Flirting … we’ve all done it! But when you’re in an intimate relationship, where is the boundary? Does all flirting cross that boundary? When does it become emotional infidelity?
My guest today, author Linda MacDonald, has a degree in psychology and an interest in the psychology of internet relationships. In her novel, The Man in the Needlecord Jacket, Linda highlights the damage caused by this type of betrayal and to raise awareness of this often overlooked and difficult to define threat to happiness.
In my review I said:
We’re well aware of emotional scars from affairs that are physical, talking it over with close friends, taking time to heal. Emotional abuse isn’t so easy to define. What are the boundaries? I think The Man in the Needlecord Jacket opens that up and makes clear the destruction and hurt, giving pause for thought of what is acceptable behaviour and of course what is not.
Linda has written a post for my blog readers that explores this hidden betrayal. Do you recognise the danger signs? What are your boundaries?
Emotional Infidelity – The Hidden Betrayal
A kiss that’s more than a peck, a hug that’s more than a clasp – and then, skin on skin, intimate touches until the ultimate betrayal. It’s physical, clear-cut, unequivocal. You may say you wouldn’t go there yourself and nor would you tolerate such behaviour in your partner. It’s infidelity, and in our society, most people believe it to be wrong.
But what if it’s only the mind rather than the body that’s involved? When does acquaintanceship or friendship overstep the mark? Emotional affairs are becoming more common because of email and texting. Work relationships are now easy to carry on out of hours. Instant messaging means we’re only a click away from a potential thrill – and it’s addictive.
You may say, ‘We’re just Good Friends.’ You may think, ‘What harm can it do?’ But if the friendship involves hidden calls, if there is secrecy or deception, then it’s a breach of trust with the primary partner. It’s emotional cheating and a type of betrayal. And if the relationship involves the sharing of confidences, more than with the partner, and especially about the partner, then the partner may feel shut out and withdraw from physical intimacy, escalating problems within the relationship.
The danger signs
Flirtatious emails or texts, mobile heart-to-hearts, working ‘lunches’ where the talk isn’t only about work, or a drink at the end of the day. When you think about the person at every opportunity and fantasise about the next meeting with excitement, anticipation and pleasure. All of these things drain energy from the primary relationship and what may start out innocently may end up causing a level of heartbreak not imagined or intended.
The bottom line
The unpleasant truth is that a full-blown emotional affair is more difficult to recover from than a physical affair. You may justify it because you haven’t had sex, but if emotions are involved, these can very easily develop into love. And with love, there is a real threat that you may leave your existing partner. And they know this.
Once an emotional betrayal has occurred, once love is involved and the partner has found out, it is imperative to end the relationship and to have no further contact. In a workplace situation, this may mean having no communication of a personal nature. It may mean being ultra transparent about movements, messages and phone calls. Such scrutiny is not ideal in a relationship, but once trust is broken, it may be the only way forward. Restoring trust after an emotional betrayal is at least as difficult as after a physical one and counselling is often recommended.
Prevention is better than cure
To avoid future hurt, it is better if people make their unavailability clear when they first begin to chat on a personal level. The man or woman who keeps their primary relationship secret is much more likely to encourage attention from others who, at least initially, may believe there is a genuine opportunity for connection. Mentioning the partner acts as a warning that you are otherwise engaged. Any flirtatious overtures either in person or by written word should be ignored if you want to avoid escalation.
But not all flirting is damaging. We flirt to flatter and to get what we want. Not everyone uses it to explore the potential for furthering a relationship in the romantic or sexual sense. But there is a blurred line between harmless fun and behaviour that is inappropriate. It’s gone too far if one person becomes the focus for flirting, if it’s kept secret from the partner or if your partner would object if he or she saw you behaving in such a way. Of course there will be lapses. We’re only human. The Office Party, the Birthday, the Christmas ‘Do’. When alcohol is involved, we tend to lose our inhibitions and self-monitoring goes out of the window. But if we value our principal relationship, then we need to create our own boundaries and overstep them at our peril.
We would be interested in your thoughts so please share with us in the comments!
Born and brought up in Cockermouth, Cumbria, Linda MacDonald has a degree in psychology and a PGCE in biology and science. She retired from teaching in 2012 in order to focus on writing, and has now published three novels with Matador. She lives in Beckenham, and travels to speak to various groups about the inspiration behind the Lydia series and the psychology of internet relationships.
The Man in the Needlecord Jacket follows the story of two women who are each struggling to let go of a long-term destructive partnership. Felicity is reluctant to detach from her estranged archaeologist husband and, after being banished from the family home, she sets out to test the stability of his relationship with his new love, Marianne.
When Felicity meets Coll, a charismatic artist, she has high hopes of being distracted from her failed marriage. What she doesn’t know is that he has a partner, Sarah, with whom he has planned a future. Sarah is deeply in love with Coll, but his controlling behaviour and associations with other women have always made her life difficult. When he becomes obsessed with Felicity, Sarah’s world collapses and a series of events is set in motion that will challenge the integrity of all the characters involved.
Inspired by the work of Margaret Atwood and Fay Weldon, Linda explores the issue of mental abuse in partnerships and the grey area of an infidelity that is emotional, not physical. The book will appeal to readers interested in the psychology of relationships, as well as fans of Linda’s ‘Lydia’ series.