Emotional Infidelity | Emotional Affairs | What is it and what to do about it?


In this article, I will be seeking to answer some of the most fundamental questions and concerns about emotional affairs and provide some insights on how to identify an emotional affair, and what to do if you find yourself or your partner entangled in an emotional affair.


If you have ever asked yourself or wondered about the following questions, read along and I promise you will be well informed by the time you have finished reading.


What is an emotional affair?

What is emotional infidelity?

How does an emotional affair start?

Why do people have emotional affairs?

What are the signs of an emotional affair and emotional infidelity?

How to know if your partner is having an emotional affair?

How to protect your relationship form emotional infidelity?

What are the stages of an emotional affair?

What is the difference between friendships and emotional affairs?

How often do emotional affairs happen? Do all emotional affairs start at work?






 

Anatomy of an affair


It is another mundane Thursday afternoon at work. You feel tired and annoyed. You had a fight with your intimate partner of a few years the night before, you woke up in a bad mood, and felt rushed getting to work.


Driving to work earlier in the morning, you pondered what happened in your relationship with your partner.


They once adored you and showered you with compliments, and now they don’t seem to give you the time of day. You feel underwhelmed and unappreciated, and tired of the cycle of fighting and make up you find yourself in for the last few months.


In a desperate attempt to feel better, you had a long shower in the morning, and wore that outfit that compliments your body and makes you feel a few pounds lighter. You carefully brushed your hair and put on your favorite perfume. Your partner did not notice any of that in their morning frenzy to get ready for work.


An attractive colleague swings by your desk to ask you about a report you are working on. They stop and gaze at you a little bit before they speak, and then give you a heartwarming compliment on your outfit and how you look today.


In a playful voice, they add that you look very nice every day. Your heart skips a beat. You like hearing that. You like that feeling of being noticed, appreciated, and desirable. You wish your partner would say things like that to you.


Later that night you go home and find a text message from your partner that they got stuck at work and will not be able to make it home in time for dinner. Your heart sinks. Your wear PJS, microwave some food and decide to binge watch Netflix.


Halfway through your show, you find your mind wandering to that warm fuzzy feeling you experienced earlier today when your colleague commented on your outfit, and you feel a pang. You don’t want to feel like you are feeling right now…Alone, neglected, and shlubby in your PJS in front of a TV. You want to feel special and desired like your colleague made you feel.


You reach out to your phone, open the text app, and stare at your empty screen cursor flashing waiting for your input. What would I even say, you ask yourself?


Finally, you decide that it is only polite to say thank you when someone says something nice. Off course!! How impolite of me to not have thanked them earlier today for their nice words you argue to yourself inside your head.


With less hesitation, you start typing. “Thank you for your nice words earlier today, you made my day”. With your heart beating faster than you expected, you guide your finger to that send button, hesitate for a second, and then press SEND!





You sit there in disbelief about how fast your heart is beating. You are positively excited, and you don’t even know why. Before you have had a chance to solve the mystery of your excitement, your screen glows with a notification of a text message. Could it be? You ask yourself in shock.


You nervously open your text message to find that your colleague has responded. “I made your day? It makes my day that I made your day. I will make sure to stop by your desk everyday now and tell you some of the wonderful things I think about you. This way I can make your day, and you can make mine” their text reads…


You off course do not want to tell your partner about this innocent exchange. It would only make them jealous, and it is nothing serious anyways. You have nothing to hide you say to yourself. It is just a harmless chat with a friend.


In the days and weeks after, you find yourself a little playful and flirty with your new friend. Once in a while your handshakes seem a little more intense than handshakes should feel, your friendly hugs take a while longer too.


But it doesn’t mean anything. It just brightens your day. And here’s the all-important, get out of jail free card. You and your friend haven’t even kissed, you would not even consider kissing them much less sleep with them. So what’s wrong with having a little bit of innocent fun?



But is it innocent? Really?


Well no it is not. It is called an emotional affair or emotional infidelity and we have seen it at Naya Clinics be devastating to many solid long-term relationships. Having an emotional affair is described by most of our clients as equally hurtful as physical infidelity.


Read here about the life and marriage of a famous pastor that was nearly ruined because of emotional infidelity.


As a matter of fact, many of our clients report that this playfulness and flirting and emotional intimacy with someone else is more damaging to them than if their partner has had sex with someone else.


 

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What is an Emotional Affair? What is Emotional Infidelity?


An emotional affair is when a person gives and receives intimacy, emotional support, and companionship from someone else other than their intimate partner.


