Is sexual activity the defining feature of an affair, or can you cheat on your partner even when no sex is involved? And no sexual activity means none at all: no in-person sex, phone sex, Internet sex, explicit text messages, or anything else. Can an emotional connection with someone other than your partner become so intense and involving that it qualifies as a violation of your relationship?
Emotional affairs can be a true gray area, much more so than the “gray areas” involved in Internet infidelity. It’s a question of degrees, and determining whether there is a level of emotional attachment with another person can impact your marriage or relationship.
It is healthy, maybe even critical, to have friendships outside your relationship. Otherwise, even the closest and most introverted of couples are likely to stifle each other and to feel bored or trapped. Most strong friendships, far from threatening your relationship, can actually help to strengthen it.
Many Relationship Experts Say Emotional Infidelity Is Real
However, most relationship experts agree that friendships can cross the line and become emotional infidelity and that these emotional affairs can be devastating to relationships.
If you are feeling guilty about a certain friendship but aren’t sure whether it has developed into an emotional affair, there are indications that can help you to realize it has become inappropriate.
You may find yourself dressing to impress this person and going to greater lengths than you do for your partner. You may feel the need to conceal from your partner how much time you really spend seeing, texting or talking to this person. You may share things with your friend that you would not feel comfortable sharing with your partner, particularly things like dreams and aspirations that create a strong emotional bond. Being with your friend may give you an emotional connection that you feel you cannot do without.
Some surveys have found that partners feel even more betrayed when they discover an emotional affair than when they discover a sexual affair. They may see conventional cheating as “just sex” but feel that an emotional affair indicates relationship problems that run deeper. Sexual dysfunction in a relationship may seem like an easier problem to address than the lack of emotional intimacy that led to an emotional affair.
Recognizing The Truth About Your Emotional Affair
If your friendship has crossed the line and become emotional infidelity, you will probably realize it. You are the person who has the clearest idea of what that friendship really means to you and what your need for that friendship means about your relationship.
You may fantasize about a sexual or romantic relationship with your friend, even if you do nothing to act on those fantasies. You may have sought out this person in order to compensate for unhappiness or dissatisfaction with your relationship. You may realize that you prefer to turn to your friend for support and emotional intimacy than to your partner.
All of these possibilities indicate a serious threat to your marriage or relationship. Whether the state of your relationship prompted you to seek an emotional connection elsewhere or whether a friendship developed naturally and became a threat to the emotional intimacy of your relationship, it is a sign that your relationship has encountered a serious obstacle that needs to be addressed.
Like affairs that involve sex, emotional affairs can arise spontaneously out of seemingly happy relationships or arise out of relationship dissatisfaction. Just as you are in the best position to recognize when your friendship has begun to get in your relationship’s way, you are in the best position to know whether this emotional affair is an isolated incident or a symptom of an underlying relationship problem.