When people think of cheating in a relationship, physical infidelity is usually the first thing that comes to mind. But as marriage therapist Christine Wilke has seen firsthand, there are other less obvious ways spouses can break their marital bond. Many are just as damaging as affairs.
“Affairs can lead to a hardcore exit for many,” the Pennsylvania-based therapist said. ”But exits from a marriage can also occur when couples engage in subtle little diversions that enable them to avoid true intimacy with each other.”
Below, Wilke and other relationship experts share seven ways you may be betraying your spouse without even realizing it.
1. You always put the kids first.
Who comes first in your life, your spouse or the kids? While you should prioritize your kids’ needs, putting too much focus on them could cheat your spouse out of your energy and full presence, said Otto Collins, a relationship coach who co-authored the book Passionate Spark, Lasting Love with his wife Susie.
“You think focusing on your kids and other obligations will strengthen and make your relationship better but instead the exact opposite happens,” said Collins. “You and your spouse end up becoming strangers who pass each other in the hallway and passion and connection withers and dies. You may love each other but you’re not ‘in love’ anymore largely because you’ve neglected the relationship without even realizing it.”
2. You emotionally cheat by confiding in someone else.
Your spouse should be your emotional confidante, the sounding board you turn to when you need to share just about anything. If you start emotionally opening up to someone else — especially someone you’re attracted to — you could be well on your way to having an emotional affair, said Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Foojan Zeine. (It’s especially bad if you start sharing unflattering details about your relationship with this new person.)
“When a partner begins to give that special place of friendship, closeness and intimacy to another person, we feel cheated,” she said. “Your spouse shouldn’t take the place of your best friends, but he or she needs to have the security and openness of being the person you turn to the most. To foster a close emotional relationship that goes over and above what you have with your partner feels like a betrayal.”
3. You’re glued to your phone all day.
It doesn’t matter if you’re sifting through important work emails or texting your buddies about fantasy football picks, spending an excessive amount of time on your phone when you’re in the company of your spouse sends a clear message to him or her: I could be spending my downtime with you, but I’d rather be on my phone.
“Everyone needs downtime and these activities help us to decompress but they become troublesome when they are substitutes for meaningful interaction with your spouse,” Wilke said. “Ask yourself: Am I spending more time perusing social media than talking to my spouse?”
4. You cheat on your spouse financially.
Those secret credit card purchases you’ve been making behind your spouse’s back are bound to come to light eventually — and when they do, it could spell major trouble. A 2011 study conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 68 percent of the time, financial infidelity had a negative impact on relationships, with 16 percent of marriages ending because of it.
“When one mate withholds financial information, it breaks down the fundamental trust in their partnership,” said Zeine. “The partner who has to pay the consequence of the other’s financial actions usually feels cheated. Lack of transparency in this area leads to minimum trust. You no longer feel like part of a team.”
5. You spend more time with your friends than with your spouse.
Having hobbies and interests outside of your marriage is important — and being together 24/7 isn’t exactly healthy. But it’s a problem when your spouse feels as though he or she has taken a backseat to nearly everything else in your life, especially your friends. Otto Collins said he’s learned this firsthand.
“Many years ago, when I was much younger and still married to my first wife, I went to 26 concerts in one year (mostly without her) while she was home taking care of our young son,” he recalled. ” The marriage broke up for many reasons but the fact is that I put outside activities above the relationship, which didn’t help. Putting close friends before your spouse creates distance and mistrust between the two of you, which could harm your relationship.”
5. You rant about your spouse to others.
You may think venting to friends about your husband’s annoying grooming habits is harmless, but a small betrayal of trust occurs any time you say something to friends or family that derides your spouse, said relationship coach Susie Collins.
“My husband and I have a rule in our relationship that we teach to all of our coaching clients: never ever say or do anything when you’re not with your partner that you wouldn’t say or do if they were standing right beside you,” she said. “Many people think it’s healthy to ‘unload’ or just connect with friends by revealing their partner’s innermost secrets or sins but it always backfires. Even if your spouse never finds out what you said, it creates coldness between the two of you that you may not even be aware of.”
7. You stonewall your spouse.
Stonewalling your spouse — becoming defensive and withdrawing from an interaction or argument instead of talking it though — can be extremely harmful to your relationship, said Zeine.
“Withholding thoughts, beliefs and emotions contradicts the purpose of our intimate relationships,” she said. “When a spouse gives the silent treatment or says ’nothing is wrong’ when there is something wrong, you feel powerless against the wall that is put up. You feel cheated by your mate having the power to shut you down and close any ways of moving closer.”
And when you don’t speak up, the worst is usually assumed, she said.
“The passive-aggressive silent treatment gives our mate the space to interpret whatever they want about us. In times of hurt and anger, the assumptions and interpretations are usually very one sided and self-serving,” she said
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