Getting “Unhooked” From An Emotional Affair

unhooked emotional affair Dollar photoclub_102643162.jpg“How can I get unhooked from an emotional affair?” There is not easy way to do this. And it’s important to know that it will involve a process of time. In that process, several practices are important.

First of all, to get unhooked from this situation, 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. That is why you need to stop feeding the compulsion.

To get unhooked, first of all, separation is important.

The emphasis here is on abstinence and sobriety. It’s important not to indulge yourself with the other person’s presence. You must stop exposing yourself to this shared life experience. It is the contact that keeps these feelings alive. To get unhooked from them, 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.

Furthermore, the next process to getting unhooked 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. 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). He or she might as well know the secrets that are occurring in his/her marriage.

The next concept to get unhooked 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. That’s why journaling them gets them out into the open, into the adult realm.

The next step to getting unhooked is displacement.

You can 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. (It is 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.” As a result, 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.

(But there’s a caution here: The depression is not about what you feel for the partner. Instead it is about 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 it will be easier for you to connect with the feelings in your heart that need processing.)

The Healing Process to Get Unhooked:

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 they 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.

Also, be careful. This process can begin to mimic the destabilization process of a Class 2 affair. 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. It can include 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.

This article comes from the excellent book, TORN ASUNDER: 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.”

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Filed under: Emotional & Physical Affair Emotional Infidelity

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2,150 responses to “Getting “Unhooked” From An Emotional Affair

  1. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for your kind words, but I am really not as strong as you might think. Yes, that intense affair which ended 5 years ago is truly ENDED. No contact of any kind since June 2015.

    However, more recentIy I became a little too involved with two colleagues at work who were good friends of mine (they did not know each other)…my contact with them slowly crept into that difficult “no man’s land” where our friendship was a bit TOO close… if you know what I mean. I agreed with my wife to contact them only with her OK (she knows both friends… and likes them both very much) The end result is that contact was stopped with one friend almost 3 years ago, and with the other about 3 months ago. My wife was OK with a recent Christmas greeting to both. A short text came back from both, and that was it.

    SO, you can see that the road has been rocky for me, with falling and getting up again…. My wife asks me every so often… have I contacted the one or the other?… and it is liberating and strengthening to be able to say “no.”

    Breaking off WAS hard…. but it was DOABLE. I believe God helped me do something I could not do for myself in that my wife was in there with me, holding me to account. That was the boost I needed. I believe God is helping you in the same way with your upcoming trip, meaning that you don’t have a month to anticipate AP’s departure. AND you will be with your husband… an ideal chance to pour yourself into your marriage, to put AP out of your head and your heart by concentrating on your husband, and seeking the Lord for the strength which He will certainly provide. The first weeks are the worst! But they DO pass, and the freedom which will be yours is closer with each passing day of no contact.

    How was the get-together with the one couple who did visit? Yes, those kinds of distractions really help!

    You have NOT wasted 15 years. You are now able to empathize with others in similar situations, and you have been tried, but also strengthened by your experience.
    See 2Timothy 3.16 and the classics James 1.2 and 1 Peter 1.6 :)
    The “count it all joy” part is very difficult, but I get the sentiment behind that verse.

    I have high respect for you.

    Hope to hear from you…..
    Work in Progress WP

    1. Hi WP ~ I hope 2021 is providing you with many joys so far. Thank you so much for sharing more of your story. Your journey of pain and struggles, along with the solutions and successes, is helpful to hear. I’m happy you have been able to share so openly with your wife and that she loves you enough to support you through it all. That says a lot about each of you and the gifts you bring to your marriage. How long have you been married?

      Do you think you got a little too close as you say to those two other women in trying to recreate the excitement you felt with your AP in 2015? Having felt that ‘high,’ I know it’s hard to let go of reaching for a fix so to speak. For me, I believe this whole long time of staying connected and being so-called friends, kept this addiction going. So now I’m facing going ‘cold turkey.’ I am not concerned about connecting with anyone else – just am very aware there will be a huge void and worried about the letdown.

      I was also curious as to why you wanted to send the holiday text. What was the motivation for that?

      So tonight will be the last time I see him. It will be from a distance during church, as it has been per usual. Although we have had some specific eye contact.
      I am having a few huge internal struggles:
      1. He has not reached out at all the last three weeks. It hurts. Obviously has no interest in saying goodbye.
      2. Do I wait after church tonight to say goodbye?
      3. Do I not wait, and just send a text wishing him well?
      4. Or send a text that expresses my hurt and officially end all ties?
      5. Or just drive away and do nothing unless/until he contacts me?

