Are You Having an Emotional Affair Outside of Your Relationship? (2024)

Emotional affairs can wreak havoc on your marriage or relationship as well as your family. You only have a certain amount of “emotional energy.”If you are focusing your energy elsewhere, it can start to have a detrimental effect on your relationships with the people closest to you.

What's more, opening yourself up so much to another person always has the potential to turn into something more, especially if it's someone you're attracted to or who fits a type you might typically go after if you weren't in a relationship already.

Friendships are fine, of course, but it's important to recognize when things may be starting to cross the line. There are a number of behaviors or signs that may point to you or your partner having an emotional affair. Let's explore those signs as well as the impact this may have on your relationship with your partner.

Are You Having an Emotional Affair Outside of Your Relationship? (1)

What Is an Emotional Affair?

An emotional affair is a non-sexual relationship involving a similar level of emotional intimacy and bonding as a romantic relationship.

Emotional affairs usually begin as friendships. Some platonic relationships can slowly morph into deep emotional friendships. When you find this other person attractive or when you share sexual chemistry, you face a slippery slope pulling you away from your marriage or partnership.

There usually is no intention for these bonds to become anything more. Regardless, the line is thin between close friendships and emotional affairs. Furthermore, emotional affairs can also quickly lead to flirtation and sexual encounters.

"A meaningful emotional connection is important for the foundation of any relationship, platonic or romantic. A friendship can evolve into an emotional affair when boundaries begin to blur," says relationship therapist and expert Ivy Kwong, LMFT.

When an individual starts withholding intimate information from their primary partner and sharing their deepest thoughts, feelings, desires, and experiences with someone else who they feel increasingly emotionally intimate with and drawn to, an emotional affair may be occurring.

IVY KWONG, LMFT

Are You Involved in an Emotional Affair?

Signs of an Emotional Affair

If you are not quite sure if you or your partner are having an emotional affair, here are nine signs that this may be the case:

Frequent Contact

Emotional affairs are usually characterized by a great deal of contact with one another. This includes spending time together in person but also having frequent contact when you are not together.

For example, you often communicate with this person at questionable hours. You devote a lot of time texting, emailing, or video calling this person. You may even neglect your partner, family, and other obligations in order to maintain constant contact with this person.

It's the neglect, especially, that turns this kind of behavior from a close friendship into cause for concern. Think, for example, about how you might feel if your partner spent your dinner date or movie night together texting someone else.

Frequent Sharing

Emotional affairs are also characterized by a tendency to prioritize this other relationship to the point where you confide in them more than you do your own partner. They become the first person you want to call with any “news.”

For example, if you have some exciting news to share or you havehad a particularly bad day, they are the person you call or text. You may not be sharing with your partner very much at all.

You might not be intentionally hiding things from your partner, but the lack of communication means that your partner doesn't really know what is going on in your life. It may also be a signal that you aren't prioritizing your relationship enough.

Constant Thoughts

The person you are having an emotional affair with becomes the focus of your attention. This person takes over your thoughts.You may also find that you have a difficult time concentrating on things that don't involve this person.

You think about your friend constantly and they may be on your mind when you wake up in the morning, when you go to sleep at night, and a lot of the time in between.When you are getting dressed, you may have this person in mind hoping they will notice your appearance.

While emotional affairs start out as non-sexual, you might also start having romantic or sexual fantasies about this other person.

Feeling Understood

You believe this person really “gets” you in a way that even your partner doesn't.You might feel that they have a lot in common with you and that you have a lot of shared interests.

This may sound a lot like a typical close friendship—and it certainly may be just that! But if you feel this connection making you resentful of your partner or degrading your intimacy, connection, and communication with them, it may be time to reassess your behavior.

There's no one sign that indicates you're definitely having an emotional affair, but rather a collection of your feelings and behaviors toward this person, and how it is impacting your current romantic relationship.

Inappropriate Sharing

Emotional affairs may begin with conversations about work and other topics but they often shift into more intimate details about your life, relationships, personal issues, and even your sex life.

This tendency to make yourself emotionally vulnerable while disclosing intimate details about yourself and your feelings deepens your attachment to this other person.

You discuss very personal topics, such as the problems in your current relationship.You share all or most of your problems and concerns with this person. As you do this, you may also grow more unhappy with your partner, while simultaneously not taking the steps necessary to repair any issues in your relationship.

Unfair Comparisons

As you grow closer to this other person, you may also begin to judge others in comparison to them. You may frequently compare them with your partner, even to the point of getting angry with your partner for not doing things like the other person.

Because you are idealizing this other person, your partner begins to look worse in your eyes. You may find yourself being more critical of your partner.

