What You Need to Know About Emotional Affairs

An emotional affair generally starts innocently enough as a friendship. Through investing emotional energy and time with one another outside the marital relationship, the former platonic friendship can begin to form a strong emotional bond which hurts the intimacy of the spousal relationship.

While there are those who believe that an emotional affair is harmless, most marriage experts view an emotional affair as cheating without having a sexual relationship.

Emotional affairs are often gateway affairs leading to full-blown sexual infidelity. About half of such emotional involvements do eventually turn into full-blown affairs, sex and all.

For some individuals, the most hurtful and painful consequences of an emotional affair is the sense of being deceived, betrayed, and lied to. Any part of one's life that is essentially kept a secret from a partner is dangerous to the trust between spouses.

signs of an emotional affair
Verywell / Jessica Olah


An emotional affair is when a person not only invests more of their emotional energy outside their marriage but also receives emotional support and companionship from the new relationship. In an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other party and may experience increasing sexual tension or chemistry.

If you believe that a person's emotional energy is limited, and if your spouse is sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with someone else, an emotional affair has developed.

Although cheaters are often guilt-free in an emotional affair because there is no sex involved, their spouses often view an emotional affair as damaging as a sexual affair.

Much of the pain and hurt from an emotional affair is due to the deception, lies, and feelings of being betrayed.

How an Emotional Affair Differs From a Platonic Friendship

A platonic friendship can evolve into an emotional affair when the investment of intimate information crosses the boundaries set by the married couple. An emotional affair is opening a door that should remain closed.

One of the differences between a platonic friendship and an emotional affair is that an emotional affair is kept secret.

Another key difference is that people involved in an emotional affair often feel a sexual attraction for one another. Sometimes the sexual attraction is acknowledged and sometimes it isn't.

Warning Signs You May Be Having an Emotional Affair

Here are several warning signs that you may be having an emotional affair:

  • You are withdrawing from your spouse.
  • You are preoccupied and daydream about your friend more and more.
  • You are not interested in being intimate with your spouse, either emotionally or sexually.
  • The amount of time you and your spouse spend together is less.
  • When confronted about the apparent emotional affair, you respond, "We're just friends."
  • You find yourself anticipating when you can communicate or be with your friend again. Alone time together is important to you.
  • You are sharing your thoughts, feelings, and problems with your friend instead of your spouse.
  • You find reasons to give your friend personal gifts.
  • Your friend seems to understand you better than your spouse does.
  • You are keeping your friendship a secret from your spouse.

If you answer "yes" to more than 3 of these questions below, you are courting disaster in your marriage by being in an emotional affair.

  • Are you experiencing repetitive hostility and conflict in your marriage?
  • Do you feel an emotional distance from your spouse?
  • Do you find it difficult to talk with your spouse?
  • Are you sharing more with your friend than you are with your spouse?
  • Do you think your friend understands you better than your spouse?
  • Are you sexually attracted to your friend?
  • Is the phrase, "We're just friends" your rationalization for your close friendship?
  • Does your spouse know about your friendship or is your friendship a secret?
  • Do you look forward to being with your friend more than being with your spouse?
  • When you talk to your spouse about your day, you never seem to mention your interactions with this friend

Signs Your Spouse is Having an Emotional Affair

Here are some warning signs that your spouse be having an emotional affair:

  • Your spouse starts withdrawing from you or criticizing you.
  • Your spouse acts secretive or hides their phone, shuts down the computer screen suddenly when you are around.
  • Your spouse seems interested in certain technology or hobbies seemingly out of the blue.
  • Your spouse seems to always work extra hours on a "project" with this friend.
  • This friend of your spouse gets mentioned a lot. You seem to hear much about this persons opinions (and yours seems to count less and less)
  • Your gut tells you something is going on. You are normally trusting and do not get jealous easily, but this definitely feels "off" to you.
  • When you try to discuss any of these things with your partner, it is met with defensiveness or you are made to feel crazy.

Differing Views on How to Protect Your Marriage From an Emotional Affair

Although there are differing views on how to protect your marriage from being hurt by an emotional affair, we think your marriage is best protected from an emotional affair by the two of you working together to have a marriage built on a strong foundation of friendship and trust.

Some may agree or disagree with the often made suggestion to limit your interpersonal relationships or friendships.

In M.Gary Neuman's book, Emotional Infidelity: How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and 10 Other Secrets to a Great Relationship, he makes some controversial statements: "Insulate and protect your marriage against emotional infidelity by avoiding friendships with members of the opposite sex." Neuman believes that limiting your relationships/friendships is "the single most important thing you can do for your marriage."

One of the reasons some people question this suggestion to limit certain friendships is because it can create a sense of isolation for couples. Isolating a spouse from friendships is one of the warning signs of emotional abuse. A spouse does not have exclusive, 100 percent rights over a mate's friendships, interests, and sense of space and privacy.

Neuman's other suggestions are more acceptable and include:

  • Touching each other five times a day.
  • Have a weekly date.
  • Have a long discussion with one another four times a week.
  • Plan an all-out romantic lovemaking night once a month.

Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

You can affair-proof your marriage by working together to have a relationship based on friendship and trust.

Here are some suggestions on how to build that foundation and keys to protecting your marriage from an emotional affair.

  • Plan on living a balanced life with one another.
  • Have dates with each other and create ways to have fun together.
  • Don't let irritations build up. Learn how to have healthy conflict in your marriage.
  • Communicate on a daily basis with each other. Talk about practical issues, plans, events, and personal feelings. The little things to talk about are as important as the bigger issues.
  • Be supportive of one another.
  • Show respect and mutuality for each other.
  • Always try to repair hurts quickly and genuinely. An apology goes much further than trying to be right.
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