Marriage Missions International

Getting “Unhooked” From An Emotional Affair

“How can I get unhooked from an emotional affair?” There is not easy way, and it will involve a process of time. In that process, several practices are important. First of all, separation is important. The emphasis here is on abstinence and sobriety. You don’t indulge yourself with the other person’s presence. You must stop exposing yourself to this shared life experience. The contact is what keeps these feelings alive; you need to stop feeding the compulsion.

I hasten to add that you just can’t bury these feelings. Therefore, the next step is identification. What is the “something” this person touches inside you? What unmet need does he tap into? Sometimes the infidel can process this with a spouse or a same-sex friend, but other times that will need to be done with an experienced counselor who is committed to restoring the marriage.

My experience is that the longings that underlie infidelity go back to childhood; the infidel brings them with him or her into the marriage. They often were touched upon or satisfied in the initial phases of the relationship with the spouse, but over time have been buried by the crush of life’s responsibilities.

The next process is exposure. Don’t allow these longings and feelings to remain a secret. The longer an infidel allows these feelings to continue as a secret, the more he or she will idealize the person the feelings are attached to. Idealization means this partner becomes perfect, and as a result, no one else (e.g., the spouse) can measure up. The partner is beginning to be seen as “all good,” and therefore the infidel will have to see the marriage as “all bad.”

As mentioned earlier, if you encapsulate these feelings at this point, they will only lie dormant to be triggered again later. I usually encourage the infidel to share his feelings with his spouse, after seeking counsel. After all, the spouse has been involved in this story already (in that all affairs are a triangle, even if the spouse is unaware) and might as well know the secrets that are occurring in his/her marriage.

The next concept here is to journal. Write down the feelings you are experiencing in this rather involved and tortuous journey. Feelings don’t have to control an individual, but their influence is strongest when they are held in secret. The longings that have led to this emotional affair are a part of the childhood magic; journaling them gets them out into the open, into the adult realm.

The next step is displacement. Use this process in tandem with some of the other processes. Here you do something else in lieu of focusing on the partner. You can exercise, get involved in spiritual development, or take on different projects or hobbies. This is the “doing” part of healing.

The final idea is to grieve. Though this is extremely difficult for the spouse to observe, it is important and necessary. Many times this needs to start with a “good-bye” letter (written to the adulterous partner). Most infidels find this very painful to do. It seems so unnecessary initially, because (seemingly “nothing evil has happened,” since they didn’t have sex. Only after thorough processing, and the passage of time, will the infidel be able to look back and see how befuddled his/her thinking really was.

This is also a good time for the infidel to review his/her “loss history,” and this leads naturally to grieving. What other significant caregivers, friends, loved ones, or pets has the infidel lost that parallel the lost feelings in giving up the affair? The infidel will probably want to do this in private and only later will be able to share the depth of the experience with his spouse.

(A caution here: The depression is not about what you feel for the partner, but just what you are feeling, period. Keep the partner out of the equation-it will make it easier for your souse to listen to your feelings, and easier for you to connect with the feelings in your heart that need processing.)

The Healing Process: Neither your partner nor your spouse can release you from the emotional hook you’ve experienced. Many spouses caught in this kind of emotional affair have found portions of The Serenity Prayer helpful:

“Lord, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Be careful of changing the components around. Don’t try to change the things you cannot change-that will only lead to frustration and anger. On the other hand, don’t accept the things you should be changing —that will only lead to feelings of victimization, a sense of “What’s the use? I can’t lick this, so I might as well give in.”

Time, the healing process, always requires a backward look. Encouragement is not usually the result if you look to where you need to be, feel like you ought to be, or even want to be. You will see the feelings diminish as you look backward to where you were three, six or nine months ago.

Rebuild and concentrate on the lost relationships that contributed to the vacuum that the emotional affair filled. That could require quite a search on your part, some intense conversations (even confrontations) with people in your life, a lot of focused reading, and even some trips/visits to significant places in your childhood.

