Dr. Shirley Glass

The Toronto Star
February 14, 2003
The Toronto Star

Friends, lovers and infidelity

The psychotherapist whom the New York Times called "the godmother of infidelity" has written a new book: NOT "Just Friends."

Shirley Glass maintains that more and more marriages are being threatened by friendships that have slowly and insidiously turned into love affairs.

By marriages, she means committed intimate relationships. By love affairs, she means not only sexual relationships. Emotional affairs count, too.

"Emotional affairs are characterized by secrecy, emotional intimacy and sexual chemistry," she writes.

Glass characterizes the easy availability of "friends" and potential partners as a "new crisis in infidelity." Opportunity is everywhere, she warns.

"We meet good-looking, dynamic smart people at work, at class reunions, in restaurants and on the Internet .... It doesn't matter whether we are happily married. In the moment of attraction, we are fully alive to the possibilities of potential intimacy.

"What is it that allows some individuals to resist the temptation of attraction while others give in to it? The answer lies in the complex interweaving of opportunity, vulnerability, commitment and values."

The book cites her clinical sample showing that 55 per cent of husbands and 50 per cent of wives who had affairs with work colleagues had never had a previous affair.

Also, a study of 55 single women who had affairs with married men showed that in 30 per cent of the affairs, the men had supervised or mentored the women.

"One of the reasons I wrote the book," Glass says by phone from Baltimore, "is because I was seeing so many people in loving marriages who were disapproving of extramarital sex and yet who got involved in an affair that began as a friendship."

Is she suggesting that married men and women shouldn't have friends, especially single friends, of the same sex as their partners?

Isn't it possible that some people who socialize or lunch together really are, uh, "just friends?"

"I think that men and women can be friends but they really need to be sensitive to the attractions they feel," explains Glass, "and to be aware of the slippery slope — how thin the line is between friends and lovers.

"The ingredients for romantic attachment are already present in a friendship. You like each other, share a history and are good at talking about your feelings."

The boundary between a friendship and an emotional affair is mainly secrecy, says Glass. "It's not a betrayal if there's no secrecy .... If the relationship is an open book, it is probably a friendship. When attempts are made to hide feelings or interactions, the friendship is becoming something else."

Also, Glass says it's important not to discuss problems of the marriage with anyone who could be a potential alternative to the spouse.

If you need to talk to someone about problems with your spouse or about issues in your marriage, talk only to someone who is "a friend of the marriage."

And if you have a friend of the opposite sex who needs support or wants to talk about personal problems, include your partner in your helping gestures.

"Confidential investments in another person's calamities are a well-trodden path toward becoming too emotionally involved," cautions Glass.

Another no-no if you're in a committed relationship: confessing to a friend that you're attracted. "Sexual chemistry, an undercurrent of arousal and desire, is only enflamed by admissions that a sexual attraction exists but won't be acted on."

Glass has three words of advice about how to have your cake and eat it, too — how to be good friends with people who are the same sex as your partner without compromising your committed relationship.

The words are "walls and windows — a useful metaphor for clarifying boundary issues."

"In a committed relationship, a couple constructs a wall that shields them from any outside forces that have the power to split them. They look at the world outside their relationship though a shared window of openness and honesty. The couple is a unit, and they have a united front to deal with children, in-laws, and friends."

What's not kosher is sliding into the opposite arrangement — erecting walls of secrecy in the committed relationship while opening windows of intimacy with the friend.

Conveniently, the review copy of NOT "Just Friends" arrived at the Star this week just in time for Valentine's Day, though Glass says it was published in the U.S. a month ago.

Valentine's Day looms large in the land of philandering.

"Detectives are able to catch cheating spouses on Valentine's Day at a very high rate," reports Glass.

Reach Judy Gerstel at jgerstel@thestar.ca.

© Dr. Shirley Glass