You may end up becoming emotionally invested in someone other than your partner without realizing that you’re displaying classic signs of an emotional affair. Does that mean you’re cheating in a relationship? As new-age couples struggle with the ideas of monogamy, polyamory, and everything that falls in between, it’s hard to realize what’s cheating and what is not. They are faced with myriad dilemmas over where to draw the line of fidelity in a relationship.
There seems to be a consensus, of course, about getting into bed with someone other than one’s partner. Most people would agree that this is cheating, unless you’re in an open or polyamorous relationship. But in the case of an emotional affair, the lines are not well-demarcated. Rather, they are so hazy that you may be crossing the line without realizing there is a possibility of you soon getting entrenched in an emotional affair.
To understand the nuances of this topic, we refer to a scientific study as well as counselor Manjari Saboo (Masters in Applied Psychology and Post-Graduate Diploma in Family Therapy and Child Care Counseling), founder of Maitree Counselling, an initiative dedicated to the emotional well-being of families and children.
Is An Emotional Affair Cheating?
Is only having a physical relationship cheating? Or having an emotional dependence on someone is also cheating? You share your life’s every detail with them, you share your joys and sorrows and you share all your mood swings and achievements with them. You have a very strong emotional connection with the person. This connection is just between the two of you and not many people are aware of this closeness. And if you are wondering if your emotional affair is cheating, yes it is. It is called emotional infidelity.
There could be many stages of an emotional affair. It typically begins as an innocent friendship. As you invest more and more of yourself emotionally into a bond outside of your romantic partnership, this platonic friendship can turn into such a deep-seated form of intimacy that it can threaten your relationship. When any friendship crosses that threshold, it qualifies as the early signs of an emotional affair.
The initial stages might be considered harmless and innocent by you, but marriage experts and counselors agree that it is an act of infidelity. Just one that does not have a sexual dimension yet. More often than not, an emotional affair becomes a stepping stone for full-blown affairs and cheating.
Even if it does not, the lying and deception can leave your partner feeling betrayed when your emotional connection with a ‘friend’ comes to light. That’s because one of the warning signs of an emotional affair is a tendency to lie or keep secrets from one’s partner.
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But here’s a fair warning. According to Manjari, “Be sure that you know your partner is crossing a line before you confront them, because here’s the thing. Once you think your partner is cheating on you, all you’ll see are signs of an emotional affair taking place behind your back. A seed of suspicion will be planted in your mind and you’ll see all situations from that angle.” As per Manjari, the following are some behaviors that are signs of an emotional affair, but could also just be signs of general issues in your relationship:
- One partner might be too dependent on someone else for their opinions and starts to imbibe their personality or viewpoints
- One partner might be too in awe of someone else and can’t stop admiring them openly
- One partner might not be paying too much attention to their partner or their feelings
- A negligence of the relationship is considered one of the worrying signs of an emotional affair or is just a symptom of a bad relationship
- There’s a huge drop in the quality time that one partner initiates with the other
When transparency and honesty in a relationship are eroded, trust issues definitely begin to take hold. That’s why it’s crucial to identify the signs of an emotional affair with a coworker or friend, and nip it in the bud. Well, at least, if you want to salvage your relationship. If not, even then, it’s vital to be aware of your emotional state to decide what it is that you want for yourself.
