Some affairs start innocently like a harmless friendship. Probably with a person you see every day – like at work. Or someone you knew from college who has just moved into the city. An emotional affair doesn’t always have to be a full-blown sex scandal – they can be discreet, quiet. And from here rises the emotional cheating vs friendship conflict. One goes through stages of emotional affairs to finally arrive on a full-fledged extramarital affair that you always thought would never happen.
The harmless friendship transgresses into something more and you refer to the person as a friend.
While some may not consider an emotional affair as bad as a sexual one, the effect it has on a relationship often becomes harder to get past than a sexual one. Because emotional infidelity is not based on just lust -it is more of an emotional dependency on anyone other than a partner.
Emotional affair invests a lot on emotional intimacy outside of a committed relationship.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy warns against emotional affairs: “A new crisis of infidelity is emerging in which people who never intended to be unfaithful are unwittingly crossing the line from platonic friendships into romantic relationships.”
A national poll was conducted that supports this statement with shocking statistics. The poll showed that 35% married women and 45% married men indulge in sexual affairs. 22% men and 13% women – both married and unmarried have cheated in their lifetimes. 60% couples go through infidelity in their marital life. However, findings also revealed that apart from these stats, 20% married couples have committed emotional infidelity.
Before jumping to reasons (whys), stages, and approaches to mend; let’s understand how emotional affairs start.
It begins without even realization when friendships morph into emotional and at times, sexual affairs. Once you set your emotions on this slippery slope, you can’t escape.
And where do they start?
They begin where people get to interact a lot and continue with high frequency.
As Schaefer mentions in The Like Switch that likeness for someone harbors from acquaintance and emotional affairs, which start in places of interaction.
It is noteworthy that the statistics given above might not be impartial as everyone, of course, won’t admit to having an emotional connection with someone other than their partner.
Related Reading: Therapist’s Tips On How To Deal With Emotional Infidelity
Reasons For An Emotional Affair
People don’t get into an emotional affair just like that. There are reasons for which innocuous conversations between two people lead to emotional inter-dependency. It comes to a point when they get distressed if they cannot share their lives and this happens despite being in a committed relationship. The reasons for an emotional affair are mainly the following.
1. Dissatisfied with the primary relationship
Most emotional affairs have undertones of a dissatisfied primary relationship or marriage. Anger or dissatisfaction with your partner that are not addressed directly to your partner might result in you talking about the relationship to someone else. And that’s how you get closer to that person.
People in a loveless marriage also resort to emotional needs fulfillment and develop emotional bond with someone out of the marriage.
2. Seeking emotional validation
Dissatisfaction in the relationship often makes people seek validation somewhere else anyone who is understanding and doesn’t judge and lends a patient ear becomes the crutch they want to lean on.
In fact, your ‘friend’ gives you more attention than your partner does. You get more compliments, empathy, and validation from this person than your spouse. No matter, how much you keep telling yourself that it is nothing more than a friendship, deep down you know it is much more than that.
3. Invalidating each other
Couples might often invalidate each other’s feelings, especially if there is a communication gap. Couples in a long-term relationship might not feel the need to communicate that often or make the effort to talk about feelings. That might result in a partner venting out to someone else apart from the partner.
Perhaps he or she pays more attention to you than your spouse does or gives you more validation, compliments, or empathy. You tell yourself it is just a good friendship, but it is probably just to reduce your feelings of guilt.
4. Better connectivity
Social media opens up avenues to talk about your issues without actually having to meet the person. Also, it’s easier to talk about sensitive topics over messaging. Casual chats turn into sharing things that are missing in their marriage.
People find a window that brings them a blow of refreshing breeze as a respite from their dissatisfactory marriage. Those who don’t feel loved also tend to find someone to lean on to, a healer, a listener, and a confidante in the other person. You won’t know when your “just talking” becomes an emotional support system for you. From here start emotional affairs and texting the other person secretly that becomes an everyday routine.
5. Seeking pleasure
People in an emotional affair believe that they deserve the pleasure of emotional connection. They don’t find it hurtful as they believe that all of us have desires to be satisfied. This feeling takes away all the guilt and they are at peace, cooking up stories about their need for this friend.
As they find their act harmless and have convinced themselves how much they deserve it, they go the extra mile to justify it.
Related Reading: I Am Cheating On My Wife Not Physically But Emotionally
The 7 Stages Of An Emotional Affair
The stages of an emotional affair are subtle so it’s hard to separate one from the other. It starts innocently and ends up creating turmoil in your committed relationship. Here are the 7 stages of an emotional affair.
1. The benign friendship stage
The initial stages of an emotional affair are harmless and are seen so by both the parties. Probably a co-worker, a colleague or a dear old friend is the confidant. Soon the texts get more frequent and you have to share a lot of personal information about each other’s lives. The phrase “just friends” gets thrown around a lot and you like the energy “this friend” brings to your life.
This marks the foundation of emotional infidelity among the 7 stages of emotional affairs. The budding platonic relationship seems quite natural and you think it’s harmless because your primary relationship with your partner is secure and you love your partner.
