Over the years, we have had several people write to us emails of being in relationship dilemmas. One says they are in love with two people. Another says they love a man but he is married. Another one says he and his best friend’s girlfriend are in love. Some have crossed sexual boundaries and live with the repercussions up to date. They seem to all have the same questions when they write:
- “She is someone’s wife but I just fell in love and I don’t know how it happened. How do I get out of this mess?”
- “We are not dating but things got awkward between us.”
- “One day we found ourselves admitting that we like each other. His girlfriend and my boyfriend don’t know.”
- “He is married but I am always thinking about him.”
- “I feel we were meant to be, but she knows I have a girlfriend.”
- “I’m married but I like this other guy.”
I am certain there are a variety of diagnoses we can refer to many of the scenarios above. Do these people walk with God? Are they committed? What was the foundation of the relationship? Do they know the meaning of marriage? Do they understand what love truly is? And these are very valid and important questions to answer. However, today I want to focus on one particular diagnosis that we often don’t address; that is emotional infidelity. One of the reasons many scenarios like these are rife in our generation is because people calculate relationships with their IQ while instead they ought to be calculating it with their EQ (emotional intelligence quotient). To put is so crudely, Beloved, we have a generation of Einsteins in the workplace and in the Universities but who are pale when it comes to relationships. They score bonuses in the corporate world but are toddlers while handling their wives or girlfriends. They score valedictorian GPAs in their alma maters but are babes when it comes to relating with their husbands or boyfriends.
- When a man goes to hang out with one of his “platonic” girl friends in her house all alone, the blind see a catching up session, the wise see a lack of emotional intelligence.
- When a lady opens up to her male colleague at work about the troubles in her marriage, the blind see a good friendship, but the wise see a lack of emotional intelligence.
- When a man is dating a girl but has a different girl as his BFF, the blind see a platonic relationship but the wise see a lack of emotional intelligence.
- When a girl is dating a guy but spends late nights chatting on Whatsapp with a different guy, the blind see an innocent conversation, the wise see a lack of emotional intelligence.
Beloved, the dullness of our emotional intelligence is even more shocking when the above scenarios brew discord in our relationships and we lamely defend our tomfoolery with statements like:
- “We just had coffee!”
- “It’s not like we slept together!”
- “I told him I have a boyfriend but he wouldn’t listen.”
- “It’s not my fault that people flirt with me.”
- “She’s going through a rough patch; I was only being there for her.”
- “Are you jealous?”
- “There’s nothing going on!”
- “Can’t I have friends of the opposite sex?”
And when things get out of hand and boundaries are crossed and we hurt our partner, our mouths only show more dullness and little emotional intelligence.
- “He makes me feel alive.”
- “She listens to me; you don’t.”
- “He treats me better that my boyfriend does.”
- “She is the one meant for me.”
Beloved, anyone who falls in love with someone else while in a relationship is not a victim, but a perpetrator. Almost without exception, sexual affairs always start as emotional affairs. Emotional unfaithfulness is very hurtful and it can cause as much damage as a sexual affair if your partner finds out. If you are guilty, here are a few tips to help you better yourself for the future.
1. You need to take responsibility for the emotional affair
The most common excuse that shouts irresponsibility is this one: “I just don’t know how it happened!” If you are still self-deceived about this, allow me unmask you. Beloved, get rid of the myth that falling in love is an accident. Unfortunately that is tripe from Disney and Hollywood. And more unfortunate is that people believe it. Beloved, you must understand that people don’t fall in love by accident. Falling in love is a result of expended time, conversations and emotions with someone of the opposite sex. The chemistry between a man and a woman is never accidental. People fall in love by design not by default. The day you accepted to having lunch exclusively you designed it. The day you decided to walk her home every evening, you designed it. You must take responsibility. Someone may argue and say: Ernest, I never intended for this to happen! Very true, Beloved, but you must realize this: an unintentional commitment to things that do not matter is an intentional lack of commitment to things that matter. You have two options, Beloved. You can make excuses or you can make progress but you cannot make both. The man and woman without emotional intelligence see these two scenarios and may say, “Okay, I admit responsibility; things got awkward and they shouldn’t have gone this far. But what is wrong with having lunch? What is wrong with walking home together?” In order to understand the deeper problem, you must grasp the anatomy of an emotional affair.
2. You need to understand the anatomy of an emotional affair
We have already stated that falling in love is a result of expended time, conversations and emotions with someone of the opposite sex. I am not saying to never talk or spend time with someone of the opposite sex. I know you are wiser than to think that. However, the key words are exclusive and consistent! This is the general anatomy. Exclusive and consistent energy spent with someone of the opposite sex will create a connection between the two of you. If this person is not someone you are prepared to spend the rest of your life with, you will break a heart- maybe even yours. Someone may ask: Ernest, how do I do this yet I work with this person? I see them every day. I can’t avoid them! The answer, Beloved, is to create boundaries. You can’t stop birds from flying over you but you can stop them from creating a nest on your head. One boundary you should have is with regard to depth of conversations. This is inspired by Sherry Graf’s bok- I don’t get you.
Level one conversations start with bio-data- what your name is, where you live, where you went to school etc. This is basic information to which a stranger in the bus can be privy to. Anybody who knows this isn’t really special to you- they have simply interacted with you on base-level. They are simply on level one.