While having an emotional affair, our clients report that they feel more emotionally intimate, at ease, relaxed and happy with the other person than with their partner. Many of our clients also report increased physical desire to be with the other person, coupled with a reduction in their physical desire towards their partner.


An emotional affair described another way, is when your partner feels like you do not have time and energy for them, when you are expending time and energy with someone else in an emotionally intimate way.


Even if no sex or physical intimacy is present, this type of emotional affair can be equally damaging – and at times more damaging- than full blown sexual affairs. Partners of people involved in emotional affairs typically report feeling betrayed, fooled, lied to, hurt and undesirable both emotionally and physically.



“Affairs are one of the most taboo subjects in our culture,” says Janis Abrahms Spring, author of “After the Affair” (HarperCollins, 1997) and a supervisor at Yale University. They are “so extraordinarily traumatizing,” she says. “And yet we talk about them only when we are making jokes.”


The vast majority of our clients who we have seen for emotional affairs issues report two striking facts. The first is that they were never looking for an affair.  The second is that even when it was going on, they did not think of their emotional affair as an affair.

The overwhelming majority of our clients that we interviewed about this reported that something was fundamentally broken in their intimate partnership that they could not fix or did not know how to broach it.


They found solace and empathy from another person, started talking and sharing with them, and that was the beginning of an emotional attachment that lead to the emotional affair.

As the emotional bond with that other person strengthened, they felt progressively less able to find the strength to face the challenges in their relationship with their partner (and less reason to).


Interestingly enough, the strength of the emotional bond created with the other person was also highly -correlated with the likely hood that an emotional affair would turn into a sexual affair.

 

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How Emotional affairs start?


If the frequency at which we see couples for emotional affairs in Naya Clinics is any indication, emotional affairs are possibly reaching epidemic levels.


We live in a time that obliges us to keep running. We walk, eat, talk, type, work fast. Also, we tend to fall in love quickly too. But, sometimes, we don’t even realize it.


Our life style is also increasingly keeping us in what seems like constant contact with other people. From our phones and gaming consoles being gateways to meet and socialize with new people all the time, to the time we spend with colleagues at work, exercising with other people at the gym, or out on the town with friends meeting random strangers around every corner, we are bombarded with seemingly endless opportunities to meet and engage with new people.


Some of these people are inevitably interesting, attractive, and sometimes both! What starts as a harmless friendship with somebody one meets in the gym, can very quickly transform into an emotional affair if the conditions are ripe for it.


It is important to remember that emotional affairs fly under the radar, and sometimes we’re not aware it’s happening until it’s too late.



It can start with a text that makes you smile; with a compliment you want to get. Many times, it starts with friendship which, eventually, you want to evolve into something more. You need to feel loved and you, subconsciously, form a bond between yourself and another person.

Everything sounds idyllic, right?


Yes, but what happens when you are already in a relationship? Is it friendship or an emotional affair?


Imagine this. That new friend that you made becomes someone you can vent to about the frustrations you have in your intimate relationship or your marriage. After all, isn’t that what “friends” are for?


The thing is, if you are confiding in your new friend about the problems of your relationship (and other life frustrations), you’re creating an exceptional and special bond with this person and cutting your partner out of this loop.


The implication of that is two sided. Firstly, your partner is no longer the person you confide in, making it impossible for them to know what is bothering you and how they can help make you feel better. Secondly, your friend now becomes someone you depend on more and more for emotional support, making it inevitable that they “look” much more appealing than your partner.


Said another way, if you are criticizing your partner with your new friend, your friend is in a much better position to know and be able to fulfill your needs and tackle your frustrations than your partner is.


That is why Emotional affairs can be devastating to your intimate relationship or your marriage. No body wants to vent the same way twice in the same day! If you are venting with your friend, then you do not have the energy or inclination to vent with your partner.

The thing is, the only way you can get your needs met in your relationship with anyone, is if you TELL them what your needs are. If you are telling your friend what your needs are, then it is your friend that can meet them.


With the same logic, if you are NOT telling your partner what your needs and frustrations are, then there is not a way on God’s green earth your partner would be able to address your needs and concerns.


And let us not ignore another fundamental fact. Emotional vulnerability is a pre requisite to physical vulnerability in many cases. And the cycle is, being emotionally connected, leads to being physically connected which then makes you feel more emotionally connected and so on and so forth.


Safe to say that if one does not feel safe enough to talk to their partner, then they also don’t feel safe enough being physically intimate with them, which makes them grow apart even further.


That is why this new found emotional intimacy with the new friend can very easily – and very often does – evolve into a physical and sexual relationship as well.


