How to identify emotional affair signs and cope with the aftermath

How to identify emotional affair signs and cope with the aftermath

All long term and committed relationships have two components. A physical level of intimacy and an emotional level of intimacy. In an ideal relationship, a strong physical intimacy and a strong emotional intimacy within a relationship are intertwined, like the cords twisted within a rope.

Problems arise when one of the cord of that rope begin to pull away… the entire rope begins to unravel.

This is often what happens within affairs in relationship. Physical affairs are easy to define as there are concrete boundaries that have been crossed, but emotional affairs are much harder to recognize.

Emotional intimacy is just as vital to the strength of a relationship as physical intimacy so the impact of an emotional affair can be devastating to a couple.

What is an emotional affair?

Emotional affairs are incredibly complex and can have a wide range of impact of on couples who are dealing with infidelity. Emotional affairs are often harder to recognize because the emotional betrayal often seems to develop slowly, over time. Meanwhile, coping with the impacts of an emotional affair can be more difficult than coping with an actual physical betrayal.

But what exactly is an emotional affair?

Emotional Affair is defined as the act of developing an intimate emotional connection with another individual that creates distance within a committed relationship. Some may refer to it as “an an affair of the heart”.

One of the biggest challenges of emotional affairs is defining where an emotional affair begins. Physical affairs are fairly easy to define. There are clear lines that are crossed.

Did you or didn’t you?

Black and White.

Emotional affairs fall into the grey area. Emotional affairs often develop from an appropriate, friendly relationship and slowly become more intimate. It can be hard to define “that moment” where the relationship turned into an emotional affair if there is no physical intimacy.

Emotional affairs can be just as damaging as strictly physical affairs, so if you are struggling with the possibility of an affair learn some of the emotional affair signs.

Emotional Affair Signs: Is my partner in an emotional affair?

  • Change in depth of conversations- Did you and your partner used to sit at dinner discussing your career goals? Fantasize about your future family? If your conversations are now limited to what you are eating for dinner and the electricity bill, then this may be a sign that your partner is having these intimate conversations elsewhere. If you aren’t discussing the future, it may be a sign that your partner is questioning that future.
  • Change in discussing vulnerabilities- If your partner once used to discuss their insecurities with you, or other vulnerable aspects of their life (family issues, frustrations with friends) then they were relying on you for emotional support, in a very intimate way. If these conversations shift suddenly, it may mean someone else is on the receiving line of these conversations.
  • An increased need for privacy- If your partner used to leave their phone lying around and you notice they have an increased awareness of their phone and text messages, then they may have something to hide. Secrecy can be a very telling emotional affair sign. These things can include:
    1. hesitancy to allow you to borrow a phone, car, computer without seeing it first
    2. uncomfortable body language when discussing independent plans
    3. an increase in spending time without you
    4. defensiveness when answering common, surface level questions (i.e. How was your lunch meeting? How was the work party?)
  • Discussing an individual in an “expert” tone- Like mentioned earlier, emotional affairs can develop slowly and usually out of genuine platonic relationships. It is common that the person the affair may be with is someone that is a mutual friend. If you notice your partner discussing a mutual friend more often, or referring to them as an expert in a situation (i.e. Mary told me to try this new service, or Mary said we should never do that) then if may be a sign that they have elevated their friendship beyond a platonic level.
  • Avoiding mentioning an individual at all- Once an emotional affair has begun, your partner may try to avoid discussing a person at all in attempts to distance the relationship from you. If you notice defensiveness when you ask how someone is doing or a clear attempt to avoid discussing an individual, it may be an emotional affair sign.
  • Decreased physical intimacy- Remember our rope analogy? Physical and emotional intimacy are closely connected. If you notice a decrease in physical intimacy it may be a sign that your partner is having an affair. Just because it is impacting your physical intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a physical affair. An emotional affair can cause physical distance just the same as a physical affair can cause emotional distance. The rope is tightly weaved so these two aspects of relationships are not exclusive.
  • Increased technology- In the world of smart phones, social media and text messages, it is easy to communicate with anyone, in an instant. If you notice an increased amount of time your partner is spending on social media or texting back and forth with someone, it may be a sign of an emotional affair. If this time spent using technology is alone and distanced from you, your partner may be trying to hide conversations.

Emotional Affair Signs: Am I in an emotional affair?