Pretty darn harmless, right?
With time, the boundaries break and even before you can realize, your friendship has become too intimate. You want to give all your time to this person and the connection between you and the person becomes stronger. You feel important as this person understands your thoughts and resonates with your feelings.
2.The more-than-just-friends stage
It’s hard to be specific about when your budding friendship started looking more and more like a page out of a John Green novel. The connection between you two are stronger now and you feel you have known each other for a long time.
You would not admit that something is going on between you two but deep inside you do know there is something.
This stage is where your primary relationship takes a backseat. You share more with this person than with your partner. You are not sleeping together or anything but the friendship starts to have an underlying sexual tension. There is some daydreaming involved (though you constantly think it’s nothing serious) where you think about this person a lot, playing out your sexual fantasies. This person is on your mind, sometimes even when you are with your partner. This is the beginning of the honeymoon phase in affairs that people enjoy, much like the beginning of a romantic relationship.
Most importantly, you do not tell your partner about this friend and feel the need to hide messages and selfies you receive from this friend. All clear-cut signs of a budding emotional affair.
Slowly, you start enjoying the faint flirtation and develop an attraction towards this person.
To have a better idea if you are going beyond friendship, think:
- Do you often think of your friend?
- Do you wait to talk or spend time together?
- Do you try to keep your ‘friendship’ a secret?
3. The cribbing stage
Specifically, cribbing about your relationship with this person becomes a norm. You have grown close enough to share what you are feeling about your primary relationship, cribbing about the inadequacies your partner has to this person and you don’t mind telling the person what you want your life to be like.
There are things that are just between you and this other person. You pour your heart to your ‘friend’, sharing secrets and other stuff that strengthens your bond. This is one of the major emotional cheating signs that is not realized by the people involved. By doing so, you have stepped-in the danger zone.
By telling the things to your friend that are meant to be between you and your partner, you replace the bond between you and your partner with a new person.
The energy that can be well placed to nurture your primary relationship is spent on finding the faults in the relationship. The conversations that you should be having with your committed partner are being had with this person. At this stage, the emotional dependency has started building up.
Importantly, you keep having secrets from your partner. The texts are kept more secret. A simple “Who are you texting so much?” from your partner makes you feel jumpy. The detachment from your partner becomes very evident.
You might still be playing cool because your emotional affair has not led to sexual indulgence. But you feel a sexual craving for this person, definitely much stronger than you feel for your partner.
4. The sexual stage
With you feeling dissatisfied in your relationship and having a friend to fall back on for emotional support, this emotional affair can shift to a sexual one very soon. Because you have such a strong bond, the sex that comes with it feels good. The longer it takes for sex, the stronger the bond becomes for the two of you.
When you want to feel sexually attractive to this person, you focus on your looks. While having sex with your significant other, you fantasize about doing the same with your emotional partner. He/she flirts more and lure with sex insinuation. You start wearing fragrance and getting gifts for your emotional interest. You become more smitten with each other and enjoy being in control for your desires.
It is noteworthy that the rage of emotional affair is unresolved as the control requisite is manipulative, played in an enthralling sexualized manner.
Now, not all emotional affairs might come down to sex. Since sexual affair is often considered worse than an emotional affair, keeping the sex out of it might make you feel less guilty, less shady.
Related Reading: 10 Signs Your Husband Is Having An Emotional Affair
5. The deciding-for-each-other stage
This is the most crucial stage since you end up making important decisions by consulting your “emotional” partner. It’s they who decides what dress suits you, whether you should change your job and if both of you are watching your diet it’s usually that kind of food that gets cooked at home. A sudden decision to party with friends might be turned down by you because you miss your “emotional partner” and they might be upset that you partied without them.
This stage does become exasperating for your committed partner because they fail to understand why you are behaving so weirdly and taking all decisions excluding them.
So, ponder upon some questions to realize if you are deciding to be with your emotional partner forever:
- Do you share things with each other that no one else knows about?
- Are you keen to share your life events?
Introspect and know if your bond with this person is blocking that you have with your spouse.
6. Disgusted with your home life
You are so much into your emotional partner that you hate your own home. Your family disgusts you and you feel you would be better off with your emotional partner. This is the stage when you go through the worst turmoil because you are finally unable to do the precarious balancing act between your commitment towards home and your affinity towards your emotional partner.
You tend to find home in your emotional partner. This person is comforting and soothing for your emotional needs and fulfils those just the way you want. It is most likely that your disgust with your home life is increased and you find his/her company calming.
7. The final decision
An emotional affair can turn so serious that it could lead to a breakdown of a marriage. A classic example of that is what was shown in the film Lunch Box. They had not even seen each other but they connected so strongly through letters hidden in a lunchbox that the woman wanted to leave home and start a new life with this man who was way older to her.
Sometimes emotional affairs can also fizzle out. But unlike sexual relationships, emotional affairs are stronger and hence last much longer and have more serious consequences.
