Q: Dear Meredith,
This is a tough letter for me to write. I am a 30something wife and mother of two small children. My husband and I have had numerous relationship problems over the past few years that have basically left me on emotional life support. I have not cheated physically on my husband; my father cheated on my mother which left me absolutely repulsed by the thought of infidelity. I have been leaning on one of my close male friends during this time for support. This includes after-hours talking, texting, other contact, lunches together, etc. It has also included the occasional hug, hand-holding, and that sort of minimal physical contact. My husband is aware of our friendship and has already once falsely accused me of cheating. To say that I feel closer to my friend than my husband at this point is absolutely true. I am trying to figure out a way to extricate myself from my marriage that leaves the least negative impression on my children (my primary concern). But in the meantime, this thought keeps coming up (and hence my question)... is what I am doing "emotional cheating"? What is emotional cheating? Does the fact that I am closer emotionally to a man that isn't my spouse make me a cheater?
– Haunted by the Thought, Boston
A: Is it cheating to be closer to a friend than a spouse? Not necessarily.
Are you cheating on your husband with your friend? Pretty much. Sorry.
You're pursing your feelings for another man. And you're holding hands, an act that can be more physically intimate than sex (depending on the hands and the sex).
That said, I'm not so sure that what you're doing with your friend is worth focusing on right now. The specifics or your relationship have nothing to do with what happened to your parents, and you have other, more important concerns to deal with.
My advice is to stop worrying about your friend and deal with your marriage. Get into therapy with your husband. Start talking about the fact that you want to extricate yourself from the partnership. Make plans for your children. Consider logistics. Worry less about how to label what's happening.
Obsessing about your relationship with your friend and how your behavior might parallel your father's is just a way to distract yourself from the real issue, your potential divorce. Going into a shame spiral about cheating won't help you right now.
Work on defining what it means to be in a broken marriage.
Readers? Is she cheating? Is that important? What should she be focused on right now? Should she be drawing parental parallels? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a new novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith here and on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.