Have you developed feelings for someone other than your partner that feel a little off? Are you spending time with this person and keeping this from your spouse? If this is the case, you may be experiencing an emotional affair.
A simple definition of an emotional affair is a non-sexual emotionally intimate relationship with someone other than your spouse. But emotional infidelity is in fact quite complex. There are 3 typical signs of an emotional affair you don’t want to ignore. Let’s take a closer look at what they are, and what you can do to regain control of your marriage.
Emotional Infidelity vs. Friendship
It’s important to distinguish between friendship and emotional infidelity. While both involve emotional attachments, friendships are relationships which are out in the open and emotional infidelity involves a relationship that’s hidden from a partner.
For example, say you’re discussing your relationship or other serious issues with someone other than your partner. If this someone is simply a friend, you’ll likely be transparent about this with your partner. You may not go into all the details of what you and your friend discussed, but you won’t conceal the fact that you spent time with your friend and had a heart-to-heart conversation.
On the other hand, if you’re discussing intimate issues other than with your partner and keeping these conversations a secret from your spouse, then it’s emotional infidelity. Emotional infidelity isn’t sexual in nature and can occur with someone to whom you’re not physically attracted. Moreover, it won’t necessarily lead to a physical affair, although in some instances it can. An emotional affair is a kind of triangulation – there’s a 3rd party in the dynamic, which throws off the balance of your relationship with your partner.
3 Signs You’re Having An Emotional Affair
- You’re having experiences and conversations that you would not share with your partner
- You’re covering up and doing things in secret
- Your attachment to the other person feels wrong
Here’s what an emotional affair may look like in practice: You’re telling your spouse you’re staying late at the office and then sneaking out for a drink with someone with whom you’ve developed a deep connection.
It’s important to note what doesn’t count as an emotional affair. Having a sexual dream or fantasy about someone other than your spouse is NOT a sign of an affair. This is perfectly normal and natural. Similarly, simply wanting to spend time with a particular person is NOT a sign of an affair. In fact, it’s healthy to spend time with people with whom you share interests and with whom you can bond. If you go out for a drink with someone whose company you enjoy and tell your spouse you’re meeting that friend for a drink, your behavior is perfectly reasonable. As long as you’re not concealing intimate thoughts, feelings, or experiences from your partner, your external relationships are nothing to worry about.
3 Signs Your Partner Is Having An Emotional Affair
- Avoidance, defensiveness, secrecy, lack of interest in you
- Not making the relationship a priority (not participating in date nights, making time for you, etc)
- Subtle behavioral changes: no eye contact, not physically affectionate
If you’ve observed these signs in your partner, know that this behavior is due to shame, and not a lack of desire for you. Ultimately, straying spouses would prefer to feel more deeply connected to their partner, but don’t know how to make that happen.
What To Do About It
While an emotional affair may not be considered “cheating” the way a physical affair does, it is still a warning signal that there are issues and unmet needs in your relationship which need to be addressed. The first and most important step to take is to talk about it honestly and compassionately. Then you can begin the healing journey which will help you rebuild trust after the affair.
If you’re the one in the midst of an emotional affair, find a calm moment to bring up the topic with your partner and lead with your feelings:
“I’ve been feeling pretty lonely lately with you traveling so much for work. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten close to someone at work. We started going for coffee to talk about work but eventually started talking about our lives and relationships. My gut told me this is drifting in the wrong direction and so I think it’s time for us to talk about fixing our relationship so I can feel close again.”
If you suspect your spouse is developing feelings for someone else, address your concern directly but without blame or accusation:
“I’m feeling a bit lost and disconnected from you, and I’m curious if you have a similar feeling. It’s been ages since we’ve been out together and we’re not as affectionate toward each other as we used to be. I miss spending time with you and I want to rebuild our connection.”
Seek Professional Support
A couples therapist can help untangle the sensitive topics and complicated dynamics related to emotional infidelity. With professional support, you’ll work on restoring emotional intimacy with your partner in order to protect your relationship from future affairs. With the help of marriage counseling, most couples feel better about their relationships after having dealt with emotional infidelity. That’s because they’ve addressed the underlying issue, which is usually emotional disconnection.
It’s not about the affair itself, but what has eroded within the marriage that resulted in seeking out emotional connection outside the marriage. A therapist can help you repair and restore your marriage so that it’s stronger, healthier, and more resilient in the face of life’s ups and downs.