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By "Today" contributor
updated 8/17/2005 9:13:57 PM ET 2005-08-18T01:13:57

After speaking about emotional affairs on the “Today” Show, I received dozens of letters. I’d like to share some more thoughts about this topic.

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Emotional affairs, for those not familiar with the term, are relationships that involve considerable emotional intimacy. Not every affair involves sex. These ARE still affairs. They are as serious as physical affairs, and maybe more serious.

In fact, both men and women tend to be more devastated if a spouse or partner says they are love with someone else than if they have had a one-night stand.

An emotional affair often continues for years, largely because people don’t acknowledge, even to themselves, that it’s an affair, and therefore don’t deal with it. Denial to both themselves and their partner is common for those wanting to continue an emotional affair. This way, the cheater is guilt-free. After all, they claim, if there is no sex, it can’t possibly be an affair!

But the truth is that an affair is all about secrecy and betrayal, where intimacies are shared with an outsider instead of your significant other. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Are you (or your spouse) keeping meetings and conversations on the sly?
  • Are you concealing how much time you spend together?
  • Are you turning to someone else for emotional needs?
  • Are you worried about getting “caught”?

Even if there is no touching, these are all signs of an emotional affair.

With the ease of communication these days, especially via the Internet, lots of people are “just falling” into emotional affairs. They encounter someone in the normal course of events — it’s often a colleague, someone they used to know, or someone long-distance — become interested, and grow more and more intimate. There is usually a sexual attraction, acknowledged or not. Those feelings of having a “crush” provide an emotional high that becomes addictive and perpetuates the relationship — and that makes it tough to stop.

And yet, it’s a slippery slope on the way to a threatened marriage or long-term relationship. If they know about the friendship, the other partner usually feels increasingly uncomfortable, or suspicious, or excluded, when it comes to the other’s “good friend.”

About half of such emotional involvements do eventually turn into full-blown affairs, sex and all.

To preserve your marriage, treat an emotional affair like a classic affair. Break off all involvement immediately. There is no middle ground and no “remaining friends.” If this is someone in the workplace, keep your relationship strictly business. If your marriage isn’t satisfactory, channel your emotional energy toward each other, not toward an outsider.

People rarely consider how valuable their marriage is to them until it is at risk.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It’s easy to deny the seriousness of an emotional affair — but it can be extremely threatening to a marriage.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin

), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books

. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site,www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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