Emotional affair is a strong emotional bond with another person, usually of the opposite gender. It is not an affair in the usual sense of the word, as it doesn't involve sex or physical intimacy. However, this kind of platonic relationship isn't always purely friendly or innocent. In its consequence, such affair can be much more dangerous for your relationship or marriage than a one-off slip-up or a purely sexual affair. Women are generally more prone to emotional infidelity than men.
For many people, an affair not involving sex might be much more intense than a sexual one, as it revolves around the amount of emotion you invest and experience, as well as the fact that you devote your time and attention to someone who is not your official partner.
What is emotional infidelity?
When you spend alot of time chatting with a friend on ICQ, texting them, exchanging emails or connecting via social network sites, it can be considered emotional infidelity. The term might also apply if you desire and frequently seek out a particular special friend's company and you tend to share with them your current experiences, troubles, spleens, ideas and so on. You might feel the need to meet them for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine from time to time, to see them and feel their proximity. But this way you might develop a very strong emotional bond and even a certain form of addiction. This kind of emotional bonding often feels more powerful and more important than a relationship based on sex.
When you have this one special friend with whom you share such bond, you may find you have no desire to address the problems in your official relationship. You avoid these problems and instead of your partner, you discuss important issues with your friend; but that is no way to deal with such situation or solve your trouble. The more you bind yourself to your friend, the more you are going to prefer him to your partner and your shared interests, sometimes even to your family and your other friends. This behaviour can easily result in the deterioration - and eventually the break-up - of your current relationship; it distracts you from the real problems and prevents you from paying them enough attention and dealing with them accordingly.
Furthermore, it is possible and even likely that when your partner learns about the existence of such emotional bond between you and another person, they will feel cheated and deceived, which will only add to your problems.
Blurry boundaries, the danger of emotional infidelity
Having a strong emotional relationship of this kind doesn't translate as “cheating” to a lot of people and that is one of its great dangers. But this kind of affair is symptomatic of modern times. People spend a lot of time at work and they often have little of it left for their partners and families. The spreading of social networks is another contributing factor. Harmless flirting or imaginary friendships can, over time, develop into something deeper or one might begin to prefer them to actual relationships and real life.
Crossing the boundary between friendship and an emotional affair can happen quite easily and without you even noticing. When it comes to relations between men and women, the line between being friends and having an emotional affair is thin and difficult to determine. In an emotional affair, you share secrets, emotional intimacy, dreams, etc.
Women are more prone to this type of affair and they confuse love for friendship more often than men.
Are you emotionally cheating on your spouse?
- Complaining about your partner:Do you have a special friend to whom you constantly complain about your significant other?
- (Not) taken:Are you being purposefully vague about your relationship status?
- “Innocent” flirt:Do you sometimes exchange text messages and emails with erotic subtext, thinking it's not really a big deal?
- Secrets and lies:Do you have secrets you keep from your partner? Do you only tell them half the truth, keeping important things to yourself? Do you secretly spend time with other men?
- Speaking about intimate details:Do you have that one friend to whom you tell intimate details from your sexual life? Then you definitely need to tread carefully, because you're crossing into a dangerous territory.
- Discussing your marriage problems with a friend:Confiding to a male friend about all that you find wrong with your marriage is basically like giving a signal that you're “back on the market”.
- Comparing your friend with your significant other:If you find yourself comparing your friend with your spouse, it is a warning sign of a potential emotional affair.
- Dreaming of your friend:Feelings of anticipation and excitement prior to seeing your friend release dopamine in your brain. Dopamine affects us the same way addictive drugs do. Dopamine triggers reward responses in our brain and thus encourages the “toxic” behaviour.
- Unconditional trust:Sense of mutual understanding creates a bond, which intensifies and deepens emotional intimacy. If you begin to completely and unconditionally trust your friend, your brain will start producing the hormone oxytocin, which pushes you even deeper into this state.
- Seeking his company:If you look for excuses to spend as much time in his company as possible, it will deepen the intimacy between the two of you and increase your distance from the others. The more time you spend with your special friend, the sadder and more unhappy you'll feel without him.
- Seeking excuses to rationalize your behaviour:You develop addictive thought patterns that center around your friend or the difficulties in your friend's marriage.
- Giving and receiving presents:Presents are a very intimate gesture, so if you give presents to your friend, it is a clear signal on your part that you keep thinking about him and that you care. It is a sign that you consider him very close.
