How To Know If You're Having An Emotional Affair

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Image credit: photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

Emotional intimacy is what most of us long for. Furthermore, for some, emotional connection is like breathing, impossible to live without. And sometimes, if we are not finding that deep connection within our marriage, or exclusive relationship, we may look outside for it.

Emotional infidelity is defined as “when one partner goes outside the primary relationship to get his or her emotional needs met.” And though it may not sound as damaging as a physical or sexually intimate affair, its repercussions are often just as severe for both members of a relationship.

Reasons For Entering Into An Emotional Affair

The allure of an emotional affair is very real. It is hard work to make a marriage thrive, and it’s often easier to get our feelings of validation from someone new and interesting, someone who really “gets” us.

We may feel as if the other person sees us sexually or intellectually stimulating, and not as the role we have assigned ourselves in our marriages (the earner, the mother, the martyr…)

And, of course, we don’t have to discuss any of the “boring” things of a marriage with them, like whose turn it is to cook, or pay the water bill, or take Bobby to soccer practice. Real life doesn’t intrude as much on these types of relationships, which only makes them seem all the more exciting.

Innocent Affair?

Most often an emotional affair begins quite innocently. Most people are not even actively seeking this sort of intimacy, it just kind of happens. We may start to talk to someone at work, on the soccer field or at a committee meeting. Often it begins by just simply interacting, moving from a friendship into something more.

Sometimes the emotional relationship doesn’t even contain much face to face contact at all, and could all be happening via email and text. However it is no less of an emotional affair.

Often what happens is that we begin to feel “filled up” emotionally by this connection in a way that is not occurring in our primary relationship or marriage. Emotional connection may have been experienced with our partner early on, however no more, or may never have been experienced at all.

We may find ourselves surprised to be participating in an emotional affair, never having thought that we would be unfaithful in any way to our partner. And because it doesn’t have a sexual component, then it doesn’t seem to be quite as dangerous. However, an emotional relationship can soon turn physical (and is, in fact, the way most sexual affairs begin.)

Regardless of the lack of sexual contact, though, it can still be devastating to our partners when they discover this other relationship. Dr. Shirley Glass, clinical psychologist and author, says that “even if the infidelity is "only" emotional, it often leads to a double life of deception and sexuality, threatening once secure marriages.”

So How Do You Know If You Are Having An Emotional Affair?

  • Are you sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with the other person, your hopes and dreams for the future?
  • Do you save up your jokes, your funniest material, for the other?
  • Do you feel as if they know the “real” you – perhaps in a different role than your “normal” one?
  • Do you share details of your primary relationship with this person, especially the bad ones?
  • Do you daydream about him or her?
  • Do you hide your interactions with this person from your significant other? Do you hide the extent of the relationship from other people, too?
  • Have you begun you begin to feel emotionally distant from your partner, perhaps even comparing them to the other person?
  • Above all, are you looking forward to your interactions with this person more than with your spouse or partner?

What To Do?

Many people have a real difficulty in letting go of the other relationship. Often we have a lot of guilt because we know on some level that it’s just not right. And, too, it is often found out, especially if there is a lot of emailing or texting back and forth, exposing a preoccupation with the other person. We may also suffer guilt when it’s not been found out.

If you truly want to remain in your primary relationship, it is vital to end the emotional affair, no matter how hard this may be to do.

Potential For A Stronger Relationship With Your Partner:

It is very normal for us to still love and want to be with our partner and would never consider leaving them. So acknowledging what is happening is a good step forward. We can then search for ways to strengthen the primary relationship, and this can be a wakeup call for both members of the marriage.

The same advice applies here as it would with any relationship: commit to time and energy for the other person. Consider:

  • What was it that was so important in the beginning of your relationship with your spouse? What did you value in your partner as a person?
  • Do you miss the fun banter?

These things, and more, can still be reintroduced. Perhaps make date night a weekly event, and vow not to talk about the kids (or money) during the night.

And, make more time for yourself. Often what we have learned from an emotional affair is that it’s nice to receive the external validation of still being a sexual person.

Perhaps a pole dancing class or a Kama Sutra class with your husband or wife will awaken you to the same sexual fantasies and validation. In addition, good, vigorous exercise can remind you that you are still a sexual person, and not just a mom or a dad.

One of the most important aspects to a newly committed relationship is communication. For couples in which one partner has had an emotional affair, psychotherapy sessions with a compassionate, committed therapist can be a real guidepost on the way back to intimacy.

More and more couples are coming in to therapy with the dominant issue that the partner is having an emotional affair. At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we see many couples in this situation, and help all to find a renewed joy in their marriage.

We also see many individuals who are involved in emotional affairs, who want to address their own issues, which brought them to this place. We are adept with individuals in helping them to reclaim their sense of self.

Regardless of where you are, we welcome you.

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