Emotional Affairs and the Transition to Parenthood: Five Top Predictors of Whether Your Relationship is at Risk

Although on the surface emotional affairs may seem innocent, they are nonetheless a form of betrayal because one partner has chosen to place his innermost trust in another person. This often leads to a full-blown affair because when a man opens up to a woman, this makes her more responsive to any sexual advances because emotional intimacy is at the core of defining a highly satisfying relationship for a woman.

Emotional affairs usually happen within the first five years of parenthood, the man being the most vulnerable to seeking intimacy outside the relationship because usually the woman is preoccupied in caring for her child. That bond and caring also fulfills most of her needs for human contact and often she has little energy left over for sex.

Many men find this difficult to understand and often misinterpret her singular focus on the baby as “rejection”. This leads to withdrawal and sometimes men will seek some form of validation, often turning to women they encounter every day. In the process of telling her what he is going through, he now unwittingly begins replacing his wife as his confidante for sharing his most innermost feelings, a necessary component of emotional connection for a woman.

So who is most at risk for an emotional affair:

  • Couples who do not have a solid, satisfying relationship before the baby arrives. A high conflict couple is in for an even more contentious ride after the introduction of a baby. Parental fatigue and anxiety combined with juggling the demands of family and work further hinder their ability to invest in improving their interaction with each other.
  • Whether the couple originally agreed or disagreed on whether to have a family. Once the baby is born any discrepancy in the desire to have children in the first place often raises its ugly head in disagreements around roles as well as an expressed (or unexpressed) sense of restricted freedom imposed by parenthood. In such cases, the man’s focus is usually on being a good provider, while they saw the woman as the primary caregiver and daily household task manager. Nonetheless, women with more satisfying careers also had greater conflict in adjusting to their new role.
  • The presence of postnatal depression. The effects are more pronounced in relationships where the man is not as supportive as the woman had expected. This contributes to her sense of overwhelm, especially if she has a demanding baby. And, if conflicts from her own childhood re-emerge, this further contributes to her inability to cope.
  • The degree to which a couple did or did not continue to enjoy family of origin interaction after the baby was born. Not only does the couple become new parents, but the couple’s parents become grandparents. If the in-law relationship was close before the birth, then grandparents and other relatives can provide some much-needed support. However, if such relationships were previously strained then any differences are likely to become more magnified after the child is born, causing further conflict between the mother and father.
  • The degree to which the parents are able to support themselves and their children financially and take responsibility for every day care. Even with the greater freedoms of women in the workforce, there’s still greater couple satisfaction when the father works and the mother can stay home for the first few years. Almost half of women working a normal work week are unhappy and generally dissatisfied with their relationship. On the other hand, when fathers work long hours and also share child care responsibilities, they are even more dissatisfied than the women.

Your Action Plan: Reread the list, give each point some thought and then become aware of the weak links in your relationship.

It’s important to be aware of these five vulnerabilities. It’s much easier to lessen the impact of stresses between you when you can identify what’s going on than it is to repair greater potential damage. Notice early warning signs, talk about it, and then plan how the two of you can best keep your conflicts in check.

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