He’s someone I work with. I didn’t think much of him at first. We talked a little but mostly just went out for lunch with other coworkers. After awhile we broke off from the group and the two of us starting going out to lunch together. Then we started talking outside of work, mostly just text and email. He was a good listener and I could tell him anything. I didn’t think anything of it, he was just a friend.
As a relationship coach and therapist, I regularly help couples who are dealing with issues of infidelity. The workplace is one of the top places where cheating happens, and the above scenario is one I repeatedly hear. This type of affair is the sexless affair, also known as the emotional affair. The boundaries between it and a friendship can be blurry, so how do you know the difference?
Here are four questions to ask yourself to determine if your connection with someone else could really be a sexless affair or merely a friendship:
1. Is there little to no transparency? Your partner should know about your friendship. Most of my clients say that their partner either didn’t know this person existed or to what extent their communication was! Transparency also means you don’t discourage your partner’s questions about what’s going on. Another aspect to consider is whether you share more of what’s going on in your life with your friend than you do with your partner.
2. Would there be discomfort? If your partner asked to see the communication exchanges between you and your friend, do you think your partner would feel uncomfortable? Would you feel embarrassed if your partner stood next to you during any texts, emails or conversations?
3. Have boundaries been violated? If your partner asked you to stop doing things with your friend because it makes them feel uneasy, but you haven’t stopped, that’s a boundary violation. Although you and your partner may need to find a workable compromise, something to consider is why maintaining your friendship has become more important than respecting the wishes of your partner.
4. Are there fantasies? Every relationship has its ups and downs, but do you find yourself fantasizing about your friend when your relationship has hit a tough spot? Do you start comparing your current partner negatively to your friend, thinking life would be better with the other person instead?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, chances are your friendship is too intimate.
It’s important to communicate with your partner. Start a dialogue: What guidelines do you want for your relationship? One couple has a rule that they don’t have drinks alone with an opposite sex friend after dark. Another couple decided to delete their exes from their Facebook friends list. Some couples have the passcodes and passwords to each other’s phone and email. These may seem like good guidelines for some but for others it might feel like they are policing their partner. What works for one couple may not work for you, but start a conversation to figure out what works best for both of you.
A note about irrational jealousy or controlling behavior. Some of you reading this really will have nothing going on with your friend, but your partner may make demands or exhibit irrational jealousy and try to control you. It is beyond the scope of this blog to address this behavior, and instead I recommend seeking the guidance of a professional therapist to help.
What starts out as an innocent friendship can turn into a sexless affair. By considering the questions above and communicating with your partner, you can protect your relationship.