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Dr. Gail Saltz is a bestselling author of numerous books and the go-to expert on a variety of important psychological issues. She is Chair of the 92nd Street Y "7[…]

While thinking about someone other than your partner in a romantic way might be a healthy behavior, indulging those thoughts can become a real form of betrayal, explains psychiatrist Gail Saltz. What often begins as a former girlfriend or boyfriend making contact on Facebook can easily result in a physical relationship, so Saltz has a few guidelines for engaging old friends, which should be allowed, without risking to end your relationship.

Gail Saltz: The emotional affair, as opposed to the physical affair, is really just what it sounds like, which is being emotionally invested in someone other than your main partner. Where you are confiding in them usually intimate details that normally would be reserved for your partner and starting to invest in them that could be through flirtation that gives you a feeling of gratification that normally would come from your partner. The emotional energy that it takes to keep a stable long-term relationship going that becomes invested in somebody else is essentially being siphoned off from your main partner. They often do turn into a physical affair.  They’re often just sort of the gateway on the way there.

You’re not telling your partner what you feel about this other person.  So it is a secret.  It is a betrayal because you know that if your partner could see what you are doing with this other person they would be hurt. They would take it as a betrayal. It’s healthy to at times have a thought about someone else.  But this now becomes not just about thoughts.  This becomes about actions.  So, you know, you are saying sure yeah let’s have a drink after work or you’re touching their arm or you’re thinking I’m going to wear this sexy outfit to work today because I’m going to see so and so and really hoping that they’re going to notice and then, you know, we’re going to have a little flirtation and I’m going to get some of that great feeling that I get when they have a response to me.

So one of the more common stories for couples coming in to see me where something like this has gone on is it started with I contacted or was contacted by an old boyfriend or girlfriend on Facebook.  Super common.  Seems like it should be innocent but it’s kind of cool.  And then you get that little “Oh, that feels nice!”  And you start interacting with them.  And because it’s by computer you feel like it’s safe, right.  I’m not seeing them.  I’m not physically with them.  But you’re tossing a little something out. They’re tossing a little something out and it becomes this slippery slope. Not that you can never talk to somebody who was ever in your past before but if you’re going to no flirting, no seduction, no complaining about your current relationship.  That is hugely important. Stay away from alcohol with people that something might be a little bit starting with because when inhibitions come down that’s when problems get started.

Think about what you would be hurt by if your spouse were doing the same thing with somebody else. And then also think about is there something you’re looking for that is drawing you to this that’s not happening in your current relationship?  And focus your energies on how you can deal with that.  So maybe there is something happening in the bedroom that is not great or it’s not happening at all that is making you feel like, “Well I need to feel good about myself somehow.” It’s not a dalliance that has no repercussion.  It often is the end of a relationship if one person or the other goes there.