I frequently talk to couples in this vulnerable state, not only about how to reclaim closeness but also how to protect their relationship from third parties.Even when a marriage can't be salvaged, I'd rather see it end amicably before either person starts up with someone new.They have a very hurt spouse but can't bear to lose their "friend." Marital implosion is close at hand.My approach seems like tough love, but I'm convinced it saves a lot of grief.But like Sharon, they might hit a patch where their relationship isn't fun anymore, and they feel isolated and frustrated.Rather than making a collaborative effort with their partner—and perhaps a couples therapist—to improve it, women in particular often accept that "this is just the way the marriage is." So while they aren't consciously in the market, they are ripe for an affair of the heart: hungry for attention, craving excitement, and eager for someone to fill the emptiness they feel inside. The flirting, the accolades, the sympathetic ear all made her feel special.Three habits strike me as playing with fire: (1) flirting with others, which can become too intoxicating to give up, (2) "innocently" spending time alone with old lovers, and (3) hanging out with emotional cheaters who make what they're doing seem like no big deal.Increasingly, I find people are already enmeshed in an affair of the heart by the time they contact me, and they are terribly torn.
Third, I try to help clients unearth the reasons they got overinvolved. To prevent an encore, they must be brutally honest with themselves.A client I'll call Sharon knew that something was missing in her marriage.She and Robert used to be passionate about each other, she said, but after 12 years and two children, she felt removed.But a healthy male-female friendship isn't clandestine.Once a man and woman avoid telling their partners how much time they're spending on the friendship, make sure they look great anytime they're going to be together, or confide more in each other, including marital dissatisfactions, than in their spouses, they're involved in an emotional affair.