jack or Diane to feel safe in the relationship, and there was often the feeling of walking on eggshells when they were in the same room. 

Fortunately, Jack and Diane started reading wonderfully helpful marriage tips from First Things First (shameless plug…) and learned that emotional intimacy can be built up again, but it takes being intentional. Emotional intimacy requires couples to take on the role of a compassionate detective—an invested student of each other. Emotional intimacy is a continual process of learning, understanding, and empathizing with who your spouse is on the inside. 

And they figured out, by golly, emotional intimacy matters. Why? 

Couples with emotional intimacy experience a greater connection and enhanced communication. 

Here’s what people in marriages with strong emotional intimacy may say: 

  • Whenever we talk, it feels like I’m heard, even if we don’t agree. 
  • When we’re together, we’re not just two people in the same room; we really connect. 
  • He doesn’t try to fix things when I’m explaining a problem, unless I ask for it; he simply listens to try and understand what I’m feeling. 
  • When we have a disagreement, it doesn’t feel like we’re on opposing sides necessarily; it feels like we’re on the same side trying to solve the same problem. 
  • We’re busy, but we do find time to carve into our schedule to just spend time with each other. That’s important to us. 

Couples with emotional intimacy

  • Have a stronger sense of trust and security. Knowing and being known chips away at the need to wonder how much you can really rely on your partner to be on your team. You can feel safe, secure, and accepted just being yourself.
  • Are more accepting of each other’s faults. Understanding what goes on on the inside (and why it goes on) gives you a better appreciation and compassion for your spouse, warts and all. When that’s a two-way street in a relationship, it’s a beautiful thing. 
  • Have a stronger physical intimacy. If you were to look up the research, you’d find that emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy have a strong effect on each other. I like to think of it like pedaling a bicycle. One pedal is emotional intimacy and the other physical intimacy. When you push one pedal forward, it will bring the other around to be pushed. Repeat the cycle (see what I did there?) and you quickly gain momentum and acceleration.

The great thing about understanding more about emotional intimacy in your marriage is you come to understand it’s never too late to make it matter and take it deeper. It’s within your power. And with some work (such as these exercises), you can begin to build a strong emotional intimacy with the one you love the most. 

***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 that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

It’s that time of year! The leaves are changing colors and falling. There’s a cool breeze in the air. Pumpkin spice is the flavor of the season. We’ve moved past the laid-back summer and now it’s FALL, the season of football, fun… and romance.

Here are several romantic fall fun date ideas that bring out the best in the season and in your relationship!

(Be aware that there may be limited availability due to social distancing constraints. Have fun, but be safe!)

  1. Go to a pumpkin patch. Select a pumpkin. Take it home and carve it.
  2. Bake seasonal goodies (pies, cakes, cookies) together.
  3. Go antique shopping.
  4. Take a carriage ride.
  5. Go to a drive-in movie.
  6. Listen to your favorite old songs and dance around your home.
  7. Take a scenic walk.
  8. Go camping.
  9. Go apple picking in an orchard.
  10. Take a scenic train ride.
  11. Take a scenic drive to see fall foliage.
  12. Go to a Fall Festival.
  13. Go for a hike.
  14. Watch a scary movie.
  15. Go for a bike ride.
  16. Host a game night with friends and family.
  17. Take a day trip.
  18. Have a picnic either in a park or your backyard.
  19. Go for a wine or cider tasting.
  20. Go horseback riding.
  21. Stargaze and see who can find the most constellations.
  22. Rake the leaves, like adults. Jump in the leaves, like kids.
  23. Sit in front of a fire and read a book out loud together. 
  24. Go to a high school football game.
  25. Movie marathon/binge watch your favorite TV series.
  26. Go on a local history tour.
  27. Take a painting class.
  28. Have a bonfire in your backyard and make S’mores.
  29. Go on a fall getaway weekend.
  30. Take part in a First Things First Virtual Date Night!

Conversation Starters:

Check out this list of 200 questions for couples to get the conversation started.

