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How Can I Avoid Emotional Affairs In My Marriage?

Dear CMR: How can I avoid emotional affairs in my marriage? I've been told that is something to watch for as a young married. 


Emotionally Unaware

I am so glad you are thinking preemptively. Emotional affairs often occur when a spouse does not feel loved by the other spouse and seeks to fill that hole by investing their emotional energy elsewhere. In fact, most affairs start in the emotional realm and must be dealt with emotionally.

So how do you address the emotions of your spouse? Dr. John Gottman and Willard Harley Jr., renowned marriage experts, both state that the key is to like and enjoy your spouse. Gottman calls it building a friendship and Harley calls it romantic love. This might sound simple, but it is impossible if your spouse’s emotional needs are not being met.

In his book His Needs, Her Needs, Harley (a Christian marriage counselor) shares how to restore and sustain romantic love, stating that doing so is the secret to affair proofing marriages. He identifies several needs that men and women have that, when met, will foster this kind of love.

I definitely recommend that you read this book for yourself. (Also consider reading Gottman's book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work). Nevertheless, I will give you a quick highlight of the basic needs that Willard identifies:

  1. Women can't do without affection and intimate conversation.
  2. Men can't do without sexual fulfillment and recreational companionship.
  3. Women also need openness, financial support, and family commitment.
  4. Men also need physical attractiveness, domestic support, and admiration.

Though these are generalizations, I am sure you can find some truth in each of the categories for yourself. Bottomline, if you want to avoid emotional affairs, tend to the heart of your spouse.