Friendship and Attraction (Part 5)

Friendship & Attraction

On Friday, I wrote about why I hate the phrase “emotional affair” and discussed what emotional infidelity is not. But as much as I think we overuse the phrase, emotional infidelity can absolutely occur in marriages, and it can be very damaging to the marriage relationship. 

As I mentioned in the last post, fidelity is, “faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.” I’d like to break it down to its most basic parts, which I think could be “continuing faithfulness.” Attachments that interrupt that continuing faithfulness are what I would like to discuss here.

I don’t believe that any one person can meet all of our emotional needs. Early in our marriage, I thought that Jason was supposed to meet all of my needs. As a result, I felt emptiness for the needs he was unable to fulfill, which led to guilt about needing more than he could provide, which made me look harder for him to meet those needs, and it turned into one big, ugly cycle of guilt and sadness. I believe if I had developed a friendship with another man at that point, we would have been treading on very dangerous ground, because I could have seen a filling of legitimate needs as being a lack in my relationship with my husband, rather than understanding that different people bring different things into my life and I need all of them.

There will be emotional needs that your spouse is unable to meet and I believe it is absolutely acceptable and beneficial to find friends who can fill those needs. However, if having those needs met by someone else causes you to resent your spouse, this could be an area of concern. Resentment can be one of the most profound hindrances to continuing faithfulness and that is something that does require your attention. In an area like writing, I have a bottomless pit of need for affirmation and that can be filled by others with no damage whatsoever to my relationship with my husband, and can actually enhance it. But when it comes to feeling alone in my faith, I need to be careful who is allowed to fill that need, lest it cause negative feelings toward my husband. These needs will be different for each person and require self-examination.

Another area where continuing faithfulness can be challenged is when secrecy is a part of the friendship. If I were to find myself hiding any parts of my friendship with Rich from Jason, I would know that I’m not giving my full self to my marriage, and that would need to be addressed. Faithfulness thrives in the light. Some outside of your marriage and/or friendship may not appreciate your candor, but those relationships that matter will be so much healthier when they can be conducted without any secrecy.

We can also hinder continuing faithfulness when we fail to address attraction felt toward a friend. As I have written already, attraction toward a close friend is inevitable. If we choose to open ourselves up to another person in a vulnerable way, there will be some level of attraction. However, choosing to ignore that can allow it to build into something more than the natural outcome of a devoted friendship. This can cause us to ignore our spouse in favor of the friend, which damages the marriage relationship.

So how do we avoid emotional infidelity? I think it all boils down to honesty.

Be honest with your spouse. Let partner know that they can’t meet all of your emotional needs and that you don’t expect that of them. Pretending that they can fill everything isn’t fair to them. But don’t cut them off from that friendship. There may be areas where they can grow as your partner by seeing how a friendship builds you up and when you deny them that opportunity to participate in that friendship, even just by keeping them apprised of conversations, you can hinder that continuing faithfulness. A friend of mine recently said that his close cross-gender friendship was forcing him to be more honest with his wife about other things as well. This friendship has enhanced his marriage relationship because he is choosing honesty.

Be honest with your friend. If we notice that something is feeling “off” in our relationship, we need to address it. It can be profoundly awkward to say to your friend that you feel an attraction toward them, but less awkward than allowing those emotions to go unchecked and becoming something more than they are. Honesty can defuse emotions that might otherwise grow into something harmful. And be honest about where you need boundaries. This will be an individual thing and will likely require some trial and error, but by keeping communication open and forthright, you can navigate that without abandoning the friendship. Knowing that your friend wants the best for you and the relationship can allow for grace in situations where there could be discomfort.

Be honest with yourself. This is perhaps the most difficult thing, because we’re really, really good at lying to ourselves. But before we can be honest with anyone else, we must be honest with ourselves. We need to be honest about what causes resentment toward our spouse. We need to be honest about attractions that we experience. We need to be honest about how we communicate with our spouse and our friend. Any discomfort that we feel about honesty up front will be multiplied by a lot if we choose to lie to ourselves. We can avoid so much pain by being willing to give ourselves an honest appraisal. Whatever it takes to be honest with yourself, do it. It is one of the best gifts that you can give yourself and your relationships.