1. What makes you the happiest?

2. What’s worse? The barista getting your order wrong? Or finding a motorcycle in a parking spot you thought was empty?

3. What food best describes your personality?

4. What are your five most important personal values?

5. What kind of physical touch best says “I love you” to you?

6. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

7. Who is the person, currently alive, that you most want to meet right now?

8. What is your favorite type of romantic gesture?

9. What crazy thing do you want to try someday?

10. What’s one thing I can do to improve our relationship?

Now is the perfect time to get adventurous by exploring your community and creating quality time with each other. Play and fun builds intimacy in your relationship. 

Now, go have some romantic FALL FUN as you try out these date ideas!

When your relationship has a high level of emotional intimacy, you share your feelings, needs, fears, successes, and failures knowing you will continue to be loved and cared for by your partner.

Building strong intimacy in your marriage can give your marriage the satisfying fulfillment you desire. 

Here are 6 exercises to strengthen emotional intimacy in your marriage:

1. Do something new and engaging together. 

  • Prepare new, exotic meals together from beginning to end. Search recipes for some cuisine the two of you would like to try. Together, buy the groceries, prepare the meal, and of course, eat together. 
  • Learn a new language together. Focus on learning relationship-specific words that will help you express appreciation, be affectionate, and flirt.
  • Create a marriage bucket list and then get started on completing your list.

Research shows that doing new activities can reignite the passion in your relationship. They help the two of you experience challenges, successes, and failures together. You’re able to see each other’s authentic self without the pressure of being perfect. 

2. Show affection. 

  • Each day, give each other a deep, passionate kiss for at least 20 seconds. Your body will release chemicals in your brain helping you to increase the connection between you. (We aren’t responsible for whatever happens next.😉 )
  • Each day, give each other a great big hug for a minimum of 20 seconds. This has a similar effect of increasing the bond and connectedness. Just good, old-fashioned affection.
  • Cuddle. Yes, that simple. Cuddle and rest in each other’s presence.

3. Do marriage enrichment together. 

All are good ways you can invest in your marriage to help you share, grow closer to each other and strengthen emotional intimacy.

4. Make time to talk.

  • Practice focused, uninterrupted talking and listening. Take 15-30 minutes each day to share whatever is on your heart. Your one goal is to make sure that each of you feels heard and understood. Some days the conversation may be a rundown of the day. Other days you may each reveal deeper levels of transparency and vulnerability. 
  • Be curious. Ask each other questions. Be vulnerable and transparent as you share your thoughts. Increase your intimacy with these 200 conversation starters for couples
  • Set aside regular time to connect. Dr. Linda Duncan, a marriage researcher and Professor Emeritus at Tarleton State University, shares that couples can build intimacy by intentionally connecting at four distinct points throughout their day: 1. When you wake up. 2. Before you depart for the day. 3. When you reconnect after work/school. 4. As you go to bed. 

How you connect at each of these four moments can have a tremendous impact on the intimacy within your relationship. “Connecting” can be as simple as getting your spouse a cup of coffee and saying “Good morning,” giving them a kiss goodbye, and saying “I love you,” giving them a hug when they get home, and some pillow talk before saying “goodnight.”

5. Celebrate your togetherness

  • Stroll down memory lane, revisit memorable date nights, or look at pictures and videos while reminiscing on the experiences you’ve shared. 
  • Take 15 minutes to exchange genuine compliments or express appreciation for each other.

6. Make the most of pillow talk

  • Eliminate the tech devices and potential distractions. Invest that time into one another. 
  • Give kids a bedtime or at least a quiet time when they are in their rooms for the night leading up to bedtime.
  • Share with each other how they can make you feel safe, cherished, and valued.
  • Talk about what arouses each of you.

Each of these 6 exercises on their own may not strengthen your emotional intimacy. However, if you do these with a heart of gratitude and appreciation toward your partner and you make them a habit, you’ll begin to feel closer and more connected. You’ll find yourself sharing more of yourself and getting to know your partner more fully. 

***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 that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***