Enjoy the process and reschedule the experiences that made your marriage good in the first place. Here I encourage couples to each identify the “eight greats” of their marital experience. Independently, each spouse should identify the eight great experiences, or highlights, of their marital history, then decide together on five that they’d like to repeat. You see, shared history is a critical component of intimacy. Rare is the spouse who won’t join “the almost infidel” in this endeavor and experience recovery from close call. Why, most of us had close calls ourselves.

Some Cautions for the Infidel: Temptations do not an identity make. Some people struggle with the same temptation for years. For instance, just because someone wants to smoke again because he’s tempted doesn’t mean he’s a smoker. Don’t let the temptation to return to the partner shame you into feeling “What’s the use? I might as well give in. I’ll never be free of these feelings.”

Second, remember that in periods of high stress, difficult emotions, transition, and marital dullness, you will feel an increased desire to return to the partner or to renew thoughts of him/her. At times, infidels report that they have yearnings to think about this person just to see if the feelings are still “available” as in the days gone by. This “testing” is common to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and the intent is to prove to oneself how far one has come in the recovery process.

Be careful —this process can begin to mimic the destabilization process of a Class 2 affair described in chapter 6. As mentioned there, such practices only intensify, rather than lessen, the attraction —and the hook goes much deeper.

Some Encouragement for the Spouse: First, remember that these longings were present in your spouse before you entered his or her life. You didn’t create them, and you probably can’t fully satisfy them.

Second, you did tap into those longings early in your relationship in some fashion. The longings were present in the initial feelings of what love is all about. For whatever reason, the infidel settled for the initial feelings of what love is all about and superficial satisfaction of those longings, versus deepening and maturing them. This is not your fault. Many times it is the result of a combination of circumstances: work, school, family, and so on. But the exciting thing is now you both can go deeper in your love for each other.

Last, both of you will eventually forget the partner. The memories of this experience will fade in the same way that a widow or widower forgets about the loss of a good first marriage if the second marriage is a pleasant experience.

It is possible to rebuild after an emotional affair has been discovered. Work through these steps and you will make progress. This is the kind of stuff emotional intimacy is built on, and that is the key to any good marriage.

The above article comes from the excellent book, TORN ASSUNDER: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair written by Dave Carder, published by Moody Publishers. This book is very comprehensive and is a great practical guide for dealing with extramarital affairs. It’s very comprehensive because it carefully sorts out the different kinds of affairs and deals with each kind —giving very practical and insightful information. It doesn’t lump all infidelity together “giving over-simplistic spiritual answers.” It’s practical because “it deals with daily, gut-level issues both partners face.” We highly recommend getting this book!

There are a couple of parts that especially stand out and set it apart from other resources. One in particular which is EXCELLENT is titled: “When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want You Back: The 90-Day Experiment.” We wish we could have put this portion of the book on our web site but it’s too long to be able to honor the author’s copyright privilege and it really can’t be shortened to do it justice. You really need to get the book to have this as well as the other helpful information. (If you’re dealing with this problem and you can’t get this book in your country then please contact the publisher at the above web site and see if there’s something that can be arranged.)


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1,462 Responses to “Getting “Unhooked” From An Emotional Affair”
  1. Trying from United States says:

    I’ve mentioned this before on this site, and I know the Wrights have a link to a radio program that this author did but the book–“Every Woman’s Battle” by Shannon Etheridge was sooo valuable in helping me analyze what was happening in my life. I read it 3 years ago when I finally could admit I had a problem, and re-read most of it again this summer as I struggled with guilt, depression, and confusion. I am not entirely free, even today, yet I celebrate each victory, and rejoice that there is HOPE!