      As I type all this, it sounds so ridiculous, but it is the flipping through of thoughts that my brain is doing.

      However, with that said, I still have had many moments of peace – really looking forward to the next phase ahead. And fewer brain gymnastics. It is exhausting managing these emotions.
      I think that’s why in some ways, I want to officially end it, so I know it’s done once and for all. But my gut is saying to stick with option number five. No action is sometimes the best course of action – at least for now. Until I get some distance and perspective.

      Speaking of distance, we leave tomorrow. Yes, I will be with my husband in one of our favorite places. My husband and I have an amazing relationship – loving, affectionate, playful – we enjoy so much together. I am really really hoping that I can bring back to him the fullness of my heart. He deserves all of me.

      My goals for this next month or so, while away, are to:
      A. Focus on my marriage fully – not sure yet what extra actions this will be specifically
      B. Offer time each day spent on dedicated prayer time
      C. Stay off social media
      D. Refocus on healthy diet and fitness
      E. Do small things each day to help others

      Thank you again for all the support. I will be in touch.

      1. HI Laura! Good to hear from you :)) I will answer your questions as follows:

        … How long have you been married? We have been married now for 41 years, since August 1979. We have lived in 4 countries, have moved 9 times, have two children and 4 grandchildren. :))
        … Do you think you got a little too close as you say to those two other women in trying to recreate the excitement you felt with your AP in 2015?

        That’s a good question. I think there is some truth to that. What made these two work relationships more difficult was that we knew each other for quite a long time. The friendhips very slowly went into “dangerous territory” – for a while they were in that gray area when you can convince yourself that we were “just friends.”

        But contact is now limited to birthday and Christmas only. My wife is OK with that, and knows both women, as I mentioned before. My motivation for the holiday text is that I really do not want to reject anyone… and since my wife is OK with it, and since she knows them, I feel fine about it. The AP in 2015 was an internet relationship only. There has been no contact in 5 years. That is best; I do not think about it now.

        … Which goodbye option is best? I would say no. 4: to send a text that officially ends all ties. Expressing your hurt, in my opinion would not be a good idea; if he has less interest than you have, in a way, you lose face for no reason. This way you keep your dignity, and end the relationship. Perhaps mention that you are concentrating on your marriage, which now takes top priority. A SHORT text is best. The rest of your text sounds well thought out, and makes very good sense. Also wonderful to hear that your and your husband have such a good dynamic… makes the transition far easier.

        You have so much to look forward to! Of course I am curious to hear how you are doing… and about your trip! If I may ask, how long have YOU been married??

        Good to hear from you as I said before… you will do well Laura. You have been through a hard time, but you are coming out far better for this experience. Keep to your goals, pray, ask for and expect wisdom and discernment, and the sun will soon come out!! AND, as you say, your brain will have far fewer gymnastics to deal with :)) Take care Laura, and enjoy your time away :))

        1. Hello WP,
          I apologize for the long break. Every time I thought about writing, I just wasn’t ready. First, I took the time away with my husband, and now we have been back and some important family stuff has taken precedence. We dodged some health bullets, and all is good there!

          Thank you again for your thoughtful and sincere replies. Your words bring me a lot of clarity and comfort. I pray your new year is going well so far and that everyone in your life is healthy.

          To answer your question in return, I have been married thirty years. We have large and close families, but no children of our own. It may sound odd to say this, in light of my having an affair, but it is an amazing marriage. My husband is a very special man – smart, loving, playful, protective, provider, and devoted to me completely. And as confusing as this might sound to some readers, I am a really great wife — mirroring many of those same attributes. We have so much fun together and love each other very much and are always finding ways to serve and help the other. Our extended trip was wonderful as always! Quiet, peaceful, enjoyed time outdoors, saw some friends, etc. The life we have built is easy-going, full of love and laughter and adventure, with a great balance of relaxation. Basically put… we hang together well!

          So, going back to where I left off in January, I did not cut ties with a text. WP, I just couldn’t do it.

          But you know how you said you don’t want to reject anyone? That is me, too. I’m the one who has maintained most friendships for 20-30+ years. I value connection – longevity – shared history – and have never specifically cut ties with anyone. It is not my way.

          I also knew he would be confused and hurt to receive a text like that; abruptly cutting all ties with no warning, and I couldn’t do that to him. And I know myself well enough to know I would eventually reach out again at some point anyway. Therefore, I chose the path of doing nothing – that’s not quite accurate – I chose to ‘just sit with it.’ My emotions were all over the place, and I was not in a position to make any rational, or even healthy, decision, so I made the conscious choice to do nothing — to let things play themselves out for a while.

