Article in USA Today, January 9, 2003

Infidelity reaches beyond having sex:
Emotional intimacy, virtual affairs take hold in workplace

By Karen S. Peterson

Cybersex and so-called virtual affairs on the Internet are all the buzz among professionals who study spouses who stray.

But the truly fertile ground for dangerous emotional attachments outside marriages is much more conventional: the workplace. As more employees labor longer hours together, close friendships increasingly are taken for granted. And as more women move into professions once dominated by men, there are greater temptations for both sexes.

There is a new ''crisis of infidelity'' breeding in the workplace, says Baltimore psychologist and marital researcher Shirley Glass. Often it does not involve sexual thrill seekers, but ''good people,'' peers who are in good marriages.

''The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they've crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love,'' Glass says.

Glass' 25 years of research on ''extramarital attachments'' adds to a growing understanding of just what constitutes infidelity and why it happens.

She believes affairs do not have to include sex. ''In the new infidelity, affairs do not have to be sexual. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust.''

This revised concept of an affair is embraced by increasing numbers of Glass' colleagues. People are ''incredibly devastated by their partner's emotional affair,'' says Peggy Vaughan, who has researched infidelity for 20 years. ''They separate over it, divorce over it, this breaking of a trust, a bond.'' The third edition of Vaughan's The Monogamy Myth will be released this month.

A platonic friendship, such as those that grow at work, edges into an emotional affair when three elements are present, Glass says:

* Emotional intimacy. Transgressors share more of their ''inner self, frustrations and triumphs than with their spouses. They are on a slippery slope when they begin sharing the dissatisfaction with their marriage with a co-worker.''

* Secrecy and deception. ''They neglect to say, 'We meet every morning for coffee.' Once the lying starts, the intimacy shifts farther away from the marriage.''

* Sexual chemistry. Even though the two may not act on the chemistry, there is at least an unacknowledged sexual attraction.

Glass sums up her research and that of others in Not ''Just Friends'': Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal (Free Press, $24), now arriving in bookstores.

''This is the essence of the new crisis of infidelity: friendships, work relationships and Internet liaisons have become the latest threat to marriages,'' Glass says.

Affairs that take place in chat rooms on the Internet are classic examples of emotional infidelity.

How many have affairs, either emotional or sexual, is difficult to gauge. After reviewing 25 studies, Glass believes 25% of wives and 44% of husbands have had extramarital intercourse.

About two-thirds of the 350 couples she has treated include one or both partners who have had some type of intense affair, sexual or emotional. The most threatening to marriages combine both, she says. Sixty-two percent of the unfaithful men and 46% of the women met their illicit partner through work.

Researchers identify many factors contributing to infidelity. Proximity at the office is key for Glass. ''My research and the research of others point to opportunity as a primary factor. . . . Attractions are a fact of life when men and women work side by side.''

Many other risk factors may be in play. They include:

* Family patterns. Unfaithful parents tend to produce sons who betray their wives and daughters who either accept affairs as normal or are unfaithful themselves, Glass says.

* Biochemical cravings. Changes in brain chemicals during an affair can create a ''high that becomes almost addictive,'' says Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, author of Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy.

Bonnie Eaker-Weil, author of Adultery: The Forgivable Sin, says the biological need for connection can result from ''severe stress, loss or separation'' that often can be traced back to childhood.

* Internet temptations. Increasing numbers of cyber-affairs are breaking up stable marriages, says psychologist Kimberly Young, author of Tangled in the Web: Understanding Cybersex From Fantasy to Addiction. She cites the anonymity and convenience of the Internet, as well as the escape it provides from the stresses of everyday life.

* Increasing premarital sex. The more premarital sexual activity, the greater the chance of an extramarital affair, Glass says. ''Because girls are more sexually active at younger ages than they used to be, married women are not nearly as inhibited about crossing the line.''

* Child-centered marriages. Parents with dual careers and limited time ''often collude to give what time they have to the children. Their bond is built on co-parenting, and they don't make time for themselves,'' Glass says. Stereotypically, the husband finds somebody at work to share his adult interests.

Some affairs happen, Glass says, ''because people have certain beliefs they think will protect them. They believe if they love their spouse and have a good marriage, they don't have to worry. They don't exert the caution that might be necessary or create the boundaries to make their marriages safe.''

Basically monogamous partners drawn to interesting colleagues at work find themselves in ''great internal conflict.'' Her best advice: ''The more attractive we find somebody, the more careful we have to be.''

How to keep temptation at arm's length

There is no such thing as an affair-proof marriage. But couples who want to protect their unions from infidelity can be mindful of the dangers. To keep a marriage healthy:

* Stay honest with your partner. ''Honesty is the trump card for preventing affairs,'' says Peggy Vaughan, who has studied affairs for more than two decades. Her Web site is ''Make a commitment to sharing your attractions and temptations.'' That helps to avoid acting on them. Dishonesty and deception cause affairs to flourish, Vaughan says.

* Monitor your marriage. ''Realize if there is something missing,'' says psychologist Kimberly Young of St. Bonaventure University in southwest New York state. ''Be willing to try to fix it.'' Assess whether needs are being met.

* Stay alert for temptations. ''Be very careful of getting involved in the first place,'' Young says. ''Know the dangers. You can be drawn to an affair as to a drug. And once you are past a certain point of emotional connection, it is very hard to go into reverse.''

* Don't flirt. ''That is how affairs start,'' says Bonnie Eaker Weil, whose Web site, www.makeupdontbreakup .com, features tips for preventing infidelity. ''Flirting is not part of an innocent friendship. If you think there might be a problem with someone you flirt with, there probably is a problem.''

* Recognize that work can be a danger zone. ''Don't lunch or take private coffee breaks with the same person all the time,'' psychologist Shirley Glass says.

* Beware of the lure of the Internet. ''Emotional affairs develop quickly, in maybe a few days or weeks online, where it might take a year at the office,'' Young says. ''There is safety behind the computer screen.''

* Keep old flames from reigniting. ''If you value your marriage, think twice about having lunch with one,'' Glass says. Invite your partner along.

* Value the intimacy of your marriage. ''Reveal as much of yourself to one another as possible,'' Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman says. ''You will find it less necessary to form an intimate friendship with someone else.''

* Make sure your social network supports marriage. ''Surround yourself with happily married friends who don't believe in fooling around,'' Glass says.

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