It also means that you tend to look for mistakes and overemphasize your partner's flaws without giving them credit for their strengths. These unfair comparisons also mean you overlook any negative traits in the person you are having an emotional affair with. You may be falling prey to the fallacy that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Spending More Time Together

In addition to always being in touch with this other person, you spend a lot of time together in person.You find excuses or create reasons to spend time with them. You might stay out together after work or make plans on the weekends with them.

You may even find excuses to avoid spending time with your partner so that you can spend more time with this other person. You might find that you get "butterflies" any time the other person texts, calls, or visits.

Secrecy

You start to lie or keep secrets.This usually entails lying by omission. Not only do you not mention your talks, meetings, lunches, texts, and phone calls to your partner, but you also take steps to hide these communications. For example, you might delete messages from your phoneor deny the communication you had when asked.

You are hiding things or lyingwhen you know deep down that the behavior is not okay. Would you be mortified if your partner heard a taped conversation between you or saw some of your spicier text conversations? If so, that's a sign things have possibly gone too far.

Less Time for Your Partner

Your partner gets less of you while your special person gets more. Whether it is less communication, affection, your thoughts, or your innermost world, your time and focus are taken from your partner and transferred to this other person.

Spending time with others outside your relationship and having emotional connections is not normally a problem. It is when your connection with one person takes over your life, interferes with your relationship, and becomes something that you feel like you have to hide that it becomes a problem.

One important question you should ask yourself: Would you be upset if your partner shared this level of intimacy with one of their friends?

Signs Your Partner Is Having an Emotional Affair

In some cases, you might be worried that your partner is having an emotional affair with someone else. Some signs to watch for include:

  • Your partner spends a lot of time at work or doing other things without you
  • Your partner is careful to hide their phone and acts secretive about who they are communicating with online
  • Your partner constantly talks about their close friend who they seem to share a special connection with
  • Your partner start to criticize you and compare you to their friend
  • Your partner seems to be drawing away from you and rarely shares information about their life with you

It is important to talk to your partner about an emotional affair if you're involved in one or if you suspect your partner is having one. Honest, clear, and kind communication is essential in any relationship, especially when it comes to addressing issues that can impact trust and intimacy.

IVY KWONG, LMFT

Impact of Emotional Affairs

These types of affairs can seem like a vacation from your everyday life. You only get the best of this other person, and they see the best of you. You do not see them “24/7” and learn about their bad habits and less attractive features.Your image of them is mainly based on fantasy and an idealized persona, which will undoubtedly make this relationship very alluring.

Some ways that emotional affairs can affect your relationship include:

  • Betrayal and hurt
  • Damaging your partner's trust
  • Damaged relationships with other family members, including children
  • Difficulty forming future relationships
  • Divorce
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, and anger
  • Reduce self-confidence
  • Worse communication between you and your partner

If you think you are having an emotional affair, it may be time to seriously evaluate the state of your relationship with your current partner.

Even when such affairs do not cross the line by becoming physical, the impact can be just as damaging and put your relationship in danger. The intimacy involved in emotional affairs can frequently have a degree of intensity deeper than a sexual affair because you are more emotionally invested.

"Emotional affairs can be just as damaging to a relationship as physical affairs," Kwong says, "as they can involve secrecy, withholding, deception, and a redirection of emotional intimacy and energy away from the committed partner and toward the person they are having an emotional affair with."

Your partner may see this as the same level of betrayal as if you were in fact sleeping with the other person.

How to Deal With an Emotional Affair

Emotional affairs don't happen suddenly or out of the blue. It takes time and effort to build an emotional connection with another person. If you believe that you are engaging in actions that might be an emotional affair, there are things that you can do to reestablish boundaries and protect your relationship with your partner.

By acknowledging and discussing the emotional affair openly and directly, you can work together to understand what led to it, express your feelings and concerns, and explore ways to repair from it, rebuild trust, and strengthen your relationship.

IVY KWONG, LMFT

Avoiding emotional affairs doesn't mean limiting contact with others or not sharing emotional connections with your friends. Those relationships are essential for social support and psychological well-being.

Strategies that can help if you feel like you are involved in an emotional affair:

  • Create boundaries: Establish and maintain boundaries or expectations for how you and others will behave in relationships. For example, staying in contact with your friends is essential, but there should also be certain times when you focus on your partner and family.
  • Communicate with your partner: Talk to your partner about the details of your life, from the events of your day to your personal feelings about different events in your life.
  • Spend time together: Set aside time to spend quality time with your partner.

Finally, consider talking to a mental health professional if an emotional affair is causing problems in your relationship. They can help you address issues that might cause you or your partner to seek out emotional connections with others in the first place.

If you or your partner are experiencing an emotional affair, it is important to stay in communication with your partner. "Avoiding the conversation or keeping it secret can lead to further damage and distance between you and your partner," Kwong says. Talking about the issue is an important first step, but you might find that couples counseling can be helpful as well.

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Are You Having an Emotional Affair Outside of Your Relationship? (2024)
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