Why Do People Have Emotional Affairs? The Truth Behind This Form of Infidelity.
When we hear the word affair, we normally think of someone cheating on their partner by having sex with another person. But sexual infidelity is not the only form of infidelity. Emotional infidelity also exists. An emotional affair is when a person invests more emotional support into a friend or someone outside of their marriage than they invest in their partner. In an emotional affair, the person also receives more emotional support from outside the marriage than they receive from a partner. Emotional affairs often start out as a harmless, platonic friendship, but can develop into infidelity when someone becomes too invested in and too reliant on someone that is not their partner. It’s important to distinguish here between close, healthy friendships and emotional affairs. It is totally fine and healthy to vent to a close friend about the problems in your relationship. And it is also totally fine to rely on a friend to support you. After all, what are friends for? Your friends should support you and let you vent when you need to. But this type of relationship can easily cross the line from platonic to emotional infidelity if you are looking to this person for support more than you look to your partner. In the age of technology, it’s easier than ever to have an emotional affair. While a sexual affair requires someone to find the time away from their partner to meet up with someone else, an emotional affair can happen over text and over the phone at any time of the day.
While emotional affairs are often platonic in nature, they are also characterized by flirting and some underlying sexual tensions. Even if you are not physically intimate with this person, the flirting and emotional intimacy makes the relationship inappropriate and a form of infidelity. People that have emotional affairs often keep their friendship with the other person a secret from their partner, which is very damaging to any relationship. Most people that end up in emotional affairs are not trying to do so. Emotional affairs are often a result of feeling neglected, misunderstood or overlooked in a relationship. If a person believes that their partner does not value them, or does not have time for them, then they might strike up a friendship with a new person who offers more emotional investment and support. While this behavior is not justified, it can be a result of some problems in the relationship. In other cases, people end up in emotional affairs because they are bored in their relationship, or they want to make their partner jealous of their connection to another person. Sometimes people pursue emotional affairs because of sexual intimacy problems in their relationship. Emotional and physical intimacy is very interrelated, so if a partner feels sexually rejected, they might look outside the relationship for intimacy in other ways, sexual or emotional.
Regardless of what leads a partner to pursue an emotional affair, the impacts on the relationship can be devastating. Even though the affair is not physical, emotional affairs can have just as much of an impact as sexual affairs. At the end of the day, the emotional infidelity will break the trust in the relationship and leave partners feeling betrayed, duped and inadequate. Some people may try to justify emotional affairs to themselves, claiming that because they aren’t physically cheating on their partner it’s not damaging to the relationship. But this could not be further from the truth. Emotional affairs can ruin relationships.
If you realize that you are having an emotional affair, here are a few things you can do to stop it:
* Create distance
First things first, if you realize that you are too attached to a new friend, and the friendship is pulling energy away from your relationship, then you should actively start to distance yourself from this person. This can be really hard to do when this person serves as a main part of your support system and is a main confidant. But it is absolutely necessary to create distance so that you can invest your time and energy back into your relationship. Creating distance might feel as if you are “breaking up” with your friend. If this is the case, then that is definitely an indication that you are too invested in this friend. If you do make the moves to create distance, just know that your friend might be upset or resistant to end things (after all, they are also emotionally invested and there is probably some degree of hope that you will choose them in the end), which can put a lot of weight on your shoulders to do the right thing. When you are first creating distance from your emotional affair, you should probably try and go cold turkey with your now ex friend. Take a break from the friendship and instead focus on your partner and your relationship. Making this conscious effort will probably generally improve things in your relationship anyways, because you will be less distant, more attentive and more in tune with your partner. After a period of cold turkey, you can always explore pursuing a healthy relationship with your friend again if you focus on establishing clear boundaries and if your partner is okay with the relationship.
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* Be honest with your partner
The secrecy aspect of affairs is one of the most damaging parts of infidelity. People having emotional affairs often hide the friendship from their partner which can create distrust in the relationship. While it might seem counterintuitive to tell your partner about the emotional affair, it can be an important step in gaining their trust back. Admitting that you were becoming too emotionally invested in one of your friendships, and explaining that you are going to try to redirect this energy back into your relationship will show your partner that you are committed to making the relationship work and that you are prioritizing them over this other person. While you may think that your partner doesn’t know about your emotional affair, they probably have picked up on the distance that the affair has caused in your relationship. And they are probably already a little bit suspicious of you. Opening up to your partner about the emotional affair will help explain your behavior. Keeping it from them on the other hand, will only create more distrust and cause your partner to feel gaslighted, which is not healthy for your relationship. As the old adage goes, honesty is the best policy. Even if it is painful at the time, it’s an important part of getting your relationship back on track.
