Have you ever been in a committed relationship and found yourself engaging in an emotional affair? This is a good question to ask, but one that is often difficult to answer. Often times, it is much easier to identify a sexual affair, but emotional cheating can be a bit trickier. So, what exactly does this look like?
What is an Emotional Affair?
An emotional affair, or emotional infidelity, can occur when a partner is engaging in emotional intimacy with a person(s) who is outside the primary romantic relationship. Emotional affairs often do not start off with any physical intimacy. It could start with sharing (or over sharing) personal information, essentially fulfilling an emotional need the partner feels they are not getting within their primary relationship.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t that what happens in regular, healthy friendships?” Well, the difference here lies within the intentionality behind the personal details that are shared. For instance, it is natural to want to feel good, to be noticed, and to feel validated, but are you finding those aspects from someone outside of your primary relationship? Do you find yourself seeking to be more engaged with an outside person because of how they make you feel?
When starting a relationship that includes an exchange of emotional support and intimacy, the intention may not be to become physically or sexually involved. However, as humans, we have an innate need and desire for connection. So, when we receive that connection, it is possible for a sexual or emotional attachment to grow within a previously innocent friendship.
6 Signs of an Emotional Affair
- You find yourself thinking a lot about this person. Do you find your thoughts drifting off throughout the day, thinking of this person, wondering when you will see them next? It’s even possible for this to happen when you are spending time with your partner.
- You are keeping the communication a secret or minimizing the nature of the relationship. Maybe you are feeling threatened or defensive at the thought of losing this person if your partner finds out about them. If you feel like you need to keep this relationship a secret, that can be a red flag in and of itself.
- You’re spending more time with this person than your current partner. When an emotional or physical disconnect is present, it is only natural to want to stay away from what is making you feel down and turn towards what makes you feel happy and validated. Again, your intention behind the action is important to consider.
- You put more effort into your appearance for them and/or change your schedule to see them more or “casually bump into them.” For example, your emotional support person works at a grocery store, and you tell your partner you need to “run some errands,” but before doing so, you make sure that you look your best, knowing you are going to “unintentionally” run into that person.
- You begin to fantasize about what it would be like to be with this person sexually or romantically. Do you lose yourself in fantasy, daydreaming about what it would be like to act on the feelings you’re experiencing? Or maybe you fantasize what it would be like to have them as your partner, as opposed to your current partner.
- You begin to withdraw from your current partner in a physical, sexual, or emotional way. Withdrawal can happen due to simple attachment styles of individuals within a relationship. However, if you’re starting to feel less sexually and emotionally invested in your primary relationship, that’s something to take note of.
How to Get Help for an Emotional Affair
If you find yourself caught deep within the web of emotional infidelity, you may feel lost, helpless, or like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. In addition, whether you are on either end of the emotional affair, there can be a sense of betrayal. The thought of this can be anxiety provoking, but there is hope.
The first step of getting help for the emotional affair, is to identify the behavior at hand. In other words, what behavior has or is close to crossing a line and why is it happening? Why is there a desire to have a need met outside of your committed relationship agreements? Once you have been able to identify answers, you can begin working with your partner to repair. This might look like:
- Planning a weekly/monthly date
- Engaging in intentional physical touch. This touch does not have to be sexual in nature. It can look simply like gliding your hand across your partner’s shoulders or lower back in passing.
- Being supportive of one another, having honest and honest communication
- Being respectful of each other’s boundaries
- Being intentional about being present with one another
If you still don’t know where to begin or how to proceed, working with a couples therapist can help create a plan for repairing any betrayal that occurred, discover how you and your partner can better meet each other’s needs, and move forward, if that is what is best for your relationship.
Healing emotional infidelity can be difficult, but can happen with love, hard work, and dedication. Learning to be vulnerable with your partner, open, honest, loving, and genuine truly can go a long way. Remember, there ARE helpful resources at your disposal. You are not alone in this struggle.