          Without going into all the details, he reached out several times while I was gone with quick little updates. Then with my family stuff that happened – it was all very scary – I filled him in last week. We had a long conversation a few days ago, and caught up in life, plus finally cleared the air about some things.

          This is what I know and where things stand for me now:
          1. We only want the best for each other and will always be in each other’s corner.
          2. Although the idea of not seeing him again brings a pit to my stomach at times, I also breathe more easily overall.
          3. There is comfort in knowing I have someone out there cheering me on, even if we don’t speak again.
          4. We left it off as friends, but the ‘need’ to reach out to him has already diminished these past few days.
          5. He thanked me for many things and one in particular was for “never turning my back on him,” which was exactly what I couldn’t do. I am grateful I did not cause him pain.

          Putting aside the morality – the right and wrongness of it all – I am breathing more easily today. The distance is no doubt a good thing, and I am eager to more fully embrace my marriage – just as I am eager to delve more deeply into my faith and relationship with God again. This man has been a barrier and distraction for so long. I am not immune to him still, and I am not ‘cured,’ so to speak. I gave him a piece of myself I should not have, and can’t get that back. But I can turn things toward the future and make straight my path.

          I will stay in touch. Thank you, WP.

          1. Hi Laura!
            Thank you so much for your update; I read your text very carefully.
            Thirty years is a long time! You have built a solid relationship, and have had your knocks and setbacks in life. Many would give their right arm for the family life that you and your husband have built- I enjoyed reading your description! God is good. Our marriage is also very good; thank God, mainly because we are both believing- God has helped us through the rough spots in more ways than I can recount.
            But even healthy marriages are not immune to the foxes who want to infiltrate in sneaky ways to “ruin the vineyard” (Song of Solomon 2. 15, 16). Clearly we have both discovered that in a graphic way!

            I fully understand your not cutting ties with a text. I really do get it. Perhaps I have done the same in terms of the once a year birthday and Christmas greeting? (Please see my most recent text about holidays) The last time I spoke to both these two friends was in December. Yes outright rejection for me is VERY difficult, I too highly value my friendships in this splintering world. Looking back and thinking about it now, I have essentially done the same as you; I am not talking with them at all, but rather, as you say, have chosen to “just sit with it” with the understanding that we would not be talking to each other. For me it has been now three months of no contact with either friend after many before that no contact with one / and limited contact with the other. The need to reach out has decreased to virtually zero.

            Interesting that you chose this particular time to write; just last night my wife told me that one of these friends sent her a text (to her, not to me) asking if she and her daughter could visit with my wife and me, and so to catch up. My wife waited 4 days before telling me, and at first didn’t want to bring me into it. When she mentioned it I was quite surprised, and then very nervous- all these old feelings coming up again- I hadn’t thought about her in months! My wife did not want anything to do with this idea, which I fully get. So I said – “I’m leaving it with you.”

            Just the fact that my wife reacted so strongly reinforces the realization that the damage and fallout of an emotional affair are almost always extreme and long lasting. She sees this latest contact as a “fox sneaking in to ruin the vineyard.” I get that. “Driving too close to the cliff” is risky business.

            God is gently leading you in His direction Laura. Many marriages do not survive the attacks that yours and mine have had. Sometimes it feels like riding a kayak down the rapids- the water boils and churns, you steer your craft around dangerous rocks as your boat plunges downstream. You pray the whole time. Then the terrein levels out, the waves subside, and you enter “still waters” (Psalm 23). We need those “still waters,” and God provides them, but that doesn’t mean that more steep rapids are not lurking around the corner.

            I am learning after all these years (even now!) to “watch over my heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4.23). I need to “watch the path of my feet” to make sure that “my ways will be established” (v. 26) He is teaching me that (v. 27) “do not turn to the right or to the left; turn your foot from evil” means for me to never correspond with either of these two women without my wife’s OK. If she is against Christmas and birthday, then for me those holidays are out of bounds.

            “The way that leads to life” (Matthew 7.14) is narrow indeed. But that is the “way that leads to life.” That is the way of safety and security. That is the way to a clear conscience. Nowhere does it say that the narrow way is without trouble. But in Psalm 91 v. 14 and 15 we are assured that “we who love Him (who keep His commandments John 14.21)” will be delivered by Him and will be “set securely on high.” He will “answer us” and will “be with us in trouble,” when we “call upon Him.

            Sorry for the sermon.. I’m preaching to me as much as to you- the words just began to flow. We’re all still learning.

            It’s good to hear from you. Stay healthy Laura! Yes- please stay in touch, thanks.