When clients come into couples therapy for an emotional affair, there are many things that have to be taken into consideration within the relationship and within therapy. Emotional affairs are complicated. So much confusion can be created because of the very word that defines them–emotion. Not to mention that they are also often subjective. This subjectivity and confusion does not change the fact that one person in the relationship often feels a true sense of betrayal. All of these things make this time a serious balancing act of grief, understanding, shame, personal responsibility and personal awareness.
The first step in an emotional affair is determining if there is any hope of making the relationship work. Sometimes, one person is completely emotionally disengaged from their current relationship, and although there is fear of separation, there is no hope left to make the current relationship work. If this is the case, doing ongoing couples therapy can enhance the pain, more than separation, so that confusion can be alleviated.
The second step is to figure out what is upsetting about the emotional affair, and why this is upsetting. This appears to be easier than it actually is, because there is such a wide range of what can constitute an emotional affair. Therefore, knowing what is problematic about the emotions being experienced, and where this comes from makes it easier to communicate the core issues of the relationship and boundaries as well.
It’s also important to determine what had caused the affair. This can be anything from a sex, love, or relationship addiction, an unplanned contact with a past crush, or another personal issue that the person is unaware of. There is likely to be shame, denial, and defensiveness about the affair. All of this makes communication about the affair and the next step extremely confusing and difficult.
If all of these issues are identified, and communicated, it is possible to heal a relationship from an emotional affair. However, if these things go unidentified, or the couple moves forward, even though one party is completely emotionally done with the relationship, then individual therapy should be the route to consider.