What’s an Emotional Affair? And Is Your Partner Having One?

what-is-an-emotional-affair

Although sexual affairs are a hot-button topic, many people bypass the more common emotional affair. Is your partner having an emotional affair?

An emotional affair occurs when two people, either of whom are in a committed relationship, develop a mutual emotional attraction. An emotional affair means that these feelings aren’t acted out physically, but are often acknowledged and fostered—despite one or both parties being in a relationship already.

These types of affairs are tricky, because it’s hard to pin down whether something is really going on between your partner and someone else. Emotional affairs are seen as friendships that have evolved into something more—but not enough to warrant alarm bells.

Why is it not okay to have an emotional affair?

An emotional affair may not be a full-blown physical affair, but the fact that it’s labeled as such is a cause for concern. Many people have spoken up about their problems with partners having emotional affairs and most of them feel trapped in their own negative feelings because, technically, their partner is not cheating.

Or are they?

A study was conducted to see how men and women viewed emotional affairs. They found that women were more concerned about emotional affairs than men. Men were more alarmed by the idea of a sexual affair and considered emotional affairs to be harmless.

The truth is that you should be alarmed. An emotional affair is close to a sexual affair, but the problem is not what people are doing to each other. The problem lies in how they are starting to feel about each other. [Read: Emotional cheating and 10 bad things it can do to you]

Emotions for others and their role in your relationship

Emotional affairs allow people to become more vulnerable and open to the person they’re having the affair with, because they both believe that they are safe from doing any immoral activities that could be considered cheating.

Talking to a person is not cheating, but devoting love and affection to someone other than your partner is just as bad as cheating. This is because an emotional affair lets you have the good parts of your relationship with someone else.

People in emotional affairs share their problems with each other. They also share their happiness with one another. They solve their issues together, and they make sure that they stay connected for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, when you start to do those things with someone that is not your partner, there will be none left for you to share with your loved one. By giving everything to the person you’re having an emotional affair with, you are essentially boxing your partner out, and turning this new connection into something more permanent.

That’s when the cheating starts. That’s when the problems in your relationship come full circle. That is when you realize that your heart has been cheating on the person you promised it to. [Read: Am I cheating? 8 signs you’re accidentally doing it]

Signs that your partner is having an emotional affair

#1 They develop a sudden friendship with someone new. This is not a red flag, but it is an easy way to know who your partner might be having an emotional affair with. If your partner has met someone who you think is a possible candidate for a relationship, had your partner been single, then it’s okay to watch over them. Just remember not to suffocate your partner or start accusing them of something you’re not sure of.

#2 They prefer talking to that person about their feelings. This is your first red flag. If your partner is talking about personal things with someone else and refusing to talk about it with you, no matter what, it’s possible that they might be engaging in an emotional affair.

#3 They use that person’s opinion against you. Their decisions about your relationship are influenced by someone else’s point of view. You’ll find your partner comparing how this new person thinks to how you approach your relationship. They will express how highly they think of this person as opposed to your own faults and shortcomings. [Read: 18 critical signs of an unhealthy relationship]

#4 They go on “dates.” Hanging out is different from dating. When we say dates, we mean a get-together scheduled for the purpose of talking. People do not plan these types of things with people who are not their friends. If your partner is seeing someone for coffee or drinks “just to talk,” it might be a sign that your partner is engaging in said affair.

#5 They are comfortable with semi-intimate touching. Semi-intimate touching is sitting too close to each other, hugging too long when saying goodbye, or holding hands and not feeling weird about it. When you are in a relationship, these things should feel wrong with another person. Although it feels okay to your partner, it’s not okay for the person who’s left behind—namely, you.

#6 They look guilty, even when they believe they’re not. When you confront them about it, they don’t look or act innocent. They know they’re not doing anything wrong, but their gut and instincts are telling them otherwise. This will be reflected in the way they talk or act when confronted with the idea of an emotional affair. [Read: What should you do about that nagging cheating suspicion]

#7 They look happier with their friend. If you get the chance to observe your partner with this person, try to compare it with how they treat you or your friends. If something doesn’t look or feel right, you need to talk to your partner about it. People in emotional affairs tend to look like they’re in love, even when they swear that they’re not.

