How close is too close?
Is emotional infidelity real? Should you feel guilty for forming a connection with someone new, even if you're not physically cheating on your partner? Relationship experts Kanya Daley and Stuart Fensterheim seek to explore these issues as they respond to a question posted by Ask YourTango user yromas.
What's the question all about? Yromas shares that while she has a great marriage with a supportive, loving husband, she finds herself looking forward to occasionally spending time with another man at a monthly dance. While Yromas has not been sexually unfaithful, our first concern is that she is on the verge of emotional infidelity — emotional infidelity occurs when you begin to share deeply personal, meaningful information about yourself. Since this is how people get close and form attachments, it is important that you be aware of developing such a bond with someone other than your partner.
Stuart's viewpoint is that men often misunderstand a woman's natural openness for more than friendship because men typically only share on an emotional level with their romantic partner. The man may begin to feel important to the woman and sense that a special bond is forming when a close friendship forms.
From Kanya's perspective, women are often more comfortable sharing on an emotional level. Then, because they are feeling comfortable and important, the men in question begin to open up as well. This is like winning the Superbowl to a woman; a man who shares his feelings! At this point, a woman's emotions begin to deepen for her new "friend" and things can start to heat up and get complicated.
In reponse to yromas, Stuart believes that your husband would feel very hurt, and potentially betrayed, if he knew you were having thoughts about a new male friend. It would be especially hurtful as you are anticipating the physical contact of dancing — which is incredibly intimate. Men's egos can be fragile when physical contact with another male is concerned. He may even begin to imagine you and this other man having sex or being intimate, images that might be difficult to forget. From Stuart's perspective, this new friendship just isn't worth the risk of losing the special relationship you describe having with your husband.
Another aspect of spending time with a new person is that it feels a bit forbidden; it's a secret and while secrets can be exciting they can also be damaging to a marriage. And having a secret is different than wanting privacy. If your gut is telling you your connection with your dance partner feels wrong, then it's important to listen. We want to reassure you that what you are feeling is very normal. It's natural to desire attention from a man and to enjoy shared experiences. You seem to be facing something that many people who have been together for a long time face; excitement at spending time with someone new.
Perhaps your feelings about your dance partner are a blessing in disguise because they raise some issues with your marriage that need to be addressed. It doesn't mean that you have marital problems, just that your relationship is in transition. Your kids have left home and you may need to learn how to increase emotional intimacy, closeness, and interest in each other again.
Could you share with your husband the fact that you would like to dance with him or explore other, new activities together? If talking to him is a stretch either because it is new behavior or because it doesn't feel safe to do so, perhaps that is the place to begin the conversation. If you continue to deepen your friendship with your dancing partner, you will feel a sense of loneliness with your husband. Over time, that will diminish the strong and sacred bond you seem to have together.
While you describe a marriage that is close, we get the sense that it might not be as fulfilling to you as you would like. Are you wanting more from him, or from the relationship, but finding it difficult to ask for, given all that your husband already gives you? From Stuart's perspective, men want their wives to tell them these things. Not being forthcoming about what you want and need feels as bad to a man as does being deceived. First and foremost, husbands want their wives to be happy — but they need guidance about exactly what it'll take!
Sometimes couples avoid talking about what they need because they don't want to hurt one another's feelings. If this is the case, perhaps the two of you would benefit from working with a therapist who could help you deepen your sense of safety and trust so that you can really open up to each other. Opening up is different than criticizing; opening up occurs when you talk about ways to increase your closeness versus talking about what your partner is doing wrong. Being in tune with, and respectful of, each other's emotional needs will make these conversations easier.
Let your husband know how happy he makes you and how much you love him. Focus the conversation on your desire to get even closer. The risk you take by talking to him will let him know that your efforts are for the benefit of the relationship by ensuring that your connection will deepen in the coming years. From Stuart's perspective, men rely on their wives for their sole emotional support. It's where men have permission to express their emotions. If you let your husband know that there is no other person in the world that could ever satisfy you emotionally the way he does and that your bond is incredibly special and unique, then letting him know that you would like to change some of the interactions won't feel like criticism.
From Kanya's perspective, women often get frustrated by the role of being emotional leaders but this is a beautiful skill that they have and can share. Men really do look to women for guidance on an emotional level. When women aren't opening up and being vulnerable, both men and women feel a sense of distance and loss. When women are willing to be the emotional role model, marriages become more than just partnerships. We end up being married to our best and dearest friend. No one can give us as much emotional fulfillment as our partners — and men absolutely appreciate their partner's guidance in the area of emotions.
It seems as if you already know that this monthly meeting needs to come to an end or change by bringing your husband along to enjoy dancing together. Kanya understands that women often feel "mean" when they end a friendship such as the one you've described, but in reality this is not a new friend — rather, a threat to your marriage. Stuart believes that if this man is truly your friend, he will support your decision because he will only want the best for you.
Focus your energy on having more fun adventures with your husband. This stage in your life can be such an exciting time because you can develop new relationships, have new experiences, and stay young and healthy mentally and physically. Stuart and Kanya both feel that from your willingness to ask this question, and look at improving your relationship, your husband is a lucky guy.
Kanya Daley, MFT and Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW are experts at YourTango. They love to help readers learn more about creating satisfying relationships. They look at the questions you post on the Ask YourTango board and provide answers and insight giving both a male and female perspective. If you have a burning question, post it on the board and look back to see if you've gotten an answer.
Kanya is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Private Practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania. She specializes helping couples deepen their levels of intimacy and closeness as well as coaching single women ready to create meaningful relationships. Find out more about Kanya at www.kanyadaley.com. Download her new book for single women, The Successful Woman's GuideTo Dating.
Stuart is a Marriage and Family counselor with a private practice in Scottsdale Arizona. Stuarts practice in exclusive to individuals, couples and families who are having relationship difficulties. Stuart has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Therapy helping families who are having difficulty dealing with feeling close and connected to one another. I assist families in finding ways to deepen their relationship by understanding what each persons needs are in the relationship and help them develop a pathway to accomplish those things for one another at www.lovingconnectionscounseling.com.
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