"When a spouse has an 'emotional affair,' an intimate, close friendship that is secret from the other spouse, but no sex." "What do you do when your spouse lies to you over and over about the same issues, then says 'I knew it would hurt your feelings if I told you the truth.' How should I respond in the way that would best help our relationship?"
Here's an example of a secret friendship. John is married to Susan and believes that she is being completely honest and open with him about all important aspects of her life. However Susan has concealed from John her relationship with Helen, in whom she confides totally, even everything about her marriage to John.
You can substitute other genders in this example, but the result is the same - a breach of trust between two persons who have agreed to be more open, honest, and trustworthy toward one another than with any other persons. Not only is Susan more intimate with Helen than she is with her husband, but she also has divulged confidential aspects of their married life without John's knowledge.
To call this a breach of trust is not to say there aren't contributing factors or circumstances. For example Susan may think, "John is so controlling. I need something personal in my life that is completely my own and out of his reach. And I couldn't possibly tell him about Helen - he wouldn't understand and it would hurt his feelings."
Yet most would agree that at the heart of any healthy relationship are honesty, absence of secrets, and the keeping of confidences. Going by that standard John and Susan have some serious issues to resolve.
And that's where Relationship Enhancement comes in. No matter how difficult an issue may seem to be, the Relationship Enhancement method provides the essential tools to explore and resolve perplexing relationship problems - safely and with positive results.
With a major issue like this, a lot of talking and listening will be needed. The injured party will want to hear the full story from the other person and be convinced that nothing has been concealed. Time will be required to absorb the impact of what has happened, to reflect on contributing factors, to sort through and process feelings, and to verbally express all of that to one another. During this exploration stage, the Expressive and Empathic Responding skills will be used to build a new foundation of trust and mutual understanding. The Facilitation skill will be needed to make sure that discussions don't deteriorate and to know when a timeout is called for.
After these exploratory discussions are completed, the couple can move on to the Problem/Conflict Resolution phase in which solutions to the problem are discussed. Since the couple has come to understand the issue thoroughly in the previous Discussion phase, they are able to recognize causes and take preventive measures to protect this from re-occurring in the future. The Change skills will allow them to implement their solution and ensure that it is followed through.
Some couples may benefit from having an experienced Relationship Enhancement coach work with them through this process. This can give added confidence that the skill guidelines are being fully followed and can contribute to outcome success.