9 Signs Of An Emotional Affair And Ways To Recover From It

Image: iStock


Finding someone with the same passion and ideologies can lead to a platonic relationship. But having such a deep connection with someone else while in a committed relationship can be one of the signs of an emotional affair. An innocent friendship can soon turn into something more when there is a lot in common between the two. However, it can affect the relationship with the spouse or partner. This post tells you about an emotional affair, including its effect on a marriage and ways to recover from it.

What is an emotional affair?

When one of the partners gets emotionally involved with another person outside of their relationship, it is called an emotional affair. They not only share their intimate feelings but also receive emotional support and companionship from an outsider. Such an affair creates an emotional distance in the marriage.

Although the partner, who is having the affair, may not feel guilty as there is no physical intimacy involved, the betrayal makes it as dirty as a sexual affair.

Signs your partner is having an emotional affair

If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong with your partner, then look for these signs of an emotional affair:

  1. They are secretive about their devices. If your partner is always guarding their phone or laptop, then they must be hiding something. They would not mind finding an excuse or getting into an argument with you to prevent you from checking their devices. Also, they would spend a lot of time on their phone.
  1. They are emotionally unavailable. The beauty of being in a relationship is to be able to share even the minute details. If you feel your partner is no longer there for you or they are just not interested in knowing about the happenings in your life, then it could be a red flag to watch out.
  1. You are not the center of the relationship. A relationship can only revolve around two people. If you feel your partner is giving a slice of their life to a “new friend,” then it is a sign that your partner might be emotionally involved with them.

If your partner is always finding ways to ditch you and spend time with that friend or your spouse is going out of their way to do favors for the friend, it could mean that the friend has intruded into your lives.

  1. They know more than you about your spouse. “When did I buy these shoes?” Even before you can answer your spouse’s question, the friend jumps in saying, “Those were what your sister gave you on your birthday.” A few such instances might be ok, but if it has become the norm, then you need to sit up and notice.
  1. You are not the first to know good news. All of us have that one person whom we want to be the first to share good news with. And usually, in a relationship, that person is our partner. But if you are not the one to get the first call, then it could be a sign that your partner has their emotions invested elsewhere.
  1. They have a world in which you are not a part. You would catch them texting all the time, in the bed (after you are asleep), while in the washroom, and even when on a date with you. And when you confront them, they say, “it’s work-related,” “we are just friends,” “my friend is in trouble, and they need me” or some other excuse.
  1. The friend and your spouse have clearly crossed the line. Emotional affairs are tricky as they are on the borderline of close friendship and an affair. But you may check their body language and behavior because “just friends” do not secretly gesture to each other, they do not try to find chances to touch each other and, most importantly, they do not try to hide their intimacy from the spouse.
  1. They either talk too much or avoid talking about the friend. Your partner might mention your friend in every conversation. They could also adopt a new hobby or interest to spend more time with their friend. In contrast, your partner might totally avoid talking about a particular friend out of guilt.
  1. Physical intimacy disappears. When your partner is emotionally involved with another person, they slowly start fantasizing about them and show little interest in you. If your sex life is at an all-time low and any advances you make are being turned down repeatedly, then it is time to know the real reason behind it.

Note that you cannot see these signs in isolation. Your partner may not be able to spend time with you or is being away from you because they are actually having a hectic time at work. Therefore, do not rush to conclude that they are having an emotional affair but try to observe and understand them better.

Stages of an emotional affair

Usually, it takes time to get emotionally attached to someone. An emotional affair has 4 stages before it becomes a full-blown affair.

Stage 1: Platonic friends

An emotional affair might start with just an innocent text or a courtesy smile. They may get attracted to their appearance, wit or something they secretly crave for and couldn’t find it in their partner. They casually start texting/ calling.

Stage 2: Intimate friends

What started with a message or two turns into full-time texting. Your partner begins to feel happy and relieved when they talk to the friend. This draws them even more towards them. The conversations may not be sexual, but the two would share intimate details about their habits, likes and dislikes. They may also share the disappointments they have with their respective spouses.