  2. Trying from United States says:

    Thinking of everyone, and praying that Victory in Christ is yours. Three days ago, I was hit with huge waves of emotion and nostalgia. I didn’t know why–I have kept boundaries, discarded thoughts, working on freedom as my goal. After several hours, it occurred to me. We had put up our Christmas tree and started decorating the house. I have many memories of ex-AP during this season, and something deep inside me was triggered again. What a relief to identify that, and I was reminded of the words below…

    “Second, remember that in periods of high stress, difficult emotions, transition, and marital dullness, you will feel an increased desire to return to the partner or to renew thoughts of him/her.”

    The rest of the day was a challenge for me, but I knew what I was facing, and with God’s grace, the rest of the week has been much better so far.

    As blessed as this Christmas season can be, it can also be a very difficult time for many. Satan will use anything to discourage and disturb us, but take heart–as always, with anything, God’s grace is sufficient!

    • Laura from United States says:

      Hey Trying ~~Through your pain these last few days, there were many blessings. The gift of being able to step back from the nostalgia, identifying its trigger, and making steps to move through it is wonderful. You could have chosen to just ‘go there’ in your mind and heart and relive the past, but you’re consciously working to honor God, your vows, and yourself in all ways.

      I faced many weeks of serious illness this fall and was very isolated as I tried to rest and heal. During this time of weakness, both physical and emotional (scared and lonely), I spent too much time in my own head. Like you, the emotion hit and I missed the connection we shared immensely. I didn’t handle it as honorably as you and initiated some personal contact (whereas our contact is generally limited to just hellos and such when we run into each other). A week or so after, when I was finally starting to feel better, I was kicking myself. I realized that I had only reached out cuz I was in a weakened state.

      When I face these times of illness (about 3 times a year), I KNOW I’m not myself. The illness I have literally changes my brain chemistry. I become insecure and hypersensitive. Some of it is loneliness, some of it is sadness, some of it is feeling sorry for myself. I’ve learned to not to act on these emotions during this time for the most part. But this time, I did act by contacting him. So your quote above rang so true to me. Thanks for the reminder. We need to be MOST on guard when weak (for any reason). But gosh, that’s when it seems hardest. Praying we all continue to be open to God’s love and grace as we move through this Christmas season. Laura

      • Trying from United States says:

        Thanks Laura, for pointing out progress and the benefits and blessings we have from knowing the Truth. I have had a good 2 weeks, and then today, we were at the same event –just a brief hello as we crossed paths. I feel so weak and stupid that something that neutral could make me cry –yet I came home, and I’m sad. Sad for so many things, and its been so long… This is the cross I bear because of my choices.

        But I just pray that Jesus will continue to give me the strength to turn sorrow to blessing, to continue to seek Truth, to continue to be faithful to boundaries and respect for marriage –his and mine. An acquaintance of ours died suddenly this week, and I have really done a lot of soul searching about how I will be remembered when I’m gone.

        Laura, I hope and pray you’re feeling better now. I know how weak I still feel on certain days, and pain and uncertainty just magnify those feelings. I have a sticky note on my desk with 2 words on it– “Recommit constantly” –that is the path we walk these days. – Praying the the love of Jesus would fill our hearts and mind, and grant us peace during this Christmas season and all year through –day by day, moment by moment.

  3. Dian from Canada says:

    So I discovered over 100 emails in less than a month to my husband’s 13 year old student who is now in his mid 40’s. She lives far away. The emails became increasingly flattering to each other and were filled with praise and “connectiveness on how important they were to each other.” They would be sent at 1:40 in the morning and would greet each other with “good mornings.”

    My husband hid them but when he was discovered said he wanted to send just one more… saying they would stop. He showed me a sample of what he wanted to say. To me it was just another way of staying connected.

    He mourned visibly for days and after two weeks I was beginning to relax. Then he felt he had to send another one, explaining to her how the writing might be misconstrued and might hurt people and that he wouldn’t be writing any more. He kept this a secret even after I had asked him to tell me of any further communication to which he agreed. Then he’s saying he doesn’t want to email anymore now but doesn’t have any confidence he will keep that promise. I’m about done. He gets very angry with me if I seem sad or untrusting, yells, calls names… you always… etc.

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