#8 It doesn’t feel right to you. Trust your gut and your instincts. Don’t act rashly, but do take the time to think about how you feel and what you plan to do with it. A harsh confrontation will just push your partner away, so try to think of a plan that will allow you to express your feelings without insisting to your partner that you’re right. Give them a chance to explain and then you can decide what to do next. [Read: Online cheating and how people cheat without realizing it]

What you should do about it?

The biggest reason why emotional affairs flourish is because of the word “okay.” When your partner says it’s okay because they’re not cheating, the person they’re having an emotional affair with will start to agree that it is “okay.” Because you can’t find any evidence to support that your partner is cheating, you will also end up saying, “Okay.”

That stops now. Having an emotional affair is not okay. Saying it’s okay is not okay. When you promise your heart to someone, it means that you’re supposed to give them your whole heart. You can share it with your friends and family, but you cannot keep parts of it from your partner, while choosing to give it away to somebody else.

That is why you should act on this issue as soon as possible. No, they haven’t had sex yet. No, they haven’t even kissed or held hands, but physical evidence is not really the marker for emotional affairs. Sooner or later, they will progress from emotional expression to physical intimacy. [Read: 14 ways to handle a crush when you’re already in a relationship]

Before that happens, here’s what you do

#1 Call your partner out. Do so calmly and rationally. Don’t lash out and don’t start pointing fingers. Start by telling them what you think and how you came to this decision. As much as this article may be able to help you, do not use your references to make your case. Use your feelings and the truth that you’ve been keeping inside while watching your partner have an emotional affair.

#2 Tell them why having an emotional affair is wrong. The most common defense of people in emotional affairs is their insistence that they are not cheating. If you point out the errors in this scenario, they might start to understand that you have a solid case against what’s been going on. [Read: How to end an affair and get over it completely]

#3 Offer to set an appropriate time and date to discuss how you can fix things. Don’t push your partner to do whatever it is you need to end the affair. At this point, they are probably confused about the situation. Knowing that you’re against this friendship with another person and it is causing you pain can make them question why you started feeling that way in the first place. Give them time to assess their feelings so they can approach this with an open mind.

#4 Acknowledge what’s wrong with your relationship, and find out how you can fix it. Because of your partner’s emotional affair, you can now identify what your partner is getting out of their relationship with another person. Whatever it is that makes them happy with that person may be what’s making them unhappy with you. Your partner may not be receiving it from you, or they may feel that it’s not something you’re willing to give. Talking can clear things up and it starts with identifying the root of your problems. [Read: 18 ingenious ways to catch a cheating partner red-handed]

#5 If it can’t be fixed, start thinking about your options. There is a chance that talking about it or trying to fix things might not work for you and your partner. You can take more time if you want, but know that when a person’s heart is taking them somewhere else that you can’t go, it’s best to just let them leave… or else you might rip each other’s hearts apart in the process of holding on.

[Read: 18 emotional affair signs your partner probably hasn’t noticed]

Emotional affairs can be tricky to recognize and difficult to call out. If you suspect your partner is having an emotional affair, based on the indicators above, use our 5 guidelines to help talk it out and resolve the issue. Remember: no one is perfect, and not all relationships are meant to last. Do what’s right for you—and for your partner.

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Danielle Anne
Danielle Anne
Those who can’t do, teach. I can neither do nor teach as well as others, but I can try. Aside from being a writer, I am also a physical therapist. My dream is...
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3 thoughts on “What’s an Emotional Affair? And Is Your Partner Having One?”

  1. Popo says:

    I’m actually really okay with my partner having emotional affairs with his best friend who is a girl. She is really cool in my opinion and I don’t really feel insecure about her. We are both pretty but I trust my boyfriend more than enough to let him go out with his best friend from time to time. They even slept over but I didn’t mind because there were other people as well. I am pretty confident that my boyfriend won’t do anything stupid because I know how much he values our relationship and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize it. I love him so much and he loves me. A lot of people try to bring us down but all we really do is come back up. We don’t let haters get in our way.We live, laugh and love our life all through out and we have so many friends that you won’t even think of anything wrong with having emotional affairs. It’s only emotional, they have a specific bond with each other and that doesn’t mean it’s dirty or anything. It can also be innocent and you just have to stop being insecure of yourself and just trust your partner in anything he does because he will really appreciate you for that and you both will have a better relationship.

