Just good friends – are you sure?

Earlier this year it was reported that Cayman has the
fifth- highest divorce rate and the highest among its Caribbean neighbours.
Internationally, some new studies are suggesting that infidelity appears to be
on the rise, particularly among older men and young couples, with women closing
the adultery gap (Atkins- 2008 University of Washington Center for the Study of
Health and Risk behaviours).

While friendships of the opposite sex can be fulfilling
in many ways, whether co-workers or part of a social group, it is important to
know your own boundaries and rules before finding yourself in an emotional
affair and on a slippery slope toward physical infidelity.

Ask yourself, do you know your own boundaries regarding
friendships with the opposite sex? For example, if you met someone at work, or
maybe through a mutual friend, you got on, and essentially ‘clicked’, at what
point would a boundary be crossed? For many it would be physical intimacy, a
touch, a kiss; but what about emotional intimacy? For our intimate
relationships, emotional intimacy with someone else can be just as dangerous.

What is an emotional affair?

Those involved in an emotional affair are often in
denial. They may not think they are having an affair at all. The denial keeps
them guilt-free, and therefore they feel they don’t have to give it up. They
tell themselves, “It’s just a friendship”

Also, people convince themselves that as long as there is
no sexual contact, it’s not an affair; nevertheless, serious boundaries have
been crossed. An affair really has to do with secrecy, deception of the partner
and betrayal. It also has to do with the amount of emotional energy that you
are no longer putting into your partner and giving the other person. Most
people are more disturbed by the breaking of trust and the emotional closeness
than by just the physical intimacy.

Walls and windows

Dr. Shirley Glass, in her book Not Just Friends, explores
this whole issue and examines how an emotional affair can develop from an
innocent meeting. She uses the metaphor of walls and windows to illustrate how
we manage emotional intimacy, that is, a close bond and connection we make with
only a few people. We build ‘walls’ as boundaries to keep others at a healthy
distance, and have ‘windows’ that allow the few people we trust to get close to
us. Ideally, there is a window between partners, which allows the couple to
know each other in an unfiltered and intimate way. However, in an affair, a
wall is built by the unfaithful partner to keep the marriage partner out, and a
window opened, to let the affair partner in. 
To be healthy, each relationship needs an arrangement of walls and
windows to help nurture the relationship and protect it from outside elements
and influences. Dr. Glass suggested that the position of these walls and
windows can help us discover whether a relationship which started as ‘just
friends’ is becoming a dangerous alliance.

How to protect yourself and your relationship

It is easier than ever for men and woman to develop
friendships. They may work or travel together, and social networking sites,
texting, and instant messaging enable us to form a relationship without ever
meeting the other person. Dr. Frank Pittman, a psychiatrist based in Atlanta
who specialises in family crisis and couples therapy, said he has noticed more
women talking about their affairs, which have been centred on ‘electronic
contact’. So, with all the availability and potential temptation, how can you
protect yourself from having an emotional affair?

A good test is to ask yourself, how would I feel if my
partner saw me doing this/heard our conversation/could read my message. If you
wouldn’t want them to know, why not? This is a red-flag that you may be
starting to create emotional intimacy with someone else.

Don’t flirt. Although flirting may make you feel good, it
can lead to attractions that you may continue to crave.

Don’t spend time with others who cheat. Your moral
compass may be swayed if it is reinforced by the behaviour of others.

Assess the state of your marriage, if you are unhappy, or
feel as if you are starting to or have emotionally disconnected, then work on
this either together or with a counsellor. When you are dissatisfied with your
partner, you are more vulnerable to an affair.

Share your day, thoughts and dreams with your partner.
Re-establish emotional intimacy- a ‘date night’ is a good opportunity to do
this; quality time for just the two of you away from the family to re-connect.

Be honest

Relationships can be complicated, but be honest with
yourself. If you are starting to confide in someone other than your partner, or
aware that someone is confiding in you or trying to make an emotional
connection, recognise the potential danger and heartache you may be risking.


If you would like to discuss this or any other issue,
please contact a professional counsellor at EAP for a confidential appointment
on 949-9559, or visit www.eap.ky