The New Face of Swinging: Emotional Affairs

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Emotional affairs. Emotional incest. Emotional eating. Article after article cites the damaging effects that these activities have on the psyche. Danger! Danger! Emotional affairs will wreck your marriage! Emotional incest will jack you up! After personally experiencing all 3, I don’t disagree.

However, there’s one important e-vice (emotional vice) that has been left off the table -- Emotional Swinging.


This weekend, after spending some time with another married couple, my SA (sex addict) and I realized that we were playing a very subtle and very dangerous game. While working the 12 steps has shown us how to navigate the perils of emotional affairs, co-dependency, and love addiction, there’s nothing in the literature about what happens when two sets of jacked up people interact and “somehow” end up tangled in an emotional game of wife-swapping, i.e.- Emotional Swinging.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with….

Emotional affairs are tricky because the little voice of justification/minimization says “it’s not ‘really’ cheating.” Even though that little voice of reason says that a relationship isn’t healthy and will eventually destroy us, we quickly stuff it down.

That little voice matters. If we don’t heed it, it becomes quieter and quieter and denial produces lies, which produce secrets, which fuel an addiction that quickly spirals out of control. Sitting with another couple (who we enjoy and who are delightful people), that little voice suddenly started whispering that we were trying to emotionally meet unfulfilled needs by latching on to the opposite sex spouse sitting across the table from us. For me, it was about daddy issues. Blech. For the SA, it was mommy issues. Joy.

Does this make us evil? Not at all. Are we doomed to never have friends or enjoy a “normal” night out? Nah. We are just human and working life out.

For recovering people, it seems harmless to gather with friends. But- the sly tendency to emotionally siphon validation from a pseudo-spouse needs to become part of our daily awareness.

If we were to honestly assess our motivation in tending to certain relationships, what would we discover?


  • Do I dress for gatherings with another spouse’s preferences in mind?
  • Do I wear special makeup or make myself look “extra” nice in preparation for hanging out with another man? (or woman)
  • Do I find myself spending the majority of conversation engaged with the opposite sex spouse?
  • Do I look for ways to justify contact with the opposite sex spouse?
  • Do I become frustrated with the opposite sex spouse cancels or changes plans?
  • Do I feel like competing with the same-sex spouse for the other’s attention

If you answered Yes to any of the above -- welcome to the new swingers club.