It’s a scenario that happens all the time: You’ve met a new friend or co-worker and you instantly feel a connection. The two of you just click and soon, the text messages are flowing freely. You’re cracking inside jokes, you’re very subtly flirting and you’re thinking about him or her all the time.
It sounds like the start of a very promising new romantic relationship. The only problem? You’re already in a relationship — and it may instead be the start of an emotional affair. An emotional affair generally starts innocently enough as a friendship. Through investing emotional energy and time with one another outside the marital relationship, the former platonic friendship can begin to form a strong emotional bond which hurts the intimacy of the spousal relationship.
For some individuals, the most hurtful and painful consequences of an emotional affair is the sense of being deceived, betrayed, and lied to. Any part of one’s life that is essentially kept a secret from a partner is dangerous to the trust between spouses. An emotional affair is when a person not only invests more of their emotional energy outside their marriage, but also receives emotional support and companionship from the new relationship. In an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other party and may experience increasing sexual tension or chemistry.
If you believe that a person’s emotional energy is limited, and if your spouse is sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with someone else, an emotional affair has developed. Although cheaters are often guilt-free in an emotional affair because there is no sex involved, their spouses often view an emotional affair as damaging as a sexual affair. Much of the pain and hurt from an emotional affair is due to the deception, lies, and feelings of being betrayed.
If you are finding something in this “friendship” you are not finding with your partner, talk about it openly. Give your partner a chance to address these missing pieces so that your emotional depth and intimacy as a couple can be rejuvenated. Couples counseling may be necessary for you to express what has been lacking in the marriage and for you both to move into a phase of mutual and respectful growth.
Many who have found themselves in an emotional affair have told me they didn’t seek it out, but rather that “it just happened.” In retrospect, they acknowledge that there were danger signs that they ignored along the way, especially as the contacts became sweeter and more furtive. Increasing secrecy is certainly a red flag. Another is looking forward to the specialness of contact with this other person more than the daily-ness of being with your partner. It turns out that feeling understood on the level of the soul is far more sexy than sex itself. Restoring such excitement to the marriage is the best recourse for those who want to go on enjoying the privilege of having a partner throughout life.
If you recognize yourself in the descriptions above, the good news is you haven’t taken the relationship to a physical level yet. You can press pause on your budding quasi-relationship, disengage and work on your actual relationship.
Only after you address the weaknesses in your relationship can you bring stable footing to your relationship and start infusing it with the love, attention, appreciation, and affection you and your partner both deserve.