Anything that is ongoing will require effort, and continuing faithfulness is no exception. But it is an effort that will yield beauty and love. And love for one another is where God is found.

  • Agrajag

    Do you have any concrete examples of “areas where you need to be careful” ? What separates these from the “safe” areas ?

    I think you need something more concrete for this chapter in the ongoing series, absent that part 5 just doesn’t actually say much of anything beyond “honesty is good” – true but somewhat trivial.

    • Alise Wright

      I suppose my concern is that if we start getting into concrete answers, I end up doing exactly the thing that annoys me. For some, they will need to avoid being alone with the friend to whom they are attracted. For some, they will need to avoid racy jokes. For some, they will need to not text with that person.

      The only rule that I’m comfortable sharing in the context of a blog (and without any kind of degree and only anecdotal evidence to back me up) is that of honesty. Trivial, but certainly something that I can suggest with no qualms.

      • Agrajag

        *nod* I get that. It’s just that I feel this chapter lacks a bit of “meat”, without getting into specifics, there’s just not a lot of substance to it.

        And this series started with critiquing, rightly, the many absurd rules some live by, that in practice often comes close to forbidding friendship outright. (“no front hugs”, “no texting”, “no meals”, I think you gave as examples) (aside; prior to stumbling across your blog I was unaware that there are any other kind of hugs)

        Now, you say that “some areas are more sensitive”, but you don’t get into which areas that might be, or why.

        So we’ve gone from “it’s absurd to have rules against x, y, and z” to “some (unspecified) areas are more sensitive, for unspecified reasons.”, and that gets confusing – especially since I imagine that physical intimacy is one of the main things many people would put on the “sensitive” list.

        I want to stress that I love this series, and I really appreciate the honesty and effort that went into creating it, I hope my critique does not make you feel as if I consider the series bad, I don’t, I consider it awesome.

        • Alise Wright

          You’re absolutely right – I just did a small update to clarify things a little bit. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Quin Bagwell

    Emotional infidelity? So any emotional interaction with another human other than your spouse could by some people be considered emotional infidelity? Sounds much more like emotional kidnapping by an insecure, jealous spouse.

    • Alise Wright

      I would encourage you to read the post that is linked in the first sentence where I specifically say that I do not consider that to be an accurate reflection of emotional infidelity.

      • Quin Bagwell

        Yes , i did read it. I was merely proposing an argument of extremes. When does interaction become infidelity? By definition if we are in a monogamous relationship, and emotional acts are
        included, then any interaction outside of marriage would be infidelity.

        • Quin Bagwell

          Alise,my point is not to be argumentative, but only to state how subjective the interpretation is. It really boils down to each individual and every relationship.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Such wisdom here, Alise. Keep writing on this!

  • Jim Fisher

    I don’t think your focus on honesty is at all trivial. I think it is right on and a pretty darn thick chunk of meat in this discussion. As I spend time with a single female friend, whether it be on a long bike ride or sitting in a coffee shop or alone in the living room … the honesty line is quite evident. If there is anything we are doing or talking about that I could not openly and honestly share with my wife, then we have crossed a boundary and need to back off and try again. But sometimes that line is more evident from the outside than from the inside. One good way, and maybe the only way, to delineate those boundaries between friends is to openly discuss everything we do and say together with our partners (if any). Treat the friendship as the sacred gift that it is and always share the gift honestly with your main squeeze.

  • Hännah

    Honesty with yourself is such a huge, huge part of this. So vitally important.

  • Jessica

    You so smart.

  • Alecia

    Love that your approaching this with the idea that honesty is foundational to making relationships work – especially friendships with people other than your spouse. However, I would add, that having been through an affair of my spouses, and now being apart of an online community of bloggers who share about marriage and infidelity, that most if not all of us would take supreme caution with #2. It might seem like a good idea to talk to the person with whom you are developing attractions/feelings but that is a huge mistake. It would be better to be “honest” with a third impartial party. Many people have the best of intentions when doing this too, but many, many people when they share their attractions end up creating an environment that is ripe for an all out physical affair. We’ve seen/heard it happen all to often. We would recommend, again, third party involvement and the policy of NO CONTACT. It seems harsh but it works and that boundary is most likely what will save your marriage from going any further down that road.