Arvind and Asha have been married for over 2 years. They are reasonably happy and don't have any major conflicts or disagreements. Most of their conversations revolve around their two year old son as well as the responsibilities of running their home, meeting their financial commitments and so on.
Arvind has a very close relationship with his colleague Meena. They spend many hours together working on a challenging project and find that their ideas and working styles complement each other. They often have meals together or chat over coffee. They can talk to each other about any subject under the sun, whether personal or professional, and they really enjoy each other's company. Each day Arvind finds himself looking forward to meeting Meena, and when he hears a good joke or an interesting new idea he can't wait to share it with her. When Arvind gets home he doesn't feel the need for much personal conversation with Asha since he has already shared so much with Meena.
Sushila has recently gotten in touch with Ajay, a former classmate, on Facebook. Now they chat everyday - very often late at night. Earlier Sushila and her husband Samir would talk over dinner and then watch some TV together, but now Sushila hurries through the evening routine so that she can sit at her computer and chat with Ajay. Sushila has not told her husband about these chat conversations because she feels he might make a fuss. So she has allowed him to think that she is doing some office work instead.
Is there a problem here? Would Arvind's relationship with Meena have a negative impact on his marriage? Are Sushila's internet chats acceptable? Many would say that these relationships are perfectly legitimate. Arvind is not being physically unfaithful to Asha. Sushila and Ajay too have a purely ‘platonic' relationship. It is after all important to have a good relationship with one's colleagues and friends, whether male or female, and all they are doing is talking.
In fact, if a spouse objects to such behaviour, the partner may even put him / her down saying ‘But we aren't doing anything wrong', ‘You are being so silly' or ‘Are you expecting me not to speak to colleagues of the opposite sex?'. Put that way, the partner might begin to feel that he/she is being unreasonable. In fact some people even advocate what they call an office spouse - someone who is supportive and encouraging, who shares ideas, whom one can turn to in any kind of need, and who is emotionally ‘there' for you.
It is true that in the cases described here, no physical infidelity is involved. However there is EMOTIONAL INFIDELITY happening in these kinds of situation. Emotional infidelity is harder to define than other forms of disloyalties, but can have a very negative impact on a marriage. Family mediator and mental health counsellor, Gary Neuman, says, "When a spouse places his or her emotional needs in the hands of someone outside the marriage, it breaks the bond of marriage, just as adultery does."
This does not mean that one cannot have other friends and colleagues, but if those friendships or other relationships take the place of our relationship with our spouse, then this will definitely be detrimental to the marriage. In many cases emotional relationships could eventually lead to physical unfaithfulness as well. The critical point to note is that even if the people concerned are NOT physically involved, it is still infidelity.
Are You Being Emotionally Unfaithful?
Most often, people don't start out intending to be emotionally unfaithful to their spouses. It is just a normal friendship that gradually becomes deeper. How do you know if you are getting too close to someone other than your spouse?
• You find yourself thinking about the other person a lot. When you hear a new joke or an interesting anecdote you think about telling this person, rather than your spouse.
• You often eat meals or take breaks alone with this person of the opposite sex - perhaps even frequently go out for a meal or drinks after work.
• You enjoy ‘harmless' flirtation with this person.
• You find yourself taking more care over your appearance when you are going to see him/her.
• You spend as much time choosing a card or gift for this person as you would for your spouse.
• You've discussed so many issues with him/her that by the time you go home you don't really feel the need to talk much with your spouse.
• You discuss personal, intimate details about yourself or your marriage with this person.
• You find yourself keeping your relationship secret from your spouse or trying not to let him / her know how frequently you are in touch with the other person. Just the fact that you are not being open with your spouse about this should alert you to the fact that all is not well.
Any of the above could be signs that you need to re-evaluate your relationship with the other person. To recognize and take steps in drawing boundaries you could read our other article ‘Safeguard your relationship against emotional infidelity'.