What’s so bad about some innocent flirting? If this is something you’ve recently uttered to yourself, you could already be on the path to having an emotional affair. If you’ve ever been a victim of one of these affairs, you already know how painful this supposedly “victimless crime” can be for the betrayed partner.
Emotional affairs don’t get the attention of sexual affairs because they lack the gritty, salacious details. We often view emotional cheating as a “lesser crime” compared to a sexual affair. As a result, couples often don’t focus on the prevention of and recovery from these affairs as they should. Let’s break down the relationship breakdown behind every emotional affair.
What Is an Emotional Affair?
Let’s start by defining an emotional affair just to make sure everyone is on the same page. An emotional affair is a non-sexual relationship that involves levels of intimacy and bonding that are similar to what would be experienced in a romantic relationship. Emotional infidelity is far more common than most people realize. Fatherly.com recently shared research involving 90,000 men and women that found that 78.6% of men and 91.6% of women admitted to having an emotional affair.
What Leads to Emotional Affairs?
A desire to be seen, heard, appreciated, and desired is behind most emotional affairs. The person leaning into a boundary-crossing relationship feels unfulfilled in their existing relationship. The thrill of being seen as someone interesting by someone they find interesting becomes a never-ending adrenaline source. Of course, people have different motivations for emotional infidelity.
You may be undermining your current relationship because you’re looking for a way out of it. However, you may not feel secure enough in your decision to make a full exit. While you are able to enjoy the thrill of a new partner, the “impossibility” of an emotional affair prevents you from the anxiety-provoking parts of actually becoming vulnerable enough to start over with a new relationship.
You may also be striking up an emotional affair out of revenge. This can happen when you feel ignored or undervalued by your partner. In addition to “punishing” your partner, stepping outside your relationship to be emotionally fulfilled can also alleviate boredom, anxiety, or self-hatred by distracting you.
Don’t underestimate the role that underlying childhood dynamics could be playing in your willingness to have an emotional affair. In some cases, this could be a self-sabotaging act because your insecure attachment from childhood is causing you to believe that you’re not worthy of your current partner. You are doing everything in your power to “blow it all up.” There’s a big risk of an emotional affair evolving into a physical affair in this scenario.
How to Tell If You’re Having an Emotional Affair
The earliest sign of an emotional affair is that you’re simply looking forward to seeing a platonic friend or associate a little more than you should. From there, things often escalate until you are prioritizing seeing or texting this person above what would be considered appropriate based on the nature of the relationship. Telltale signs that you’re in deep include:
- You’re daydreaming about the person.
- You begin spending less time with your partner.
- You’re keeping text messages, calls, or visits a secret.
- You’re telling the person things you don’t even share with your partner.
- You get defensive whenever someone questions your closeness with this person.
- You’re sharing details of the private fights or communication issues you’re having with your partner.
- Gifts are being exchanged.
With an emotional affair, there comes a point where both parties are aware that boundaries are being crossed. This inappropriateness typically continues to escalate toward one of two conclusions. The first is that one of the affair participants states that they want to pursue a full-blown relationship. This could include leaving partners or families in order to fully be together. The second is that one affair participant “snaps out of it” after deciding that they need to work on things with their partner. Both scenarios have the potential to create much destruction.
What Should You Do If You’re Having an Emotional Affair?
Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing. The non-physical quality of this type of affair allows people to “fool themselves” by using technicalities to justify their behaviors. With the stakes being so high, I can’t recommend individual therapy enough for getting to the source of why you’re drawn to this type of relationship!