Emotional Infidelity According To Research
As quoted in a study, various researchers in the past have tried to define emotional infidelity. It has been defined in rather ambiguous ways such as:
- An investment of romantic love, time, and attention in a person other than the primary partner
- Forming an emotional attachment, falling in love, or being interested in someone other than one’s partner
- Sharing intimate details
- Discussing complaints about the primary partner
- Meeting for an alcoholic drink
- Feeling ‘deeply connected’
- Secrecy of a behavior that is experienced as betrayal by one’s partner (e.g. in the case of internet infidelity) and other violations of relationship rules or norms
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Some of these definitions of emotional infidelity are problematic at times but this is certainly a start even if not a hard-and-fast way to spot signs of an emotional affair. As per the study, the two most frequently listed types of behaviors when watching out for warning signs of emotional affairs were:
- Texting or talking on the phone to someone secretly/flirtatiously/often
- Non-sexual physical touch (e.g. cuddling, hugging, massaging, holding hands)
Hanging out alone with someone that you know has a crush on you, or going out (one-on-one) with someone you find attractive that’s not your partner, or discussing extremely personal things with someone else that you haven’t even discussed with your significant other – according to some of the participants, this is also how you can spot the signs of an emotional affair. Online affairs are reshaping the idea of fidelity too. In the same study, some of the signs of a Facebook emotional affair or the signs of emotional affair online are:
- DM-ing other people on social media (telling them how attractive they are)
- Hitting ‘like’ on sexually charged pictures of other people
- Constant communication with someone who isn’t your partner/who threatens relationship/communication with someone behind partner’s back
- Posting pictures with a person consistently on social media
If your partner denies doing any of this, are these signs of lying about emotional affair? Or are they, in fact, not cheating? In such cases, it’s important to define what ‘infidelity’ means to you both, and the scope of it. Whether you’re looking for signs of wife having emotional affair, or your husband is indulging in a hard-to-describe social media cheating, you must be prepared to have a conversation with them about it.
Manjari says, “Emotional infidelity is a culmination of unsatisfied urges and wishes of the conscious and unconscious mind.” She gives an example of her couple clients, “A couple came to see me in an attempt to mend their relationship. This is how it started: The wife, one day, wasn’t ready for sex but the husband insisted. She agreed. The next day, when she told a friend about it, the friend said this sounds like sexual abuse.
“This eventually created a huge rift between the couple as she started approaching this friend more and more for advice and to share her feelings which she didn’t feel comfortable doing with her husband anymore. This led to all the signs of an emotional affair between her and her friend, leading to a disrupted marriage and couple’s counseling.”
11 Signs You Are Having An Emotional Affair
Lydia, a social worker from Philadelphia, saw all the signs of a Facebook emotional affair when her husband got back in touch with a former flame from college. He would spend hours chatting with his ex on Facebook, planned to meet her ‘just for coffee’ when Lydia was out of town, started dressing up nicer to just be able to send selfies to her – all the signs of emotional affair online.
She shares, “I had to jolt him awake from this college crush reverie he was in. I told him that I feel abandoned, that I miss him, and that I’m scared I’ll lose him soon. He truly listened and realized he’d stepped over a delicate line. He could finally spot the signs of an emotional affair that he had created for himself, and told his ex he can’t chat with her again.”
In this confusing atmosphere, what does it mean if you’re emotionally attached to another person? When two partners work all day, have little or no sex, and find no time to be with each other, an emotional affair might take hold at the workplace or with one of your close friends. Without going into the rights and wrongs of the whole deal, let’s look at the tell-tale signs of an emotional affair to help you decipher whether you’re unwittingly cheating in a relationship:
1. Who do you call first?
This may seem trivial, but experts hold this as the most common sign of emotional cheating. Usually, if something big happens, whether good or bad, calling your partner to share the news is the norm in relationships.
If you find yourself turning to your special friend in moments like these, and sharing important life updates with them even before your partner, you can count it among the warning signs of an emotional affair.
This rule does not apply in the case of parents, siblings or best friends. But if you gravitate toward a third party in times of need or joy, you might be having an emotional affair. This person dominates your mind space so much that they take precedence over the partner you’re sharing your life with.
2. They become your go-to person for advice
Typically, your partner is the go-to person for advice and counsel. Even if you may not take their advice, you do engage with them in discussions before making any important life decisions. Them being your sounding board is an important part of calling someone a partner.
If that role is taken on by this third person who has become an integral part of your life of late, it is among the most obvious signs of an emotional affair online or in real life.
Simone, a 31-year-old artist, discovered her partner’s emotional infidelity this way. He had accepted a job offer in an up-and-coming startup without so much as discussing or running it by her. He broke the news to her after putting in his papers at his workplace. When she quizzed him about the details of the new opportunity, he remained elusive in his responses.
Simone felt something didn’t quite add up, so she dug into his phone to understand what was going on. In his private chat messenger, she saw long, late-night conversations with a woman. All along she had thought he only knew her casually, but here he was having a heart-to-heart with her about his dissatisfaction in his current role. It was on her encouragement, that he had taken the leap of faith to move from a well-paying, secure job to a relatively unstable one.
