May15 , 2024

Is Your Partner Having an Emotional Affair?


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Your partner is not having sex with someone, but they’re spending a lot of time just talking, emailing and texting: Does that count as an affair?

Or are they off the proverbial hook? No way, says behavior analyst and infidelity expert Carmen McGuinness. A close, intimate emotional attachment is still considered an affair—an affair of the heart.

It’s intimacy on a whole different level—and needs no physical contact to be considered an affair. It’s a secret relationship, one in which a commitment is involved, creating a form of infidelity.

It can all happen quite innocently.

  • Your partner claims they’re “just friends,” but this business colleague may also be jokingly referred to as his “work wife.” They spend a lot of time together, whether traveling on business, lunch breaks or unwinding at after-work happy hours. During this time together, they grow close by sharing intimate details of their lives, conversations seamlessly veering from business to the personal.
  • At home, you’ve noticed that your partner is very involved in texting and emailing. When you ask, you’re told, “It’s business.” But then, you see something that raises your suspicions: Even though it’s after hours, there’s an awful lot of “business” going on. Hmmm … the computer screen abruptly shifts back to a work email when you enter the room.
  • Your partner has reconnected with a long-lost love, spilling emotions over emails texts and Facebook messages. With the Internet making it easier than ever to locate past friends and long-lost loves, relationships are being resurrected quite effortlessly. Millions of people are having online affairs. Maybe your partner has reconnected with his high school flame. They’re updating one another on the past 40 years; there’s a lot to catch up on and much history to recount.

Then, it turns a little deeper: How is your marriage, really? Are you happy? Do you remember how special it was between us? Days gone by are relived; beckoning emotions to a different, sometimes better, place.

Without the messy pressures of a committed relationship and without the worries about everyday, mundane-but-necessary things like finances, kids, aging parents and life, your partner seeks solace in a person who is open and able to sit back and have relaxed, unpressured conversations. A person who “gets” him or her. Someone who is available to listen and pay attention.

Emotional affairs are not harmless

A friendship can easily veer into emotional-affair territory. These can wreck relationships. Just like a physical affair, this affair of the heart can break your partner’s heart.

Even without any physical contact, these verbal exchanges can grow emotionally heated and quite involved, the bond as close and emotionally intimate as any physical relationship.

“These behaviors are generally regarded as reserved for committed partners and can threaten the marriage or relationship because the partner—not unexpectedly— expected these behaviors to be exclusive to the marriage or relationship,” says McGuinness. The implication is that there is dissatisfaction with the nature or level of intimacy in your primary relationship, she says. “And data shows that an emotional connection and intimacy heightens the likelihood of a sexual connection.”

Other relationship experts note that emotional affairs are anything but harmless, calling them “a new crisis of infidelity,” and a threat to relationships everywhere. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy says that people who never intended to be unfaithful are “unwittingly crossing the line from platonic friendships into romantic relationships.” Read more about why men cheat.

How do you know?

Read on for some clues that might be a sign or put your partner is having an emotional affair or at risk for one. It needn’t wreck your marriage, but it can be painful. And it takes time to build back trust.

  • Your partner doesn’t talk openly with you.
  • Your partner looks outside your marriage for ego boosts.
  • Your partner avoids eye contact.
  • Your partner suddenly showers you with gifts.
  • You spend a lot of time apart or your partner makes excuses for not spending time alone with you.
  • You have unresolved conflicts.
  • You don’t do relaxing, fun things together.
  • You allow daily stressors to get in the way of your relationship and intimacy.
  • Your sex life has become dull and boring or is nonexistent.
  • Your relationship lacks sizzle and surprise.

What if the affair has already transpired?

  • Speak up, and openly discuss your concerns.
  • Be sure to stick to the emotional connection without veering into fears of what might happen next.
  • Calmly explain that you’re concerned that your partner doesn’t share with you in the same way, and you’d like to work on that specific problem.
  • Work on building back your own emotional connection and intimacy, whether it be as a couple or with the counsel of a relationship therapist.