Emotional affairs are sneaky. They develop ever so slowly and oftentimes without our noticing. If you have a special relationship outside of your committed relationship and you are worried it may be an emotional affair, or may be leading to an emotional affair…

Here are some signs that you may be in an emotional affair:

  • Comparisons to your partner- If you notice that you are making comparisons with your special friend to your partner, then your relationship may be headed down a dangerous path. These comparisons can be physical comparisons, career comparisons, personality trait comparisons. Even subtle seemingly innocent thoughts like “I bet Sally wouldn’t ignore me when I get home from work” can be an indication that you are placing this individual of the role of “spouse” or “boyfriend/girlfriend” unknowingly.
  • Sharing of intimate vulnerabilities- You don’t reveal the skeletons in your closet to just anyone, and you shouldn’t! Only the most important people should be trusted with your vulnerabilities. If you trust this friend with your deep dark secrets, then it may be a sign that this relationship is more than just a friendship. If you are unsure of what is appropriate try comparing the friendship to other relationships you have in that category. If it is a high school friend, do you have other high school friends you communicate with that way? If it is a co worker, do any other coworkers know this about you? If it is a neighbor, have you had this close of friendship with any other neighbors? If this individual falls out of your social “norm” then you may want to evaluate the relationship.
  • Increased time thinking about interactions- The amount of time you spend thinking about something is a great sign of where your priorities fall. If you are thinking about the next time you will interact with this person or even analyzing how past conversations went, then you are clearly prioritizing this relationship above others.
  • Contact out of appropriate normal “friend” hours or “work” hours- If you are making time and effort to be with an individual outside of normal “friend” and “work” hours then you may be in an emotional affair. A random text about a TV series to a co worker off hours is normal, but a constant text conversation into early hours of the morning is not normal. Are you comfortable texting all of your friends late at night, or is it just this particular friend?
  • Trying to impress an individual- This is a reference to the amount of time you spend thinking about this friend. If you find yourself thinking about how you will wear your hair, make up, or buying new clothes in order to impress this person… lets think about why you want to impress this person so badly. If you have a job interview or other external motivations, then maybe it is not a big deal. If this is a habit that you notice reoccurring then maybe it is an emotional affair sign.
  • Hiding relationship from partner- This is a huge red flag! If you find yourself worried that your partner will read a text message or get jealous of a relationship, then your friendship has officially impacted your relationship. If you remember the definition of an emotional affair, it is a relationship that creates distance between a committed relationship… secrecy and anxiety about a hiding another relationship is definitely creating distance. If your relationship is truly platonic, then there is nothing to hide from your partner.

Emotional affair signs at work

Emotional affairs are so easily developed in a work situation. If you think about the sheer amount of time you spend in a full time job then it is logical that you will hopefully develop close relationships with your coworkers. Having a good relationship with coworkers isn’t a bad thing. It is a great indicator of success in the work place! Not to mention that you need a support system that understands the details of the workplace. You have common enemies, schedules, frustrations. You share in victories and promotions. Enjoy and cherish the relationships you develop with coworkers!

It is the natural closeness between coworkers that allow emotional affairs at work develop so easily. It is okay to even like one coworker more than others, but the problem lies when the relationship develops beyond the normality of coworker relationships. You may feel that your co worker understands better because they work there. You may actually spend more time with this person than your partner.

Keep your guard up and decide where you draw the line in coworker relationships. Would you interact with another coworkers the way your interact with this person?

Is Texting Cheating?

I know you were hoping for a yes or no answer on this one but the reality is… that texting MIGHT be cheating. It depends on the context. It is easy to dismiss your gut instinct if all you have to prove a affair is text messages. Some great questions to ask yourself about this text relationship is:

What are the topics being discussed in these text messages?

Are the text messages impacting your relationship?

Are they trying to hide these texts from you?

How much time is being spent in this text conversation?

How do these texts compare to other friendly relationships your partner has?

Emotional affairs can be strictly through text message. If you are feeling hurt and betrayed by your partner’s texting relationship then your feelings are valid and real. It does not take physical intimacy to have an affair.

Impacts of an Emotional Affair

Emotional affairs can impact an individual in extreme ways. Emotional affairs are betrayals of trust and for some people, trust is hard to build and develop. Personal insecurities that were once held at bay may begin to flourish again.

Affairs can lead to anxiety symptoms as you may be constantly worried or paranoid that the betrayal will happen again. If you are participating in an emotional affair, anxiety can surface itself in the fear that you will be caught or revealed to your partner or friends.

Symptoms of depression and feelings of worthlessness may begin to develop as you realize that your level of trust has diminished. If you are in an emotional affair, this may develop as feelings of guilt. You may feel like a bad person for continuing a relationship.

How to cope with in an emotional affair

If your relationship is coping with an emotional affair, navigating the relationship can be really challenging. One thing that is important to understand is that many times emotional affairs develop out of normal platonic friendships, rarely does a significant other maliciously seek out someone to confide in as a means of revenge.