For some individuals, the most hurtful and painful consequences of an emotional affair is the sense of being deceived, betrayed, and lied to. Any part of one’s life that is essentially kept a secret from a partner is dangerous to the trust between spouses.




 

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Stages of emotional affairs

Research and clinical experience with the topic of affairs, both emotional affairs and physical affairs, yields a very linear and somewhat predictable pattern of how affairs develop. The research suggests a distinct four stages of an emotional affair.



Stage One: Friendship and emotional closeness


This stage is one where you meet someone that you feel comfortable talking and sharing with outside your intimate relationship. You feel some type of connection and chemistry. It feels innocent and seems like a friendship. No foul play is intended for the most part at this stage. Just seeking comfort and solace in talking to someone else and being able to vent. It can happen at work, at the gym, on the internet, or practically anywhere.


Stage Two: Protecting your new relationship


At this stage, you start feeling dependent on your new relationship. You begin to experience anxiety about what it would be like if your partner or your friends and family disapproved of your friendship.


You therefore decide to keep it a secret. You comfort yourself that you are not doing anything wrong, and that you are just not ready to deal with the questions and investigations of your partner or your family and friends.


In a way, keeping it a secret makes it even more exciting and interesting, and it makes you want to protect this relationship even more.


Stage Three: More than talking


In this stage, you start incorporating your new friend in your life. You dine together on occasion, you work out together 3 days a week, you find ways to spend physical time together. It is like the beginning of dating someone, but you tell yourself you are going out as friends.


Stage Four: Physical intimacy


At this stage, your level of emotional connectedness and the bond you created with this person has overwhelmed you, and you start having a full blown physical and sexual relationship with them. Sometimes these full-blown affairs can last for years, and sometimes even end up in another marriage. On the other hand, getting to that stage sometimes becomes the beginning of the end of that fantasy of perfection and the relationship that had so much promise becomes the source of endless drama and heartbreak.


 

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Signs of an emotional affair and emotional infidelity




You Think About The Other Person All The Time


We’ve all been there, and we know how this one feels like. Everything starts with our minds which constantly play the same image: The person we want to get involved with.

Thinking about the other person may sound too obvious. But when it comes to emotional affairs (when you usually are already in contact with your person of interest) things can get confusing. How do you know if you are thinking about someone as a lover instead of a friend?


Also, being in a relationship makes you doubt yourself and your feelings. This is actually something common that, as a  marriage counseling practitioner, I have noticed: When it comes to affairs, people start by mistrusting their emotions.


If waking up means checking their Facebook profiles or looking when they last logged in on WhatsApp, romantic feelings are evolving.


Your Partner Knows Nothing About It


When you make new friends that excite you, you always go to your partner to tell them about this new, cool person that you’ve met. However, in an emotional affair, things don’t go that way.


You hide the relationship from your partner either because you believe they will feel jealous or because you can’t explain its nature. In any case, protecting your “friend” from the person of your life means that you are hiding them for some reason.


This reason is usually called guilt or hope for something more to happen between you two. Also, when you and your partner talk about your “friend,” you get anxious and act like he or she is not important to you. And we both know this is not true, don’t we?


It’s Your Partners vs. The Other Person


Seriously? Do you still believe that this relationship is innocent? Well, it is not. If you keep comparing your partner to the other person that you’ve met, then you are thinking about getting into a relationship with them. Somehow you have turned them into a replacement to your primal relationship or a potential significant other.


In other words, you want him or her as your partner. And, additionally, you can’t stop wondering how life would be like if you had met them earlier.


He or she becomes the first person you want to call with any “news.”


You have some exciting news to share or you have had a bad day, and this is the person whom you call. You may not be sharing much at all with your spouse anymore.


You Feel Changed


The first thing you want to look at is yourself. How is your behavior or your vibe when you meet that other person? Have you started doing yoga, taking care of your diet, or your appearance? That’s great for you, but it’s time to ask yourself: Who are you doing all these for?


If you feel like you have become more attractive, funnier, hotter or a better version of yourself, in general, you are, most likely, doing this for your emotional affair. You want to get that other person’s attention, impress them, make them like you and want to spend time with you.


Who are you trying to impress the most? Your partner or your “friend”? I am sure you know the answer to this question. You wouldn’t be reading this article if you didn’t.


You Make Sacrifices


Remember that time when your boyfriend or girlfriend asked you to go for a drink, but you were too busy working? Now, what happens when the person you are in an emotional affair with asks for the same thing? You probably leave the office earlier.


When you sacrifice your responsibilities or your personal life for someone else, that means that your feelings are not that innocent. You want to spend time with them and have fun. When the time you spend together increases, it means you are officially playing with fire.


