Andi and Micah work together in commercial real estate. They are both married to other people, happily. Andi, forty-two, my patient for eight years, happily married for the first time three years ago, begins to talk about how much she really likes Micah. “I am excited to go to work to see him. I am nervous around him, but in a good way,” she explains to me. “It sounds like he gets your juices flowing,” I say, implying a sexual tone to their relationship. “Well, yes, I guess you could say that, but I don’t want to go there,” Andi quickly responds, as if she is anxious at the thought that she has erotic tension at work. “It seems like you are afraid that your feelings for Micah might hurt your marriage,” I say, stating the obvious; hoping to kick-start an open discussion of her feelings. “Well, yes, I am afraid of that. My husband Stu and I have our problems, but I don’t want to leave my marriage,” Andi says defensively. “Did I say anything about you leaving your marriage?” I ask, pointing out that she leaped into thinking about leaving her marriage, and then responded to me as if I suggested that. “No, but I am afraid that Micah thinks I might.” Andi says, to my surprise. “I did not know that you felt that Micah was thinking about your marriage.” I said, allowing her to pause and reflect that she is having an internal dialogue that I am not privy to, just yet. “Let’s just change the subject.” Andi says abruptly. “That’s fine,” I respond. “Changing the subject has meaning to, so I am assuming your relationship with Micah is not quite ready for us to think about.” I say, stating the obvious to allow her to see that her emotions are so frightening at this moment, that our discussion overwhelms her and so, as she suggested, it is time to move on to more tolerable emotional material. We went on to talk about our schedule. We decided that I will see her again tomorrow.
The emotional affair, the relationship between two people who feel deceitful and dishonest in that the two people feel close to another, and yet they keep these feelings secret, causing the participants to feel guilt, and often shame. It is emotional, since no overt sexual activity is going on. Does this characterize the relationship between Andi and Micah? I don’t know and I have no way of knowing. Maybe Andi and Micah are having an actual affair and Andi has not, and maybe never will, disclose that to me, for fear of what she imagines I will think about her. All I know is that Andi has raised the issue of her relationship with Micah, leaving me to wonder how her fantasies are unfolding for her. As always, there are the “facts” and there are the feelings. I am interested in both, but I can only work with what Andi lays out for me. Given that, the fascination of my work unfolds, because I am dealing with a tremendous amount of uncertainties. This leads to a “play space” of psychotherapy for Andi and I to work with our mental toys,our imagination, to create a story which help us understand certain dynamics in her life. The more we “play” together, the more we get to know each other. This is an obvious truth, but Andi reminded me how true it is. As Andi trusts me more, our “play” will be more meaningful. Today, I felt that Andi left the sandbox to go play on the swings. She went from a mental game, a storytelling game, to activity based play. Maybe tomorrow we will go back to the sandbox.