A Widow Asks: What Constitutes Emotional Cheating?

Q. My husband suffered with on-and-off mental health problems in the two years before he died, and our life was very difficult. He refused to seek help despite my pleading, and he lost interest in everything except sex. During that period, I received a holiday greetings email from a former boss of mine, who was 20 years older than I. He had been a mentor, always very kind, and we began to exchange emails. Because he was someone I could trust, I wound up writing to him about everything – about my marriage and what I was going through. I never told my husband about these emails, as he was extremely jealous – even about my relationships with my women friends or with my pets.

I am a religious person and feel very guilty about the email correspondence. I wonder whether I have committed adultery because my husband didn’t know about this. I would appreciate your advice. I never had physical contact with anyone except my husband, but I have read about emotional cheating.

My dictionary defines adultery as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse.” Nowhere in your description of the correspondence do you mention anything that would be considered adultery. It seems to me the back-and-forth emails with your former employer involved confiding in a trusted friend at a time when you were suffering great anguish.

As for emotional cheating, it’s true that secrecy is a component. But so are other factors, such as sharing confidences with the person instead of with your husband. It sounds as if you did discuss your unhappiness with your husband, as well as his need for help. Lastly, emotional cheating is characterized by flirtatious behavior with another man and/or having sexual thoughts about or feelings for him. Only you know whether this was part of the scenario, although your email relationship doesn’t seem to have included that. Even if there were sexual thoughts, isn’t it time for forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the great healer. We’re only human. Who hasn’t felt an attraction to someone other than a spouse at some point? What we do about it is another story.

In my opinion, you’re being much too hard on yourself. Give yourself permission to move on, enjoy your life and focus on building a future now.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist,author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill, What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.


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