How do I know if it's an emotional affair?

Emotional affairs can be even more destructive to your relationship than purely sexual ones..

Whether you are concerned about your partner having an emotional affair or being caught up in one yourself, this article will shed some light on what an emotional affair is and what to do about it.

How do affairs start?

It is first worth noting that according to one expert on infidelity, Shirley Glass, 82% of 210 partners with whom she worked who had cheated reported that the affair started with someone who was initially "just a friend." Further, 44% of wives' and 62% of husbands' affairs were with colleagues at work.

The increased opportunity of seeing someone regularly in addition to increased social networking may have to do with the frequency with which affairs begin in the workplace.

Affairs most often start emotionally, and frequently without intention. People whose value systems are opposed to cheating can still have emotional affairs. They then can turn into something sexual or not.

What makes a "friendship" an emotional affair?

Emotional affairs have several hallmarks, some of which follow:

Secrecy - If you try to hide your feelings or your interactions with someone from your partner, you may be in the territory of an emotional affair. 

Emotional intimacy - Do you feel closer to this person than your partner? Do you feel safer to divulge secrets with this person, greater companionship and generally a better connection? If so, you are likely experiencing an emotional affair.

Sexual chemistry - Even if you have not been physically intimate with each other, you can probably tell if there is some kind of chemistry.

Chances are, especially if the above traits of your "friendship" are also present, the sexual chemistry is not just one-sided.

Secrecy, emotional intimacy and sexual chemistry combined are the triad of characteristics of a relationship that make for an emotional affair.

What's the harm if there is no physical intimacy?

Emotional affairs can actually be more threatening to a marriage than affairs that are purely sexual because emotions are what love is all about. In fact, more and more research on love and relationships points to the emotional bond between two partners as the foundation upon which the rest of their relationship is built on. Sharing that emotional bond with someone else then weakens the foundation of your relationship with your primary partner even more so than an affair that is just sexual. Clearly, then, there can be great harm and damage to your primary relationship from an emotional affair.

If you wish to remain with your primary partner, the best thing to do is to end the affair.

How can I tell if my partner is having an emotional affair?

It is important to understand the most common reason as to why many people have affairs in the first place: To get their emotional needs met. If you are feeling unfulfilled in your relationship, chances are your partner may be as well, and this increases the chance of infidelity.

It can be hard to determine whether your partner is having an affair because affairs are marked with such secrecy, but if your relationship is struggling, it is worth addressing this in and of itself. Let your partner know there is something important that you would like to talk about it and start the conversation. The more open, honest and vulnerable about your own fears and desires for a stronger relationship, the more likely you will get an honest response. 

It can be hard to initiate a difficult conversation, but by taking the time out to do this, know that you are taking care of your relationship, whether or not it is affected by infidelity of any kind.


Glass, S. P. (2003). Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. New York: Free Press.

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