When confronted, he thought she was making a mountain out of a molehill. He was not able to recognize that he was perhaps cheating on her emotionally. Unlike physical cheating, most aspects of emotional cheating are subtle, which makes it harder to define, acknowledge, and accept.
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3. Distance from the partner
Our 29-year-old reader from Illinois, Catherine, knew she could see signs of emotional affair brewing between her wife and her ‘friend’, but couldn’t do a thing. Why? She shares, “How do you even prove anything? It wasn’t physical, so I just waited for her to confess, and for her to acknowledge that my trust in her is shaken.” So though there were signs of wife having emotional affair, Catherine couldn’t do much about it just because she kept waiting for her wife to confess cheating and because society prioritizes physical connection over an emotional one.
One of the undeniable signs of an emotional affair is that you tend to replace your partner with another person. This replacement happens through actions which we may not always notice. This also means that a certain distance gets created in a relationship. If you’re used to talking to your partner about your problems and you suddenly don’t, your partner will begin to take notice eventually.
The signs of an emotional affair at work or outside of it will become apparent when your partner begins to realize that you no longer connect with them on the same emotional level you used to. The fact is that you’re getting your fill of emotional sustenance from somewhere else, and in turn, denying your partner a whole emotional connection. Their role is diminishing in your life and you are indeed having an emotional affair.
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4. Priorities change
The growing distance in a relationship shows clearly when it comes to priorities. Take the example of Devon, our reader from Iowa, for instance. He used to rush home to his partner, Sandy, every evening so that they could have dinner together. Due to their schedules, this was the only meal they could share with each other properly and they had always made this a priority.
But ever since Devon became friends with his colleague, he didn’t attach much value to these nightly meals with Sandy. Staying late in the office became a norm for him. He failed to see that him spending time with his friend every day over having dinner with his partner was one of the screaming signs of an emotional affair with a coworker, just begging to be noticed. This shift in priorities might be small but these things have a tendency to turn from innocent friendships to sexual affairs.
5. Friend takes on the role of a partner
Friendship is a nurturing relationship. It is often more nurturing than any other human bond. However, this bond can enter a grey area when friends begin to play the role of a partner. This can become complicated when there is an actual partner in the picture.
Going clothes shopping, buying groceries, making plans for decorating the house, these small mundane things often hold great importance in the life of a couple. Things that you share with your partner, the roles that you play in each other’s lives are significant yet often ignored.
When there is someone else in your life that you can do these very things with, that exclusive place that belongs only to a significant other is lost. You may risk making your partner feel ignored or replaced. The partner becomes affected by the emotional infidelity. Dealing with it can be akin to surviving an affair.
6. Texting throughout the day
This is an absolute red flag. If you have to text this special person all day and if you are on instant alert the moment you hear the ping, then this is a sure sign of an emotional affair.
If you have to delete all the conversations so that your spouse doesn’t see them, then there is something you need to hide. The conversations that you are having with this person whom you consider a great “friend” are not very normal ones.
Ray suspected something was amiss in his marriage. His wife seemed to spend an awful lot of time on her phone and was always hesitant in parting with it. He didn’t know how to read the signs of an emotionally cheating wife but knew something about her had changed.
One Sunday afternoon, he asked for his wife’s phone feigning some urgency while she was in the thick of texting, and saw that she was chatting with a friend. Though the context of the conversation seemed harmless, Ray felt that something didn’t quite add up.
Later that night, he browsed through her phone again after she had gone off to sleep and saw that the chat, as well as the contact, had been deleted. That’s when he knew for sure that his life partner had become emotionally invested in another man.
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7. You want to be with them more than your spouse
When you are planning a holiday or a day out at the movies, you keep wishing in your heart that you could be with that person instead of having to tag along with the spouse.
You think of long conversations sitting in a log cabin overlooking the hills as you keep sipping a hot cuppa on the balcony. If the thought of a long weekend with the family dampens your spirits because you wouldn’t be able to see that coworker you’ve grown incredibly close to , it’s among the classic signs of an emotional affair at work.
Similarly, if you prefer staying home rather than accompany your partner on a shopping outing or to the movies just so that you can chat with that special friend in peace, it counts as one of the signs of an emotional affair online.