Stage 3: An emotional affair

Your partner gets addicted to the happy feeling they get in the presence of the friend, and they long to be with them. This is the stage where sexual intentions sprout, and if the affair partner reciprocates then they both start meeting each other, sending pictures, showing affection in public, etc. At the same time, you and your partner begin to drift away from each other.

Stage 4: A fully blown sexual affair

This is the stage where your partner decides to cross all boundaries and start being physical with the affair partner. Physical intimacy is something that will eventually happen. But even without that, your partner has chosen to give away a part of their life, which rightfully belongs to you.

For ages, only a sexual relationship outside the marriage has been considered an affair. But if you think that an emotional affair will have no effect on your marriage, then you might be wrong.

How do emotional affairs damage your relationship?

Here is why an emotional affair is as damaging as a sexual affair:

  • The partner is inviting an outsider into the sanctum of your relationship.
  • The cheated spouse is being deprived of the love that is rightfully theirs.
  • The ‘innocent friendship’ of one partner is making the other partner suffer.
  • It makes the rightful partner the third person in the relationship.
  • Emotional cheating is hard to spot; even the partner who is involved does not realize they are cheating.
  • It is dishonest and excluding.

In a sexual affair, your partner might be thinking of just the physical pleasure but in an emotional affair, they like the friend for who they are, the way they think and the way they talk. This is something that cannot be forgotten quickly.

Can a marriage survive an emotional affair?

Yes, an emotional affair need not be a reason to end a relationship. No doubt it is hard to forget and forgive but you may want to give your partner a second chance provided they realize their mistake and end their affair.

But before giving them a chance, do some soul-searching to know if you can trust your partner again, and continue to share your life with them. Most importantly, your partner should be willing to end the affair. If they really want to end it, you can be there to support them.

How to end an emotional affair?

If you have been cheating on your spouse by having an emotional affair and want to end it, then here is how you can do it.

  1. Realize and accept you have done wrong: Do not try to justify your actions by saying that there was no physical intimacy in the affair. The first step to ending such a relationship is to accept responsibility and reveal everything to your spouse and apologize. Also, do not blame the spouse for your affairs. If your marriage is not happy, then you must work towards it and not against it.
  1. Cut all ties with the affair partner: You both may have been friends for 20 years, but it is time to cut it off as it has transgressed the boundaries. Cut all communication with them, and remove their memories from your life.
  1. No contact letter: Tell your friend that it is all over, and write a no-contact letter to them. Tell them the affair was wrong and that your partner is the top priority in your life. Do not write this just to make your partner happy, but do it only if you mean it.
  1. Physical separation: If the affair was only virtual, then it is easy to cut ties. But if you see the friend every day or regularly, then staying away from them might be difficult. Try shifting to the other part of the town, not visiting the same places as they do, or seeking a change in the team or office (if you both are colleagues).
  1. Be ready to be closely monitored: You have broken your partner’s trust, so they will doubt your every move. You may have to give unrestricted access to your email, phone, social media accounts, and whereabouts, to your partner. You need to have the patience to tolerate such surveillance until trust builds.
  1. Seek professional help: If you and your spouse feel there is a need for professional guidance to get things back to normal, then go for couples therapy as the professional will know how to resolve such issues.

If you want to end the affair, and your spouse is willing to give you a second chance, then you both should make efforts to recover from the trauma, and make the relationship work.

How to recover from an emotional affair?

After an emotional affair, it might seem impossible to be happy again. But if you still love your partner, you can get past this. The recovery may not be easy or quick but here is what you can do to recover:

Recovery for the partner who got cheated

If you have decided to save your relationship:

  • Forgive and forget. Remember, hate the sin but not the sinner.
  • You will be in grief, but do not let it pile up. Let it out, cry as much as you want or share it with your dear ones. But once you are done, start with a fresh perspective.
  • Love has the power to change anything, hence choose the path of love to help your spouse get out of the sticky situation.
  • More than ever, this is the time when you need to focus on the positive side of your partner.
  • Think for yourself if you had any shortcomings which made your partner go elsewhere. But be careful not to get trapped in the blame game your spouse might play.
  • Do not rush to recovery; your partner might be eager to get back to normal but take your time and do not act normal until your internal conflict is settled.
  • Reconnect with your partner, take a vacation and try to establish a soul-to-soul connection with them.

