What is an emotional affair? How did your innocent flirting with someone you claim to be just good friends with turn into emotional cheating and infidelity?
I cannot count how many couples have come into my office with their relationships in shambles — with one spouse saying that their partner had an affair, with the other denying an affair occurred often proclaiming that they are “just really good friends” and that they “never had sex”.
So…was it an emotional affair?
In a monogamous relationship, people share both emotional and sexual information that is exclusive to their partners. They expose their weaknesses, mistakes, and innermost feelings.
We build trust with the other person because we make ourselves vulnerable. These conversations are valued and treasured by us because we know this information is reserved for us and only we have access to these aspects of our partner.
Emotional affairs often begin as non-sexual friendships. We confide in our friends perhaps because we feel our partner lacks understanding or they are unavailable.
This is particularly common with couples where one or both partners is a busy executive. When we lack access to our mate and need an outlet to talk to, we turn to our friends. And there is always available social media, where platonic relationships can easily take root as deep and emotional friendships.
One important point here is that a majority of the emotional affairs begin as harmless friendships without any intention or plan to develop the relationship beyond that of a platonic friendship.
Unfortunately, we all have limited time, energy, and emotional resources available — and when these finite commodities are expended on the “friendship” rather than your partner relationship, there is a disconnection where the partner has cheated, emotionally.
An emotional affair is one where a person falls in love with another person but the relationship is not sealed with a sexual act. Over time, if the emotional affair continues (perhaps you flirt without realizing), it often leads to a sexual affair.
Emotional affairs can be devastating and destructive to your current relationship and family. In fact, emotional affairs can cause as much (or more) damage as physical affairs, but be more devious since they are less obvious.
Why? Because it leads to secrecy, deception, and is established primarily to gain an emotional high or to run away from negative experiences within the actual marriage itself.
One of my clients recounts, “I was so much more shattered by my husband finding solace and love with her. I could have more easily forgiven a one-night stand because she wouldn’t have meant anything to him but as an object for sex.”
When someone falls in love and seeks such intimacy with that other person, when the time spent with the partner is superficial because their heart longs to be with someone else, the underlying trust is shaken.
Casual flirting or a crush don’t even begin to cover the irreparable damage such kinds of “affairs” cause.
So, are you having an emotional affair or are you just friends? Are you on the path to an affair, even though nothing has physically escalated…yet?
Here are 5 signs you’re having an emotional affair (and you need to stop):
1. You have conversations you’re not too comfortable with your spouse knowing about.
Do you find yourself hiding your phone (or getting a separate one), making sure your email and phone passwords are secret? Maybe you’re thinking “I’m glad my partner isn’t (reading, watching, finding) this (call, text, picture).”
These are signals the “friendship” boundaries have already been crossed.
2. You find yourself daydreaming or making plans with this person.
Examine your mindshare. Does this person occupy your thoughts unceasingly? Are they on your mind when you go to sleep, when you awake in the morning, and during most of the day? Whenever you are alone, do you think about them and seek opportunities to speak with them?
In a way, you begin to idealize this person. You may become more discontent with your partner and share concerns and problems with your friend while becoming more distant with your spouse. At times, you may even have disappointment that your spouse doesn’t do things as your friend does.
You, then, begin to find faults in your spouse for habits, beliefs, or approaches to situations that were never an issue and have always been present in the relationship.
Your tolerance for your mate is then less and they begin to irritate you leading to the belief that this person understands much better you’re your spouse ever did or could.
If you find yourself feeling more connected to your friend rather than your own spouse, then clearly some changes need to be made.
3. You’ve lost interest in being intimate with your spouse.
It is a fallacy you think that affairs begin in the bedroom. Affairs actually begin in the mind.
First, emotional involvement often leads to our seeing our friend as having few, if any, flaws. This leads to our partner’s flaws becoming considerably more obvious leading to our being critical of our spouse and their habits and mentally comparing them to our friend.
While looking your best for work or going out is not an issue, the action of doing so for a specific person is entirely different. The action of being visually attractive to another person begins in the mind.
Expending considerable emotional energy and thought into dressing up for a friend is a signal that the relationship has a deeper meaning than that of traditional friendship.
Once you dress the part do you let your imagination play out romantic fantasies about your friend? Daydreaming and planning a new life with our friend is often a next step in the progression of an emotional affair.
This mental scenario with our friend is beginning to evolve into a relationship that we feel would be far superior to that of our partner. Directing your energy into cultivating a fantasy is not far from the fantasy transforming into a reality.
4. You’re spending less time with your spouse.
Are you spending less time with your mate since the relationship with your friend has become a more significant part of your life? Are you are sharing personal problems, feelings, and thoughts with your friend instead of your partner?
Do you create ways to talk with or be alone with your friend? Do you stage opportunities where it is probable you will run into your friend and then the opportunity to speak with them appears organic? Do you find excuses to talk with them?
Whenever you have something exciting in your life or anything good or bad happens, do you rush to this person to share?
Whether it is communication, your daily life stuff, affection, thoughts, time, or focus, does your spouse get less of your mindshare while your friend gets more?
While there is nothing wrong with having a good friend, the problem comes when you begin to share less with your mate.
If everything that you used to give to your partner has become considerably less or completely transferred to this new person these are warning signs that an emotional affair is in the works.
5. You keep secrets and lie.
Are you keeping the friendship with the other person a secret? Do you minimize the amount of time you spend with your friend to others? Do you omit details about meetings, private lunches, or phone calls?
Do you guard passwords, access to your phone and social media accounts from being seen by your partner? Do you delete evidence from your phone, lie about your whereabouts or deny having communication with your friend?
These are also hallmarks of an emotional affair.
Now that you’ve realized that you’re on the brink of an affair without meaning to, what should you do next?
It is important to remember that even when such affairs do not cross the line and reach the physical stage, the impact is equally damaging and could put your marriage in a danger zone.
The intimacy and chemistry that is the core of an emotional affair have a deeper emotional intensity because you happen to be emotionally invested in it.
An emotional affair is bad, it can slowly disconnect you from your partner and you won’t even realize it. If you have such kind of friendship with the opposite sex, cut the relationship ASAP. Otherwise, it will take you down the road of a physical affair very soon.
Dr. Lisa Webb is the author of the “Executive Marriage Solution: Translating Boardroom Success into Bedroom Bliss”. She is also an entrepreneur, President, and CEO of Body & Mind Consulting, and Chief Relationship Officer at Executive Relationship Advisor.