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Help! My wife is having an emotional affair

TODAY contributing psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz says a spouse’s continued affiliation with an old lover is indeed an emotional affair and it’s fine to demand an end to it.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Q. My wife had an emotional affair for eight months with her first lover. Luckily for me, he lives 2,000 miles away. We have discussed this and I have explained to her how much she hurt me. I do feel things have gotten better, but she is still in contact with him via computer.

He recently sent her a body shot of himself without his shirt. I found out only because our kids were looking for pictures of themselves on their mom’s phone. I went off and told her we had talked about this and decided these kinds of pictures were inappropriate. I deleted the picture immediately.

She was fine with this and said that keeping it was an accident. I don't really believe her, but being that she has been my wife for 10 years, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Now, she deletes all texts from him and I know they don't talk on the phone. Still, “they will always be friends,” she tells me. I can't stand that they are still in contact, even slightly. Supposedly she has told him that the emotional affair is over.

What do I do now? I want to believe her, but it's tough. We have never cheated and this has been a real test of our relationship. I’m at a loss. Can I say I don't want her talking to him at all?

A. Yes. You are certainly within your rights to demand your wife cut off all contact with her former lover. This is not someone she must have contact with because of work, or someone who has been a lifelong friend through thick and thin. This is an old boyfriend, many miles away, from whom she is getting complimentary words and a boost in self-esteem.

Surely it is flattering for her to have him in her life. But anyone who buys the “I kept the picture by accident” line is fooling themselves.

You are correct in believing she is continuing this emotional involvement as long as she is in any contact with this man. It is unlikely they will be able to maintain a true state of platonic friendship. His presence takes up emotional space in her head that she is not devoting to you.

You cannot force your wife to do anything, but you can request that she cut off contact with this man for the sake of your marriage. Otherwise you are playing along with her game. Tell her that, if she continues communicating with him, she is being unfaithful to you and if it matters to her, she will change her ways.

I also advise you to be particularly attentive to your wife. Examine your own behavior to see if you are doing anything that would make her want to engage in such conversation with another man. As time goes on, you must continually put effort into maintaining a healthy marriage.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: A spouse’s continued affiliation with an old lover is indeed an emotional affair. It’s fine to demand an end to it. At the same time, you should be working to keep your own marriage strong.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which 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, .