8. You compare your partner to them
Another one of the unmistakable signs of an emotional affair is a tendency to compare your partner with the person you’ve grown close to. Whatever the situation, you inevitably find yourself wondering what would they do or how would they react. In these comparisons, the other person always has an edge over your partner.
From their taste in music to the way they dress, their professional accomplishments to their sense of humor, you find them slightly better than your current partner on all counts. You may or may not voice these comparisons, but there is a tiny voice in your head always keeping score. And your special friend inevitably emerges as the winner.
9. You dress up for them
Tad was in his late 30s and had been married for half a decade. His life had become as predictable and settled as they come. He was perfectly content with the life he had built for himself with his husband until a young man at the office knocked off his socks.
He was attracted to this younger man who was the opposite of his husband even though he didn’t want to admit it. Until one day, Tad caught himself carefully choosing an outfit and shoes and putting extra effort to style his hair because he was accompanying him for a business conference. The two had grown immensely close in a very short time, and he could no longer deny the fact that he looked forward to his company way more than his husband’s.
10. You discuss your relationship troubles with them
‘No airing your dirty laundry in public’ – that is one of the thumb rules of a healthy relationship. No matter how difficult things may be in your relationship, you just don’t go bad-mouthing your partner or discussing the trouble in paradise with someone who is an absolute outsider. However, when you’re caught in an emotional affair, venting about your relationship comes naturally to you.
You don’t give a second thought to sharing your innermost thoughts, reservations, disappointments with the person you have become attached to. There may even be times where you share with them things you may not even have shared with your partner. This is not just among the warning signs of an emotional affair but also one of the most worrying of them all. If left unchecked, your feelings can quickly spiral out of control, destroying your relationship in their spate.
11. You start keeping secrets from your partner
You may tell yourself that this newfound special person in your life is just a friend. Deep down, you know how you feel about them. You are attracted, enamored, smitten. That’s why you do everything in your power to hide your growing closeness to them from your partner.
They may not even be aware of the existence of this friend. Even if they do, they definitely don’t know how close you two have become. It is the guilt of overstepping the boundaries of friendship that causes you to keep secrets and lie to your partner. The deeper you go down this rabbit hole, the harder it will be to recover. At some point, your partner is going to find out about this other person, and the lies and deceit will leave them crushed.
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Manjari says, “Even after having witnessed initial warning signs of emotional affair, there is always a chance of amendment in any relationship, it’s up to us to decide what comes first for us.” She says here’s what you can do to avoid a case of emotional infidelity:
- Discuss your current temptation and your weak thoughts with your partner
- When you see some signs of an emotional affair in yourself or your partner, spend more time with each other even though it feels hard in the beginning
- If you are getting too attached to someone, put some distance between you and them. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ strategy does work in the long term
- Emotional affairs are hard to define, so they are more difficult to catch and easier to get into
- This kind of infidelity plays as much of a havoc with a relationship as physical infidelity
- It’s important to lay out the rules, boundaries, and norms between you and your partner so you know exactly what constitutes emotional infidelity for both of you
- Some of the signs of an emotional affair are chatting with someone all day long, spending more time with them, taking their advice over your partner’s every time, meeting them secretly, flirting with them, non-sexual physical touches, etc.
The fact remains romantic relationships are a labor of love. To keep one active requires a lot of love and care. Small actions and reactions matter in these bonds. Unless attention is paid to the roles we play in a relationship and the love that is exchanged, we run the risk of an emotional affair.
And once we are entrenched in one, it becomes very hard to push it away. Because you always tell yourself you are not sleeping with the person so you are not cheating. But the fact remains that there is more than one type of infidelity.
An emotional affair is a connection outside of your relationship or marriage where you not only invest emotional energy in a third person but also receive comfort and affection from them.
Emotional affairs typically start as harmless friendship or bonding between two people who feel that they get each other. However, over time, the lines of friendship and fidelity are blurred, and you start relying on each other to have your emotional needs met.
Yes, emotional affairs can turn into love because their basic premise is attraction and affection. The two people in such a relationship already rely on each other emotionally and are drawn to one another. If these feelings are left unchecked, love can certainly take hold.
There is simply no concrete timeline for the duration of emotional affairs. It is possible that one of the parties to the affair may decide to pull the plug or the emotional infidelity may turn into a full-blown affair.