Have you ever had a fight with your spouse as you were walking out the door to work and actually thought to yourself, “I can’t wait to get to work to talk with so-and-so because he/she is such a good listener and gets me.”
This thought may feel completely harmless to you at first, but once you know the warning signs of an emotional affair, it’s much easier to pinpoint what could snowball into a much bigger problem.
Do you send and receive texts with a friend or co-worker that you wouldn’t want your spouse to see?
At work, do you intentionally time your visit to the breakroom or to make copies to hopefully run into a certain person?
Are you having more conflict and less interest in your spouse as your relationship is deepening with this co-worker or friend?
These are all warning signs of an emotional affair in bloom.
It’s ironic that we can know very reliably that the two most popular times for cheaters to contact their cheating partners are Mondays between 8 AM–9 AM and Fridays between 9 PM–10 PM. It makes sense if you think about it. But take sex out of the infidelity, and it can seem very difficult to pin down when a harmless, platonic friendship or working relationship has become something that threatens the very core of your marriage.
So, what exactly is an emotional affair?
It’s when a spouse is getting an emotional need met by someone other than their partner. Perhaps they begin to make you happier than your partner and you begin to seek affirmation from this individual, or you become emotionally dependent on them, or you take your problems to them instead of your spouse. This is not just friendship. It’s an emotional attachment that should be reserved only for your spouse. It opens doors that should remain closed. You are doing your marital work with someone other than your spouse. (You’re basically “dating” someone emotionally.)
Emotional affairs also create an emotional distance from your spouse. In other words, not only are you getting emotionally entangled and closer with someone other than your spouse, but you’re creating emotional distance between you and your partner and getting further away from them. As you connect more and more with this person, you are disconnecting more and more from your spouse.
One of the biggest warning signs of an emotional affair is secrecy.
Does your spouse or partner know about this person and the friendship you share? Do you hide meetups, texts, and phone calls from your spouse? If your spouse knew how much time and energy you devoted to thinking about this person, communicating with this person, and the “tingles” you feel when you are with this person—would they feel betrayed? Would your spouse think you have stepped outside the boundaries of your marriage and your faithfulness to them?
Remember when your spouse gave you the “tingles?” Now they are locked in a battle they don’t know about which could be difficult to win. An emotional affair partner will always have the benefit of being in an idealized state and partner in a fantasized “relationship,” but your spouse will always be a real person in your real world—warts and all.
In marriage, innocent friendships aren’t hidden from your spouse, they are shared with your spouse.
“But we haven’t had sex or any kind of physical relationship! This can’t be cheating or an ‘affair!’”
In emotional affairs, instead of an actual physical relationship, there is flirting, sexual fantasizing, sexual tension, or sexual talk. (It is possible that all that is keeping this emotional relationship from becoming sexual is a set of circumstances, geography, one person’s conscience. Or it’s just a matter of time.)
People can easily and quickly go from:
Acquaintances —-> Friends —> Emotionally Codependent —> Physically Involved.
Emotional affairs are the most common form of infidelity and often are the gateway to a full-blown sexual affair. “A new crisis of infidelity is emerging in which people who never intended to be unfaithful are unwittingly crossing the line from platonic friendships into romantic relationships” – The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Emotional affairs are becoming increasingly more common because they can start out very innocently and are easily written off as friendships. Many couples are on guard against sexual infidelity, so emotional infidelity catches them off guard. The AAMFT found that about 45% of men and 35% of women have admitted to having an emotional affair.
Here are 20 very telling signs that your friendship is turning into an emotional affair:
- You put more effort into your appearance for him/her than your spouse.
- You lie to your spouse about talking to and/or seeing him/her.
- You’re spending more time with him/her than your spouse.
- You’re texting with him/her while trying to keep it a secret from your spouse.
- You laugh more with him/her than your spouse.
- You think about him/her more than your spouse.
- You compare your spouse to him/her in unfavorable ways.
- You feel more understood by him/her rather than your own spouse.
- You tell him/her things about yourself that you have not shared with your spouse.
- Your emotions for him/her are growing more powerful and intense.
- You keep your meetings and conversations secret from your partner.
- You say and do things with him/her you never would do in front of your spouse.
- You make a point to arrange private talk time with him/her.
- You are withdrawing from your spouse as you draw closer to your “friend.”
- You are preoccupied and daydream about him/her more and more.
- You have no interest in being intimate with your spouse, either emotionally or sexually. Instead, those feelings are toward another person.
- You and your spouse spend less time together.
- When confronted about the apparent emotional affair, you respond with, “We’re just friends.”
- You think “crush-like” thoughts like, “He/she would love this song/shirt/book!”
- You are keeping your friendship a secret from your spouse, or you no longer feel comfortable telling your spouse about this person and begin to cover up your relationship.
We often try to live in a black and white world and emotional affairs don’t fit as neatly into black and white, either/or thinking.
They exist in the grey world of our feelings, intentions, and motives. You have to be honest with yourself, but don’t underestimate your ability to rationalize, justify, and plain fool yourself about what’s really going on. If your relationship with someone is an innocent friendship, lay it out—completely—with your spouse and see if they are comfortable with it. Your spouse may be in a better position to evaluate this friendship than you are. Ultimately, your spouse’s feelings on the issues of faithfulness, exclusion, deception, and betrayal are the feelings that count.
Check out the resources, quizzes, and help for rebuilding your marriage after an emotional affair HERE.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***