The flirtation of a charged text message or smile, the harmless cup of coffee after work, the feeling of desire and being desired brought by an attraction to the opposite sex. Ana P. Santos talks to relationship and psychology experts to get the low down on emotional adultery, where betrayal does not necessitate taking off one’s clothes.
“Office husband” is a term Aileen Santos hears quite often. Santos, a certified relationship coach with a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling hears a lot of her patients talking about their “office husbands.”
“This is the guy in the office that they hang out with, and with working hours being the way they are – long – this is also the guy they spend more time with compared to their real husbands.”
Long office hours, alternating work days due to the proliferation of the BPO industry and more people spending more time at the office just to avoid mind numbing traffic are just some of the factors adding to the emergence of such relationships.
“An office husband need not be an adulterous relationship and sometimes it is not,” said Santos, “but it does have the potential for turning into an emotional affair. Women, by nature, are more prone to emotional affairs than physical ones.”
The line that divides is so fine that it is easy to not even notice crossing it.
“It’s when you start confiding in your office husband more than your real life partner that it starts to become an emotional affair,” Santos cautioned.
By doing so, Santos says you deprive your partner the chance to get to know you, to share in the parts of your life that matter to you and be there for you.
Santos, who says that relationships with the opposite sex are not to be totally avoided, stressed the difference.
“When you tell someone about what happened or you need to bitch about what your boss said or did, that’s just recounting your day. But when you start talking about how this made you feel that’s different. The intimacy and insecurity in letting someone see your vulnerable side is the checkbox that makes it an emotional affair,” said Santos.
“Relationships with other members of the opposite sex enrich us. Just as any other positive relationships do, but we need to be clear about what relationships are for what. We need to be clear about boundaries,” she added.
When Jona, a 35-year-old sales executive, began moving up the corporate ladder faster than her husband who was her college sweetheart, she became more and more dissatisfied with the relationship.
“It wasn’t just about me making more money. It was also about me being more ambitious than him. I began to see him as someone weak because he didn’t have the same drive. The power that I was feeling in the office, out on the field, was easy to bring home,” Jona explained.
She began finding more and more excuses to work overtime with a colleague from another department. Their perceived similar interests attracted her to him even more. For the first time in their eight year marriage, Jona began wondering about what it would be like to sleep with another man.
Eventually, a promotion and ambition saved the day for Jona. “The new role came with more responsibilities and in my desire to do well, I poured myself into the new job. Our problem then became the amount of time I was spending at work compared to being at home.”
That was the problem on the outside. But Jona admitted that the bigger reason was that she didn’t find her husband interesting anymore. “He couldn’t relate to the decisions and the pressure of my position. I couldn’t talk to him anymore,” she said.
“Relationships are dynamic. That’s their very nature. Because the people in it grow and change, too,” said Santos in reaction to Jona’s case.
Santos has seen many patients thinking that happy even after will just happen, which is a wrong notion. “The journey that we all want to be on, the one where we grow old with someone is a product of the small decisions we make every day. When we find ourselves veering off that course, we need to go back and think why we chose our partner in the first place.”
Almost Lover or Too Close for Comfort
For many people, there is a meaningful distinction between emotional infidelity and sexual infidelity.
“The former is about involving feelings, self-disclosure, opening up of the self to the other, becoming close, falling in love. The latter is more about sexual encounter.” said Eric Manalastas, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
Manalastas also shared that women often find emotional infidelity highly distressing, compared to sexual infidelity. On the other hand, men seem to be particularly bothered by women’s sexual infidelity.
“The gender difference should not be interpreted to mean there’s an absolute difference between men vs women. Nor does it mean that emotional infidelity will not bother straight men or that sexual infidelity will not worry straight women,” Manalastas explained.
Rica, 40, has been dealing with chronic infidelity and has gotten to know quite a bit about both sides of the coin. In their 12 years of marriage, she has found her husband, Joggie cheating four times. It was all the more infuriating for Rica when he would deny any physical involvement with the women.
“I would see the text messages calling him “baby”, the messages saying thank you for the lingerie that he bought while we — the two of us – were abroad. Once, I answered his phone without saying hello right away and a female voice came on the line asking: ‘Hon, can you talk?’ What do you call that?” Rica wailed.
With three kids and more than a decade of marriage, she says she doesn’t know what to do or why she continues to give him another chance. She can only conclude that the same thing that keeps her in the marriage is the same thing that angers her about Joggie’s “relationships” with these women.
“He hasn’t had sex with any of these women and I know this for sure because we own and manage our own business. We know each other’s hours and schedules. It’s not even to keep tabs on each other, it’s just as a matter of operating the business,” Rica disclosed.
“I don’t know. To me, it is an affair because of the betrayal and the intense pain I feel with the discovery of each new dalliance. But is it really an affair? They’ve never consummated the relationship. It’s like my heart and my mind are telling me two different things!”
Manalastas, in reaction says that what constitutes an affair is actually dependent on the couple. “If a couple constructs a committed relationship between themselves, and promises to be monogamous, then engaging in behaviors like texting, kissing, spending time with, or even thinking about someone else counts as infidelity not based on one’s own construal of “infidelity” but rather based on the partner’s.”
“In a close relationship, it’s not just the self that gets to call the shots and label things as ‘ok’ or `not ok’. The partner’s point of view is equally – some would argue, even more important, especially if you want to stay together and be happy.”
In relationships, as in anything in life, the route to happy ever after is made up of small every day decisions.