One of the most overused terms in our society, I'm convinced, is "emotional affair." Whenever a person is insecure, wants to control their partner, is unwilling or unable to do their own inner work, or refuses to admit to the complexity of the human soul, they cry "emotional affair!"
This term should only be used if: A) One of the partner's friendships with another person results in a decrease in emotional intimacy with the other partner, compared to what it was before; B) The two friends spend an inordinate amount of time making their own relationship a topic of discussion; C) Secrecy regarding scheduled times and places of meeting becomes a factor in the friendship; and D) Any feeling of attraction between the two friends moves from being implicitly felt to explicitly discussed, beyond perhaps a simple acknowledgement once or twice over the course of the friendship.
We talk a lot about the importance of having a "soulmate," but what we fail to acknowledge is the fact that our soul itself is multi-faceted. Although we decide to limit physical intimacy to one person, we realize that every person we meet elicits the growth and expression of a different facet of our soul. To expect one's committed partner to mirror ALL of the facets of one's soul is unrealistic, unhealthy and - to be quite honest - insane. It is, in fact, like putting a hangman's noose around our partner's neck.
In my view, it is precisely this sort of position that puts so many committed relationships in jeopardy. People fall into the habit of expecting ONE person to satisfy their every desire. But it is far too much of a burden to lay on one person the responsibility for fulfilling a need that the cosmos and a web of other relationships is meant to fulfil. When a partner in a marriage feels burdened with this kind of need, divorce often seems the only solution as an escape from the noose of such intense expectation. But if couples opened up to the possibility of celibate friendships with others, many relationships might be preserved.
Jean Houston, an anthropologist and modern proponent of human potential, points out that all of us are meant for communion with a Larger presence, whom she calls “the Beloved.” She tells us that “You must be especially careful not to breathe upon a loved human the Divine communion that more properly belongs to the Beloved, although you can mirror the Beloved to the other.” In fact, “If you make the mistake of investing in human beings the love that belongs to the Beloved, you run the risk of blowing them out by the intensity of feeling you project. Almost inevitably, they must escape and you are left with an immensity of loss and bereavement.”
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan spiritual teacher, puts it this way: “Of course, you are going to fall in love! That is the meaning of life. I hope it happens to you many, many times.” Here, "falling in love" means falling for the presence of the Beloved as It expresses Itself within each person we meet. In Rohr's view, spiritual community is an especially safe container for this kind of interaction.
May each of us find this larger Beloved in our own unique way, and may each of us discover healthy ways in which to see and embody the multitude of modes in which this Divine Beloved expresses himself, herself and itself within the vast web of human and more-than-human relationships we encounter in the process of living out our daily lives.
Photo: A multitude of snow patterns graces Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, February 22, 2016
For Spiritual Direction or Workshops, please visit: http://www.resourcesforspiritualgrowth.com/
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.