Nevertheless, coping with the heartbreak of an affair, no matter what kind can take time to heal. The first step in dealing with an affair is understanding that an affair actually took place. Once again, because these relationships can seem almost “accidental” many partners don’t understand or realize that they are participating in an emotional affair.

Talk about it.

The best way to keep the conversation productive and understanding is to avoid using any accusatory statements. Try using the phrases that begin with “I feel”.

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Would you rather respond to:
“You are a cheater.” or “It hurts me that you don’t feel like you can’t confide in me.”?

Ultimately once your partner understands the gravity of emotional affairs through productive conversation. Together as a couple, you must decide if you want to mend the relationship.

Are you ready to heal from an emotional affair?

For you, decide if you are ready to work towards rebuilding trust. This means truly forgiving and not holding a grudge over your partner for the rest of your relationship. This will take time and practice.

Your partner needs to decide they are willing to end the emotional affair and take steps to prevent an affair from happening again.

Together you need to decide if you are willing to rebuild a relationship where you can confide in one another emotionally and physically.

Once you have decided to take the steps to heal from an affair together as a couple, give it time and patience. If you are still struggling to cope with the affair or to have respectful productive conversations, using a therapist or counselor can be helpful. A professional can be a neutral perspective and can also provide tools to help you rebuild your relationship.

Tips to avoiding emotional affairs

  • Open dialogue- Open communication is vital to a healthy relationship. Talk about your fears, vulnerabilities and frustrations. Discussing the “small” issues while they are small will help prevent them from turning into bigger problems. They will also keep the conversation within the relationship instead of venting to a friend or colleague which isn’t healthy for the relationship.
  • Decide what is appropriate in outside relationships, together- Sit down and discuss boundaries, together. This may look different for different couples. Some couples may decide texting outside of group texts is a bad idea, or some may decide that texting after a certain time in the evening is a nice boundary. Think of these as protective bumpers in a relationship to prevent outside relationships from taking precedent to your relationship. There are always exceptions to your “rules” but at least the guidelines have been set up to allow for trust to develop.
  • Discuss privacy- Talk about wether or not you are comfortable with your partner seeing your phone, sharing an email, or other various issues couples may have with privacy. The goal here is to avoid the tension of the “Who have you been texting all night?” question. If you remember, one of the emotional affair signs is hiding a relationship from your partner. Figuring out where you are comfortable sharing your lives together can help avoid another pitfall or emotional affair. No one needs to play the role of “phone police” and no one has to be in the role of the “bad guy” if there is an open discussion about privacy.
  • Honesty and self reflection- This tip is simultaneously the hardest and the easiest tip. It is the easiest tip because you can do this independently of your partner. Evaluate if you are providing and receiving emotional support from your partner that you need. What about physically? If you can honestly evaluate your relationship then you are most likely going to stay on track.

(New children can be particularly stressful to a marriage. See our article on keeping a strong marriage after a baby.)

Emotional Affairs: concluding remarks

A study through Chapman University found that emotional affairs tend to harm women in a relationship more so then men. In contrast, they found that physical affairs tend to harm men more so than women in a relationship. If you find yourself in one of these categories, know that you are not alone. If you are still in the camp that believes cheating is only physical, then here is some scientific proof that may challenge that belief. If you are in a relationship with a women, emotional affairs may actually cause more harm to a relationship than a strictly physical affair.

Trust your instinct and look for the signs of emotional affairs if you suspect your partner is pulling away from you emotionally or physically.

Keep yourself accountable and look for emotional affair signs if you feel as thought you have a friendship that may be progressing into something more intimate than a work relationship or friendship.

The best way to deal with emotional (and physical) affairs is to set up ways to prevent them from ever happening. Create an open dialogue with you partner about tough topics like privacy, and other friendships. Decide together what is appropriate and what may be a dangerous situation.

And remember, relationships are a two way street.

If it bothers you that your partner is having dinner with an ex, then you should both avoid dinners with exes.

If it bothers her that you text your coworker late at night, then you both should decide to not text late at night.

Whether you think your partner is in an emotional affair or if you think you may be participating in an emotional affair, know that you have options. Perhaps that option is to end the relationship respectfully, walk away and cut your losses.

If you mutually decide to save the relationship know that with communication, respect, and some hard work, you can revive your existing relationship and hopefully begin the process of healing. It may take some patience, time and even professional help but there is a way to recover from emotional affairs.

ashley rodrigues

About the author: Ashley Rodrigues is a licensed professional counselor with a holistic wellness business based in Kansas. For more information, visit her website at

Further reading

If you suspect that infidelity has moved from the emotional to physical realm, discreetly tracking a spouse is now possible with modern technology. One of the biggest risks to marriage is the stress after having children. Be sure to read our guest post on how to keep a marriage strong after a baby.

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