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

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
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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