Recovery for the cheating partner

Your partner has found out your emotional affair, and now you are repenting. If you sincerely want to save your relationship:

  • Sincerely ask for forgiveness from your spouse.
  • Promise that you would never repeat it or continue your relationship with your affair partner.
  • Your spouse is hurt, and so they could bring it out in the form of anger and frustration. Be prepared to handle such a reaction with patience.
  • Be open with your spouse and answer all their questions patiently even if it is difficult for you.
  • Introspect on what made you cheat emotionally and work on it.
  • If there are any unresolved needs, tell your spouse openly.
  • Surround yourself with helpful family friends, who will keep you motivated.

With sincere efforts, you and your spouse can recover and make the relationship work again. But make sure such episodes do not recur in your life.

How to Protect Your Marriage From an Emotional Affair?

The only way to avoid affairs is by making your relationship strong and secure. Here is how you can strengthen your relationship:

  1. Fuel your marriage with love: You might have been madly in love with each other, but as time passes, the passion fades. This could make a partner find those feelings elsewhere. So do not let the fire in your relationship die; talk to each other, plan dates, complement each other and most importantly, love each other.
  1. Meet each other’s needs: One of the common reasons for wandering out of a relationship is their needs not being met. For example, if your partner likes to see you well-dressed or they are particular about hygiene, then try to meet such simple expectations. Similarly, they, too, should meet your expectations.
  1. Hide nothing: The foundation for a healthy relationship is trust, and it is built only when there is transparency between you and your partner. Do not hide your phone or set passwords that your partner does not know. Share your plans with your partner; tell them if you are coming home late. Do not leave your partner guessing about your whereabouts.
  1. Feeling vulnerable? Think about your spouse: Sometimes we get carried away by strong emotional feelings for a friend or co-worker. During such times, call your partner and talk to them, remember all the beautiful things you share together and ask yourself if an affair is worth it?
  1. Maintain boundaries with friends: He could be your best buddy, or she could be your childhood sweetheart. But once you are in a relationship, you must draw a line to such friendships. Never inappropriately touch your friends of the opposite sex. Do not share secrets with them, which your spouse is not aware of.

An emotional affair can be just as harmful as a sexual affair, and the pain can be far more severe. It can shatter the betrayed partner’s self-confidence, and they will be damaged for life, doubting their worth. If you’re in a relationship, don’t get caught up in short-term delights of affairs, and if you realize you’ve made a mistake, make sure to end it and make honest efforts to regain the trust of your spouse.

Key Pointers

  • Getting emotionally involved with someone outside of marriage is an emotional affair.
  • If a partner is secretive, emotionally unavailable, or lost in their world, it may signify an emotional affair.
  • End the affair by accepting the mistake, cutting contact, or seeking professional help.
  • Strengthen your marriage by reigniting the love, expressing your feelings, and caring for each other’s needs.

The following two tabs change content below.

Vincenzo Sinisi

Vincenzo Sinisi is a clinical psychologist (HPCSA), psychoanalyst (SAPA/IPA) and group analyst (IGA). He offers in-depth psychotherapy (individual and group) for adults from his private practice in Cape Town, South Africa. Sinisi is an active member in the psychotherapeutic community and has held executive positions including chairperson of the Cape Town Society for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, secretary of the South African... more

sanjana lagudu

Sanjana did her graduation in Pharmacy and post graduation in management. It was during her first job, she recognized her skills in writing and began working as a freelance writer. Later, she completely moved into content writing and began working as a full-time content writer. Sanjana's articles in MomJunction cover topics related to new parenting and relationships. A fitness enthusiast... more