I just found out that my spouse has been chatting intimately (and suggestively) with a total stranger when I accidentally stumbled on his Skype dialogue box. I am extremely hurt. Should I be considering his actions the same as if he had an affair? What does Judaism say about ‘emotional affairs’?
Your question is a very serious one but is only the 'tip of the iceberg'. As wonderful as technology is, it also creates many unexpected problems at the same time. So before I speak to your immdiate concern, there is another which also must be raised. Namely, are these conversations or ones like them (e.g., text messages, or e-mails, chats) considered to be private and privileged? Or, even if they intended only for the recipient, can they be thought of as in the public domain, even if they were addressed to a specific person?
Though you discovered them accidentally, they were not meant for you. On the other hand, from the situation you describe, it seems they were in a place that was accessible to others. For example, you share a family computer and this program is also found on it. While you were working on this computer, you accidentally clicked on the program and saw these conversations. I would certainly consider them, in this case, to be in the public domain.
There is an analogy in Judaism that perhaps might be of help. There are what are known as public (reshut harabim) and private (reshut hayachid) domains which are important regarding carrying and other activities on Shabbat. Public areas are those that are non-residential, for example, streets, open areas and highways. A private domain would be a home. On Shabbat, carrying and other activities are considered to be prohibited in the public domain. However, within the home itself, these activities can take place inside since it is a structure that has its own integrity. In the situation you raised, the computer is open to everyone in the house. There is not a password to Skype only to a specific user or perhaps it was left open for anyone to see. Again, you discovered these in an open, straight forward way, by accident and not by subterfuge.
Regarding what you found in those messages, it would be important to confront him with this information. Though these are only words and not physical actions, nevertheless, they are a breach of the bonds which the two of you entered into when you chose to become husband and wife. In Judaism, the act of marriage is called, "kiddushin", from the word "kadosh", holy. But what does the word "kadosh" actually mean? It means, separate, apart, or unique and in this case, it is telling us that the relationship between these two people is unique. What takes place within those bonds does not extend beyond them to others and what he has done certainly seems to have breached the 'kedushah' the holiness of one's marriage between the two of you.
There is also another concept in Judaism which he appears to have transgressed, 'geneivat da'at', literally the stealing of one's mind. This refers to giving a false or misleading impression to another person. For example, this often happens in advertising when someone tries to sell an item to someone under false pretenses. Another example, mentioned in the Talmud (B. Chullin 94a) is inviting someone to your home knowing that they are unable to accept but you want to create a positive, although not honest, impression in their minds.
Again, in the case you are describing, your husband has not been honest with you in terms of your relationship with him. He has created a false impression in your mind that he is faithful to you, though it appears not by his words. In this case, words are not to be taken lightly and have important ramifications. The emotional component of one's marriage is just as significant as the physical in many cases.
Perhaps, when confronted, your husband might become contrite for what he has done but you can never restore confidence in him and your marraige unless you do so.
In Jewish law, emotional affairs are not considered adultery. Were that the case, that emotional affairs have the legal status of adultery, we would have many more marriages that could not legally continue.
That, however, is not a complete answer. Emotional affairs are not adultery, but they are certainly a breach of faith, serious enough that a woman in your position would be entitled to a divorce.
You are entitled to a divorce, but you are not obligated to divorce. If you took the divorce route, no one could have any complaints to you about that decision.
On the other hand, you can see this as an opportunity. Your husband has clearly indicated, by his behavior, that there is a problem in the marriage. Maybe he is the problem, maybe not. His action is not appropriate; it is unacceptable.
But the marriage may be fixable. He will have to acknowledge his wrongdoing, and his willingness to make amends. He will need to explain his actions, why he engaged in actions that are hurtful and a violation of the marital trust.
It is then up to you, if he takes this penitent approach, to decide if you want to repair the relationship. For better or for worse, it is your choice. I wish you well as you contemplate this agonizing dilemma.
Judaism posits that there is no mind-body dualism; that there is a unity among the mind, body and soul. If this is so, then to think something, to feel it, to become emotionally involved in it is tantamount to acting upon it. But is this truly the case? I think not. We have emotional attachments throughout our lives; one not necessarily precluding another. Our Torah gives us this metaphorical example in that two of our three patriarchs were polygamous. Is the lesson that they were capable of loving more than one person? Rather it is that each spouse represented different aspects of the need within a loving relationship. What your husband may be seeking, or what you might be perceiving, is that he is seeking a fulfillment that your relationship may be lacking. An “emotional friend” is one who might be filling a void in the marriage. Is he having an affair? That requires more information than is presently offered. Is he seeking? Certainly! Instead of labeling his actions in any way, letting him know that you are aware of his “chats” and are prepared to discuss your common intimacy with each other may be the most productive response. Just be aware that once the conversation begins, you both must be willing and able to be totally honest, not with accusations but with feelings. Rather than accusing, “You have done…” offer the opening, “When I saw your Skype, I felt…and feared…” Remember, this is about you and your feelings. So personalize it. That way, you can talk “with” each other and not “at” each other.
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