  2. emo says:

    My husband and I have been married for almost a year now, together for 3.5. He is a doctor doing his residency in a hospital. Right before the wedding, my husband confessed he felt he was on the brink of an emotional affair with another doctor and we went to counseling. We still got married. The person was in her last year of residency and actually switched hospitals, but he was willing to see if he could get a switch to other area hospitals if need-be (I never asked him to). He initiated most of this himself, I was hurt, but I appreciated his honesty and his desire to fix the problem. His desire to have emotional intimacy with someone else was likely prompted by the sheer stress of the wedding (I was a little bit of a Bridezilla – not a terrible selfish one, but a stressball, and my parents were worse in their obsession, and his parents were the worst and didn’t want us to get married or even come to the wedding because of racism – he basically was being cut off by most of his family, I was stressed and distant, and he had a stressful job). I do not blame him and feel happy he was so aggressive in fixing the potential problem. Fast-forward to now. I started a new job at an ad agency 3 months ago, and I kind of hate it. I’m a web designer and graphic designer and I was working for a magazine that down-sized then I did freelance for awhile, but it just wasn’t paying enough to help us out in our house-fund, so here I am in advertising, making coupons and so forth. I don’t like the environment for a variety of reasons. There are only a few women at my job, and most of them are in sales or are assistants in some capacity. In the design department, I’m the only woman. I had been eating lunch, pretty much daily, with another designer, basically the only person I could stand who I know at my job. Our agency has a lot of social events and a lot of pressure to go to them, so I go (these aren’t the kind you bring spouses to, they’re like happy hours or even during-work drinking on Fridays) and mostly hang out with this guy. He knows I’m married. He has a girlfriend. My husband is beginning to feel it’s excessive that he’s the only work friend I have and that I eat with him almost daily (this is not like romantic cafés – it’s mainly in the break room as we both bring lunches and sometimes at the bagel or sandwich shop nearby, usually Thurs or fri when we don’t bring lunches). My husband feels this is a potential emotional affair. Now, this guy is a good “work friend” – we talk about TV shows or weekends or whatever – and could potentially become “social friend” territory, like I’d invite him and his GF over to a dinner party or something we had with our friends, but we’re not even there yet. I don’t see him outside of work/lunch/work events. I don’t call or text him or anything. I have sent a few funny emails – like forwards – and I have never discussed anything very “personal” with him. I don’t see what my husband is worried about, and I feel he’s basing this fear on HIS experiences, not mine.

  3. Ewas says:

    My husband and I have been together about 10 years. 7 years into our marriage, he started getting pretty friendly with a couple that lived down the block from us. She was a stay at home mom (as was I) and she did not have a lot going on her life. The husband went to work, was a pretty laid back guy. They liked to play the same video game he did. So he would play with them sometimes and I would too. I noticed as time passed that the wife and my husband became better friends than my husband and the man. She also did not make much an attempt to befriend me despite my attempts to forge a friendship with her. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but I felt she conducted herself inappropriately. She would call my husband and talk to him about her marital problems. She would ask my husband for help fixing stuff around their house. She would make any excuse she could to get my husband over to their place. She would complement him effusively. I am not a jealous person by nature, but she fawned on him and it really set off alarm bells. I don’t think my husband ever really intending on cheating, but I have no idea how far this woman would have pressed. As I saw this progress, I remarked that I thought this lady was really trying to seduce him. He thought I had come unhinged. He said she was just lonely. But he showed me his phone, his computer. There was nothing sexual, but she was sharing a massive amount of personal information with him. I don’t doubt that it would eventually have moved into an emotional affair. She was on her third marriage, I often speculated whether something like this had prompted the end of one of her earlier marriages. Or maybe she just needed a friend? Maybe her husband was not the emotional partner she needed? I have no idea. I was not very close to the husband and I certainly wasn’t going to say, “Hey, what’s up with your wife?!” In the end, there were many things about the couple I found bizarre, and I told my husband I would really prefer we dial down our friendship with the two of them. He wasn’t pleased, but he did it. And a year after that, we moved away. 3 years removed, we’re doing fine, but it was the sole rough patch in our marriage.

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