Communication Gets Deeper, Yet Mysterious


You don’t talk with that other person about your primary relationship and, when you do, you are sharing your frustrations about your partner. On the other hand, they don’t tell you whether they are dating someone or not and there is a mystery lingering in the air.


For your information, this happens because both of you want to let that door open. You both understand each other, and your communication feels great. You talk about your lives, your secrets, your hopes, and fears. You even text late at night or early in the morning just to say hi. But you still don’t talk about your love lives because you feel like it would make things uncomfortable. It’s like you are in a relationship without being in one. It’s like an affair.


You Finally Want To Get Physical With Him/Her


Oh, don’t be surprised. You did see that coming even though, in the beginning, it was out of the question.


It is true that most emotional affairs don’t turn into an actual sexual relationship, but your mind loves playing games. When you are having sex with your real partner, and you fantasize about the other person, your feelings for them have reached another level.

But of course, you knew that.


 

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Signs Your partner might Be Having an Emotional Affair



Here are some warning signs that your spouse might be having an emotional affair:

  1. Your partner starts retreating from you or being overly critical of your behaviors.

  2. Your is being all James Bond about his phone and computer screens and seeming nervous when you sneak up on him texting or on the computer

  3. Your partner suddenly taking interest in something that seems out of character for him and needing to be “out” to do it often.

  4. Your partner is spending substantially more time at work than usual or is going out of town more often than usual

  5. Your partner develops this weird obsession with a new friend, and they talk about them and about their opinions or attributes all the time

  6. You feel like your partner is distant and cold and you can’t seem to figure out why

 

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How to protect your relationship from emotional infidelity



A British proverb stipulates that prevention is better than cure. That is to say that it is better and easier to stop a problem, illness, etc., from happening than to stop or correct it after it has started (Meriam Webster).


Our clinical experience suggests this proverb is very much on point for a plethora of problems that bring people to counseling, and most definitely for the challenge of emotional affairs.


Once an emotional affair has actually started, it becomes exponentially more difficult to reverse the course of destruction of trust that will almost enviably ensue with every passing day.


Nipping the underlying causes of relationship dissatisfaction in the bud -before an affair starts- is a superior course of action that leads to better relationships that leave no room for an affair to develop.


As a counseling practice, we get an immense amount of data about the reasons why people engage in affairs. Analyzing these findings, we compiled a quick list below for things you and your partner can do to minimize the chance you will ever have to deal with an emotional affair.


Spend quality time together:


Sitting silently on a couch watching game of thrones together does not count. Quality time is a time where your focus is your partner.


Plan your quality time together as you plan any other important appointment:


Put it on the calendar. Put it on repeat. Set reminders. Treat it like a meeting with someone important.


Quality time does not have to be every day. You can set a few hours every week or on the weekend to spend time together, but when you do, be focused and present with your partner.


Spend time apart!


Yes. Spending time apart doing things that you like as an individual is equally as important as spending quality time with your partner. Being together is great, and so is having some alone time to do your own thing. Do BOTH!


Fight hard but fight fair!


There is nothing on God’s green earth that will stop you from fighting with your partner or that will allow you to have harmony all the time. As relationship therapists, we would be concerned if you “never fight”. It simply is not natural. When you do fight though fight fairly. That means fighting about what you are fighting about, not about EVERYTHING at once. It also means no hurting your partner because they “hurt you”. If you want to say something, say it because you want to say it, not because you know it will hurt!


Express your grievances as they happen,


not days, weeks, or months later!


Prioritize being kind over being right:


Yes, sometimes you are right, and your partner is being a hard headed asshole. What is more important, your relationship or being right about what year, the empire state building was completed (or whatever the hell it is you are arguing about?)


Respect trumps love every time:


Let’s face it, your love for your partner fluctuates. That IS OK! You can not love your partner at the same level all the time. That is not your choice. It is affected by how they treat you and how life is going. Being respectful however IS YOUR CHOICE and has nothing to do with how anyone treats you or what life is throwing at you. You can have a good relationship without “puppy love” until that fuzzy feeling comes back. You can NOT have a good relationship if you and your partner stop respecting each other.


Apologize when you are wrong and forgive when you have been hurt!


In a long-term relationship, you will fuck something up here and there. There is no avoiding that! When you do, a genuine I m sorry will go a long way in making things better (we find that mostly men struggle more with that one). Also, in a long-term relationship, your partner is bound to do something that hurts you without meaning to. Forgive the small indiscretions and move on (we find that mostly women struggle with that one)


 

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