* Discuss your relationship problems with other people
After ending an emotional affair, you will need to find other avenues of support outside of your relationship. Your relationship problems, and your complaints about your partner aren’t going to go away as soon as you end your emotional affair. It’s always important to have a support system outside of your relationship that allows you to vent about your partner and your problems. Rather than get involved in an emotional affair, focus on establishing healthy friendships that offer good support and don’t cross the line into infidelity. If it is hard for you to find this type of friendship without becoming too emotionally involved, you should consider talking to a therapist or counselor to help you work through your relationship problems. Trained professionals will be able to offer you a sounding board, and help you work out your problems in a healthy and appropriate way so that you do not have to worry about forming too intimate of a relationship. If your relationship is really full of problems and this is one of the reasons that you started an emotional affair in the first place, it’s also a good idea to try and address these problems.
In addition to going to individual therapy, you and your partner should consider relationship therapy so that you can work through your problems as a team, increase your trust and reduce the need for emotional support outside of the relationship. Relish, a relationship coaching app, is a great therapy option for couples who are committed to improving their relationship. Relish offers quizzes, exercises and personalized relationship coaching so that you and your partner can work on things like emotional investment and support in your relationship. Working on these goals will not only improve your relationship, but it will make it less tempting to pursue an emotional affair in the future.
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* Rekindle romance with your partner
As we mentioned above, another reason partners turn to an emotional affair is if they are feeling sexually rejected or neglected by their partner. Emotional intimacy and physical intimacy are deeply connected, so if a person experiences a lack of sexual intimacy in the relationship, they might look to new friends for intimacy. While emotional affairs do not involve sex or physical intimacy, they can often turn into a sexual affair because of the emotional closeness and sexual tension in the friendship. It is not uncommon for emotional affairs to evolve into sexual infidelity. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to focus on romance and physical intimacy with your partner. Everyone wants to feel desired by their partner, so making an effort to rekindle your romance will do wonders for your relationship. If you have not been sexually intimate in a long time, and are worried about jumping back in, you can build up to sex by introducing intimacy bit by bit. Try to compliment your partner more. Rub their shoulders when they’re standing at the kitchen counter. Kiss them on the cheek on your way out of the door. Sit close to your partner on the couch. Try scheduling a romantic dinner or picnic together. Taking little steps to rekindle your romance can make the task feel less overwhelming. And while all these things will likely help you rekindle intimacy to a certain extent, you will eventually have to talk about sex. You and your partner need to talk about the lack of intimacy so that you can understand why you stopped being intimate in the first place. Are there underlying relationship issues that need to be resolved? Is the sex not pleasurable? Is one partner feeling insecure? Do you need to find new ways to be physically intimate? Discussing these things (as awkward as it may be) is key to rekindling long term romance and intimacy in your relationship. Doing this will improve your relationship and your sex life, and will help you and your partner avoid emotional affairs in the future.
* Check in
After you have broken off the emotional affair, it’s important to take proactive steps so that this type of thing doesn’t happen again. In addition to finding new support systems, addressing your problems as a couple, and rekindling roman, you should also be sure to check in frequently as a couple. Like we said before, emotional affairs normally occur when a partner isn’t fulfilled or valued in a relationship. These feelings tend to fester until they finally turn outside of the relationship for support and comfort. To avoid this situation, it’s important to air hard feelings early on so that they don’t cause a major breakdown in your relationship. Checking in with your partner frequently about how they feel, if their wants and needs are being met, and what you can do to support them better will help avoid the wedges that drive couples apart and inspire people to find support outside of the relationship. We want to reiterate that emotional affairs are not justified, but there are steps that you can take to affair-proof your relationship. And these steps require frequent communication, trust and openness. And all of these things can be cultivated through relationship check ins! Check ins don’t need to happen every week, or even every month. They should be as frequent as you need them to be. Finding what works for you and your partner may take some time, but the investment will be well worth it.
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