Level two conversations involve your personal testimonies. These are basic or general experiences you have been through that are not emotionally weighty. And even if they are emotionally weighty, they are shared in such a general way that does not lead to strong attachment to someone. You would not mind anyone hearing these stories. This could be your testimony of salvation, your experience in a new country, being bullied in high school etc
Level three conversations involve talking about your passions, preferences and convictions. These are the conversations that platonic friends hold. They demarcate who you are and what you stand for. They may clash with someone else’s and that is okay. You can have these kinds of conversations with people safely. And Beloved, this is where you draw the line.
Level four conversations are when you talk about your fears. This is the kind of conversation that occurs in hushed tones and you let a select few in on it. It could be the fear of getting married because you saw your parents fight a lot. It could be the fear of dying because your faith is shaky. It could be the fear of disappointing yourself after so many mistakes in life. Do not get to this level with someone of the opposite sex who isn’t your significant other. One reason emotional affairs ravage men and women is because people have exclusive and consistent conversation about their deep personal fears. When the other person empathises, you connect emotionally. When they reciprocate their fears too, you become more than friends. People who call themselves best-friends have these conversations freely. If you must have these conversations with a best friend, let them be of the same sex. Otherwise, an emotional entanglement with someone of the opposite sex is imminent.
The fifth level of conversation (which is also the most intimate) is when you talk about your deepest hurts. If you get to this level comfortably with someone of the opposite sex, Beloved, you fall in love. This is emotional treasure, Beloved, and it should be shared only with your significant other or trusted friend of the same sex. An exclusive and consistent time talking about your deep personal hurts makes you extremely vulnerable to the other person. What often happens with a confession of deepest hurts is a craving for comfort. This comfort is often manifested in touch- a hug, a back rub, a side-hug, a hand clasp etc. It seems natural but it sets a precedence for more such conversations and eventually for unwanted inappropriateness. Deep hurts such as rape, defilement as a child, a cheating ex, death of a loved one, violence and torture, abuse that left you wounded etc are golden emotional deposits. You make them with the wrong person and you set yourself up for failure.
A second boundary you should have is that of spending exclusive and consistent time together. Exclusive and consistent time together creates familiarity. Our emotional dullness got stuck in class 5 and we have forgotten that our bodies, minds and souls have matured.
Consider what Elizabeth Elliot writes. This applies to women, specifically:
“Unless a man is prepared to ask a woman to be his wife, what right has he to claim her exclusive attention? Unless she has been asked to marry him, why would a sensible woman promise any man her exclusive attention? If, when the time has come for a commitment, he is not man enough to ask her to marry him, she should give him no reason to presume that she belongs to him.”
We can transliterate Elliot’s words for the men too. Here goes:
“Unless a woman is prepared to be a man’s wife, what right has she to claim his exclusive attention? Unless she desires to marry him, why would a sensible man promise any woman her exclusive attention? If, when the time has come for a commitment, she is not woman enough to accept his proposal, she should not to presume that he belongs to her.”
Exclusive and consistent time alone with someone of the opposite sex that you will not spend the rest of your life with bespeaks a lack of emotional intelligence and sets a stage for emotional infidelity. Well, what if I have gone too far, have crossed boundaries and I want to stop, Ernest? What do I do?
3. You need to cut the fuel of the emotional affair
You must look where you slipped, not where you fell. If you fell in love because of exclusive and consistent time and conversations, you need to establish it and out of character and respect for your relationship stop it. Stop the chatting. Stop the lunches. Stop the late hours together. These things seem harmless at the onset, but if you are in a relationship with someone already, you begin to disdain your partner and value the one you are having an emotional thrill with. The person you are wrongly emotionally connecting with may ask why you cut links. Don’t lie about it. Don’t say you got busy or you have to run home early. Let them know that you crossed boundaries with them that you ought to have observed. If you have a spouse or a significant other, let this person know that you do, and that whatever is going on is wrong for your relationship. You must be clear about the boundary. A boundary that is not verbally stated does not exist, Beloved. State it clearly and respectfully. Now, when you cut the fuel of the emotional affair, you may be surprised that your feelings still linger. It’s normal. You have a heart not a computer chip for programming. In order to deal with this, to need to reconnect emotionally with your partner.
4. You need to reconnect emotionally with your spouse/significant other
In this period of emotional distance, your spouse/significant other has almost become a stranger. You must reconnect it even though your feelings do not say so. A relationship must be fought for, even when the enemy is yourself. One real test of maturity in a relationship is having the capacity to commit to the relationship when the feelings are absent. One real show of immaturity in a relationship is when people call it quits after the feelings die. You can read this blog concerning feelings versus commitment. Often, people don’t fall out of love, Beloved; they simply lacked emotional ethic and intelligence to know that love is a commitment and not a feeling. Commit to your husband. Stay with your boyfriend. Reconnect with your wife. If you are unmarried, you will need this ethic to keep your marriage in your future. The world says follow your heart. That is lousy advice. Follow your convictions. The scriptures tell us in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (KJV) Your heart wants to leave your wife and follow the temporal thrill of this new flame. It is a false and fleeting high. Reconnect, Beloved. To be practical, more dates. For the married and only for the married: more sexual intimacy. Soon, you will lose the passion for the wrong one and gain a new flame for the right one. To read a personal experience about emotional infidelity, see this blog.
I pray you have learned a thing or two and have come out wiser. Even Solomon, the wisest that lived (apart from Christ) said in Proverbs 30:19 that of the four strangest things he could not understand is how a man and a woman connect. The wisest could have fallen for it, Beloved. Let us be extra careful!