When you ask people about their relationship deal-breaker, most would probably answer “cheating.” To clarify any confusion, cheating refers to infidelity or unfaithfulness towards a significant other when you are in a committed romantic relationship. However, an emotional affair is certainly a type of cheating.
Cheating occurs in many forms, and contrary to what many believe, affairs do not have to be sexual to be hurtful. Most romantic relationships started as friendships. With that in mind, some “friendships” can easily turn romantic even if you don’t intend it to go that way.
While most relationships consider sex with other people as a deal-breaker, actions other than physical intimacy can also be deemed cheating based on certain criteria. It’s easy for platonic friendship lines to get blurred, especially if you are spending more time alone with that person.
If you’re concerned you or your spouse may be having an emotional affair, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s delve into what an emotional affair looks like and some telltale signs that you may be inappropriately involved with someone.
What is an Emotional Affair?
Cheating might mean different things to different people, but there is a mutual deal-breaker here; it involves violating trust. It’s already been established that an affair does not have to involve sex to qualify as a breach of trust. What then is an emotional affair?
An emotional affair is an affair of the heart. You establish and maintain a close emotional connection with someone other than your primary partner. It involves an emotional connection with a person outside of your committed relationship. Emotional affairs divert your attention or focus away from your primary relationship. Emotional affairs are a kind of “platonic” relationship that has qualities similar to a romantic relationship without the element of sex. In other words, this person is a partner without the title or physical intimacy
Some relationship experts even suggest that an emotional affair is more traumatic and damaging than a sexual affair. At least we know that some sexual affairs are just what they are about: sex. It may look like a drunken night with a friend or a one-night stand with a stranger you never see again.
However, this brings up whether or not it’s appropriate to have relationships outside of your romantic relationship. While it’s certainly healthy to have friendships outside your partner, it’s important to draw the line. There should be clear boundaries in place to protect your marriage and ensure that nobody has a misunderstanding
How Do You Know When Your Platonic Friendship Has Crossed the Line?
You must know that a platonic friendship has crossed the line into something more. Here are a few things that indicate that your friendship is likely an emotional affair.
Frequent contact means that you are in regular communication with a particular person. You track their daily activities and give a regular update about yours. You are on the phone with them for long hours, texting them, laughing at their jokes, looking at their pictures, and liking their social media posts. You may communicate with them in the same manner as your spouse.
This essential factor distinguishes a platonic friendship from an emotional affair. Details of your friendship with them are kept secret from your partner.
Your partner might know your platonic relationship with this person, but you keep any new developments in the relationship away from your partner. You intentionally leave out details or plans of your meetings and activities with them. You keep secrets about what you talk about. You hide or delete their texts and emails from your phone and computer. This is because you are aware your partner will not be pleased with the degree of your interactions or engagements with this person. In some instances, you may even find the secrecy thrilling or fun.
You Share Information that You Don’t Share with Your Partner
How does this equal an emotional affair? Your partner is the primary person that you discuss things with. You want to share the news with them first, good and bad news. No rule says sharing should be sole with your partner, but you should look out when you share it with this person instead of your partner.
Looking Forward to Alone Time
You find yourself anticipating or looking forward to your next meeting with them. You count down to the days, hours, and minutes until you can be together again. You crave an engagement with them and may even go out of your way to put yourself in their company. You may even notice that you prefer their company over your partner’s.
The difference between physical cheating and an emotional affair is the absence of sex. You may not have had sex with this person you are emotionally entangled with, but a sexual tension exists between you. One or both of you are flirting, and you acknowledge it. They flirt with you, and you do the same with them. What usually begins as compliments gradually transcend into sexual or flirty comments.
You extend romantic relationship privileges to them. You buy gifts with a significant emotional meaning attached to them and receive such from them. Giving gifts is not necessarily a problem, but be mindful of the types of gifts you’re giving. You may notice that the exchange between you two has high sentimental value. Beyond gift-giving, you may also have an open communication policy where they can contact you. You may give each other personal advice and know details about each other’s private relationships.
You Become Defensive
You find yourself being defensive and guarded when questioned about the depth of your relationship with them by your partner or anyone else. You respond, “We are just friends,” to what might be the slightest observation about more than just a friendship between you. You are very sensitive to queries about your relationship with them. You try to convince yourself that you are just “friends.” This is because you know the friendship has transcended beyond a platonic one, but you still do not want to feel like you are doing something inappropriate.
You Feel Guilty
This is proof that you are truly involved in an emotional affair with someone. While you are not sexually unfaithful to your partner, you start to feel guilty about your “platonic friendship” with this person. Why should you feel guilty? After all, you are not having sex with them. You feel guilty because you know you shouldn’t be sharing this much intimacy with someone who is not your partner. You can do either of two things with this guilt; either you succumb to the pressures of your relationship with this person, and it becomes a full-blown affair, or you end it and come clean to your partner.
How To Overcome an Emotional Affair
Contrary to what many people believe, it is hard to break away from the hold of an emotional affair. Here are some things you can do to help yourself overcome an emotional affair.
Start by being honest with yourself. It is difficult to admit that you are becoming or have been emotionally intimate with someone other than your partner. It will help if you acknowledge that you are becoming too dependent and emotionally involved with this person.
End the Relationship
To truly overcome an emotional affair, you must end it. Be direct. Don’t leave any room for interpretation. Let it be clearly known that you will no longer interact with this person.
Address the Problems in Your Marriage
Usually, emotional intimacy with someone other than your primary partner is proof that your relationship is lacking in some area. It means there’s a need you are looking to meet or a void to fill in your relationship, and this person provides you with that. They could be giving you things like attention or support you are not getting from your partner. Figure out whatever it is they offer you that your partner doesn’t. Communicate this to your partner. Be upfront about this, do not confront them; instead, present these issues. This might require you and your partner to consult professional help.
Is it possible to walk away from an emotional affair while keeping the friendship?
While it is not recommended and often suggested you cut off all ties with this person, it is possible, although it requires much discipline. It is also more effective with the intervention of a third party. This person serves as an accountability office to whom you report. This third party can be likened to a “chaperone.”
Sometimes even after breaking off the emotional attachment, you still may need to retain what your primary relationship with them was, such as business partnerships. However, if there is a tendency that you might blur the lines again, it is highly advised to cut off every form of communication and break ties with the person, even if it means leaving your job or asking to be transferred.
We didn’t sleep together. I ended it. Do I still go ahead and inform my partner about the affair?
Honesty is the best policy. You should consult with a marriage counselor about the next step forward and how you should discuss this with your spouse.
It’s over, but I still feel guilty. What should I do?
This is a normal feeling to experience after an affair. You feel ashamed and guilty for violating your partner’s trust. It would help if you had the support of your partner and the help of a professional to move beyond this stage.
It is easier to find yourself in an emotional affair when your romantic relationship hits a rocky patch. If you notice changes in your relationship, speak to a therapist about those issues. It’s always better to lean into your relationship than away from it. Reach out for help before starting an emotional affair that creates more harm.