Despite common stereotypes, few affairs are caused by bedroom boredom. The most commonly cited cause of an affair is emotional distance from a spouse. While sex can certainly help foster emotional intimacy, a great deal of the emotional connection with a spouse takes place with the lights on. People connect with their spouses during those little moments of each day: a kiss in the morning, a smile before work and sharing the good, the bad and the ugly about the day’s activities over dinner. These simple flashes of connection tell a spouse that their partner cares. When those unconscious reassurances of love disappear, the door is opened for an affair.
Infidelity does not always involve sexual contact. Emotional affairs, also called “affairs of the heart,” are affairs which lack a sexual element. Affairs of the heart involve a person having an intense and secretive emotional bond with someone who is not their spouse. This emotional mistress becomes a married person’s primary source of emotional gratification. This deep emotional intimacy becomes greater than the emotional intimacy a person shares with their spouse and drains the emotional intimacy from a marriage as the person having the affair of the heart pulls away from their spouse.
Though there are no sneaky, sexual liaisons in affairs of the heart, emotional affairs do just as much damage as physical affairs. In the age of social media, a person having an emotional affair might not ever physically meet their illicit partner. Despite the difference in how they manifest, the two forms of infidelity also tend to have the same causes. Men and women who have a physical affair often cite boredom, a lack of attention from their spouse, feeling taken for granted and a lack of connection with their marital partner as the cause of their infidelity. Those who had emotional affairs claim to have had the same motivations for being unfaithful.
In all types of affairs, the cheater feels that they have some need that is not being met in their marriage. Some people try honestly to solve the problems caused by their unmet needs, while others cheerfully use it as an excuse to break their vows. The other man or other woman meets these needs, and this is what fuels the affair.
Unfortunately, the “need” some cheaters feel is unmet is a sense of newness. Humans are hardwired to like new things. “New” means interesting, exciting and mysterious. The inherent excitement of newness is what causes the honeymoon period of any relationship. After a while, marriage begins to fall into the category of routine. The primary relationship in a person’s life becomes a habit, and a straying spouse begins to look for someone new to light that same fire.
For many adulterers who are “bored,” a social media connection with physically distant lover can become an addition. The old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” takes an entirely new meaning when a person is in an online relationship. The mistress is forever just out of reach. It makes her mysterious, and it keeps the adulterer wanting more. When the other man is just words and pictures on a screen, with the occasional secret phone call, he remains a perfect fantasy. Meanwhile, the spouse remains the everyday reality with all of the dirty socks, messy rooms and morning breath that comes with it.
A secret lover also comes with the thrill of the chase. By definition, a spouse has been “won.” The excitement of “will-we, won’t-we” is gone. If a person needs that constant high of passion, they are likely to stray from their partner. Marriage tends to lose the all consuming fervor of a new relationship, but a solid, steady intimacy takes its place. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that some people prefer the fleeting passion and illicit thrill of a tryst over the certainty of marriage.
For most people, though, affairs are motivated by either a lack of communication or a lack of attention from a spouse. As work, children or other priorities consume more and more of a couple’s time, one person begins to feel neglected or taken for granted. The spouses only seem to talk to each other about what needs to get done each day. One person may be working long hours and have lost any ability to balance their job and their home life. Emotionally intimate conversations become a thing of the past. Then, someone appears in the life of a would-be cheater. The adulterer suddenly has someone who sees or understands them. The cheater feels alive once more and uses that as justification for their betrayal.
Excuses and rationalizations come easily to an adulterer, but those having an emotional affair have an even easier time justifying their behavior. Many spouses having an affair of the heart insist that their emotional mistress is “just a friend.” Everyone has a different idea of what friendship means, so it can be easy to misinterpret a coworker’s friendliness as flirtation. People who are just friends, however, should not share deeply personal details that are not shared with a spouse. A friend should not drain a person’s emotional commitment to their marriage. The other man in an affair of the heart, however, does just that. Still, dozens of cheaters have been adamant that their inappropriate behavior was not actually infidelity. After all, they never slept with the other person.
Unfortunately, the effects of an emotional affair are just as devastating as those from a physical affair. The adulterer loses interest in their marriage and forgets about the many good times they had with their spouse. The faithful spouse, on the other hand, has to face all the uncertainty, hurt, rejection and betrayal that comes with knowing their partner strayed. The worst part of all is that a cheater who had an emotional affair might not even recognize or be willing to admit that they did anything wrong. In some ways, it would almost be easier to recover from an adulterous spouse if an affair had nothing to do with emotional desires, and infidelity really was just all about sex.