Saving The Relationship After An Emotional Affair
An emotional affair is turbulent. It can have a catastrophic impact on a relationship. There’s deep connection sometimes sexual chemistry, with someone who is not your partner. When this emotional affair sees the light, your partner has two ways: either leave you or work on the relationship.
Saving a relationship after an emotional affair will take active participation from both the partners. If you are the one who has been in an emotional affair with a third person, you know what it’s like to be guilt-ridden when your partner finds out. At this point, it might not even be up to you to decide the fate of the relationship.
But if your partner is one of those people who are willing to work for it and work on the relationship you are lucky. But if you are the one who feels you need some time to decide which road to take – whether to work for it or quit it – it’s time to reassess your relationship status.
Saving your relationship after an emotional affair will need time, dedication and a few golden rules to follow.
1. Cut off connection
You will have to cut off any connection with the person you were having an emotional connection with, no questions asked. It might hurt to say goodbye to this person, but to work on your relationship, this needs to be done.
2. Preparing your mindset
You have your partner to fall back on for emotional dependency. Prepare your mindset. If any aspect of the relationship is troubling you, your partner is the one who needs to know that. Vent all you want but to your partner.
3. Your partner needs to understand
Now is a great time to talk about why you did what you did. If you were dissatisfied with your partner, felt inadequate or happy in the relationship, now is the time to talk to your partner about them. But your partner needs to know that unnecessary show of anger or resentment towards you won’t help the healing. Talking to a couples therapist might be a good way to start.
4. Talk about the person
You should talk about the person you were having an emotional affair with. As guilty as that would make you feel and as angry as it might make your partner feel, this is crucial. What are the things that drew you to this person for an emotional affair – was it his empathetic nature, was it his good looks or the fact that he was a good listener? Sort them out. Spell them out for your partner. These were the inadequacies that your partner has – work on them.
5. Don’t give up
Initially, you might feel that the relationship is doomed but all relationships go through roadblocks. So, it’s mandatory not to lose heart along the way. It’s possible to forge an even stronger relationship after an affair.
Do keep in mind an emotional affair can happen anytime but how you deal with it is up to you.
This is one of the reasons why a strong friendship and intimate connection in the relationship is one of the best antidotes to an affair. Keep working on the marriage. So, what can you do to make your marriage emotional affair proof? As the first step, you can come together as friends and have a relationship based on trust. As a woman in a strong relationship said:
“How could I have an affair? My husband is the first person I share all significant events with. I’d immediately have to run and tell him!”
Now, that is a bond, emotional-affair proof. But wait. That’s the woman’s perspective. We still have to address men and emotional affairs as in the statistics above we have seen that men tend to slip more towards emotional connection that women.
Thus, love, respect, and support each other. Communicate openly and frequently. Share your feelings, plans, and any issues that you have with each other. Have fun and genuinely get over hurts at the earliest.
These are wise ways to deal with infidelity and have a strong marriage where you have emotional connection with your spouse and none else.
Have a blissful relationship!
How long do emotional affairs last?
Emotional affairs are said to last 6 months to three years usually, as per Denise Bartell, PhD, psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.
However, it is noteworthy that emotional affairs are not defined well. They have cloudy boundaries and understood expectations, and are thus difficult to be ended. These are more difficult to end than physical affairs. Also, it is quite convenient to develop an intimate connection between people who don’t take their relationship to sexual level.
Do emotional affairs turn into love?
Yes, with a strong emotional connection between two individuals, emotional affairs many of the times turn onto love. These affairs are getaways that lead the people involved into a sexual relationship. Almost half of the times, sex happens in an emotional affair.
Emotional energy is largely invested in such bonds and people spend more time with each other. So, the intimacy that should be among the people in a marriage is hurt and compromised. People believe emotional affairs to be harmless but in all earnestness, most of the marriage experts count it as cheating, even though boundaries of sex are maintained.
How often do emotional affairs turn physical?
Pretty often an emotional affair easily morphs into a physical affair. Over time, things change and you find yourself in physical intimacy. The chances of emotional affairs turning into a physical affair increase, if you don’t maintain decent boundaries.
For a marriage, it is much more dangerous if your spouse finds emotional connection with someone else. Any of the partners who is emotionally drawn to the third person in an emotional way is at the risk of getting physical outside the wedlock.
Why do emotional affairs hurt so much?
Emotional affairs are hurtful because the betrayed partner is left with loneliness, lies, deception, and ignorance of the spouse. In fact, emotional affairs are much more damaging than the physical ones. In an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other person. A chemistry or sexual tension might also develop in it.
Physical affairs can easily be called off but emotional affairs are far more damaging as an emotional; bond is long lived and a greater form of betrayal.
How do most emotional affairs end?
It ends with a lot of heartache, just like that of breaking up with a lover. Most of the emotional affairs end with much difficulty. However, people who want to put an end to such affairs have resorted to approaches like completely cutting the ties with their emotional partners. It feels like losing a significant part of themselves whom they have treasured. At times, the decision is not mutual.
Once people decide to end it, moving on becomes easier. They are determined to call off the bond and bring their loyalty back for their respective spouses.