- Planning time alone together:Most typically,it is in those moments when you find yourself alone in each other's company when your relatioship shifts from the platonic to the sexual level, often despite the fact that neither of you actually planned it.
- Fantasies of a romantic or sexual affair with someone else than your spouse:Daydreaming about having a sexual relationship with a friend might add intensity to your friendship, but it can also turn it into a trap that will later be very difficult to escape.
Emotional affairs very often happen to precisely those kinds of people who have never intended to cheat on their partner, at least not knowingly. How can it happen? We usually imagine that only people who live in dysfunctional marriages would cheat on their spouses. That tends to be the truth in most but not all cases. Try to think for a moment about who you spend most of your time with. If you're a typical modern employee, you spend most of it not with your partner or children, but with your work-mates. Therefore it may easily happen that you and your colleague not only spend most of your day together, but actually share some of the most intense moments of your day, although you have never intended or let alone planned it. There are a number of such moments, be it work related stress and adrenaline or just “killing time” together at your workplace. The danger inherent in such relationships is that for a very long time you might be able to persuade yourself that there's nothing serious going on, that it's all innocent and has no negative impact on your official relationship. But after a while you start to notice that you're treading on thin ice. You keep some details of your friendship from your spouse, the meetings between you and your friend or work-mate grow more intimate – there are fleeting touches, personal compliments, long exchanges of looks, smiles, little tensions, and personal topics. Suddenly you begin to notice that you are telling your friend things you wouldn't tell your husband and that you're willing to invest an immense amount of effort just to be able to meet and spend time together.
Emotional affairs develop gradually and seem harmless at first – you work after hours together, travel to and from work, have lunches together and so on. Sometimes you discuss your work lives in a lot of detail during these moments and then you have no motivation or energy to discuss them again with your husband or partner after you get back home.
Women's and men's respective approaches to emotional infidelity
Women are more likely to get entangled in emotional affairs than men. The rush of feelings they get from a simple chat or an innocent working relationship often catches them off guard. When a woman attracts enough of a man's interest for him to establish some kind of connection with her, the man usually hopes for a relationship of more sexual nature. Endless sessions over coffee are not a very attractive prospect to him, his primary goal lies elsewhere. Therefore, men often consider an emotional affair merely a regular one that simply hasn't evolved into a sexual affair...yet. Which is why most of these infatuations either fizzle out or end in sex.
Benefits of emotional infidelity
Sometimes, an emotional affair can quite paradoxically help your original relationship. It may help you find out what you miss in your relationship or marriage and begin to talk about it with your spouse. Or you might realize that this intimate friendship is your way of escaping your everyday problems, house chores, or responsibility for your family. Which, in turn, can help you realize what your needs are and to rearrange your everyday life so that it suits those needs. In the everyday life and work cycle it is sometimes quite easy to forget why you fell in love with your husband in the first place. Emotional affairs can contribute to it – but they might also help you realize how different your life might be if you devoted all this energy to your husband instead of your friend. Sustaining such platonic relationship costs a lot of emotional energy and as a result there's not enough of it left to sustain the marriage. Overcoming platonic affairs tends to be more demanding and takes longer than getting over one night stands.
The most common mistakes
Emotional affairs can often seem like a crucial, even fateful meeting. This “fatefulness” can be felt so strongly that you might even start feeling resentment and anger towards our original spouse. Were it not for him, you would be able to completely devote yourself to this newfound love. But try looking at it from a different perspective: what could your original relationship be like if you didn't devote yourself to the platonic one?
Sometimes such affair may help you realize what led you to seek emotional fulfullment elsewhere, why you stopped seeking it at home. Problems often arise when a woman devotes too much emotional energy to people outside of the relationship, be it her friends, siblings, parents, or even her children. The intimacy and closeness between partners fade. A platonic affair suddenly seems an ideal place to fulfill your emotional needs without having to enter a sexual relationship.
How to improve your relationship or marriage
The first thing you need to improve is how you treat your spouse, to redefine the whole relationship. Get back to making plans together that bring you a sense of fulfillment. Shared plans and projects will also help to better define your roles and the need to seek fulfillment outside your relationship will recede. Improving your emotional closeness will result in a happier relationship. You will begin to respect your partner again and it will be easier to share your life and experiences with him, to support him or solve conflicts with him. To have a good relationship or a good marriage, you need to nurture it. Freedom, but also the pleasure found in each other's company, are the necessary basis for a healthy relationship where both partners are happy.