Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Nine Signs of an Emotional Affair

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Emotional affairs are devastating. The collateral damage from sharing your heart and life with another person outside the marriage devastates the betrayed spouse and upends all of life for the couple and family. Trying to piece together your heart and life post-affair is not only challenging, it can be one of the most discouraging and frustrating things you'll go through as a married couple.

But just what is an emotional affair? What qualifies it as such? Perhaps your spouse is resisting the idea that what happened was truly an emotional affair—what then?

If 82% of affairs happen with someone who at first was "just a friend" as Shirley P. Glass' research suggests, then maybe there's benefit in exploring how these friendships begin. How does one have an emotional affair, and what signs are there that an emotional affair is developing? Is there something missing in our traditional monogamous relationships? What's the emotional cause that paves the pathway for a statutory clause?

To begin, let's define the term.

Emotional affairs exclude physical intimacy but include emotional intimacy.

This would include anyone you know and may see in person during work or recreation as well as virtual friends through social media. This would include a friend you text, email, Tweet, Kik, Snap, Instagram, Facebook or any number of new mediums that are now available. While there is no in-person physical intimacy, emotional affairs are carried on in secret. I've listed below nine signs that you or your spouse may be developing an emotional affair in the hopes that you will be able to avoid them.

*Keep in mind while reading that this is written as a how-to in reverse, meaning these behaviors are what not to do as they are signs that you may be developing an emotional affair:

1. Intimacy Avoidance:

9 Nines Emotional Affair

To have an emotional affair it's helpful to forgo intimacy and substitute closeness. Intimacy is the willingness to know your mate as well as a willingness to be known. With intimacy avoidance, you begin to avoid speaking up and creating conflict in your marriage. You will instead settle for closeness and avoid the risk of rejection by your mate. Intimacy avoidance allows you to silence the conversations which brought your marriage together and opens up the door for new opportunities. Avoiding rejection can successfully foil your mate's attempts to know you and create new desire for a connection from an acquaintance, or newfound friend on the Internet. You have begun to save conversations about marital dissatisfaction for your "friend". Dealing directly with your mate about marital issues can rob you of opportunities to connect with someone outside the marriage.

2. Approval Seeking:

The void created by those fearing rejection and settling for false intimacy creates a craving for the approval of others. It won't be long until you discover someone who listens well and who is fascinated by the words you speak. Pursuing opportunities to acquire their validation will help fuel the flame for more. It's not really an affair, right? What's wrong with talking with someone who tells you how good you look, or who is fascinated by your success, or who appreciates your accomplishments? You'll allow yourself to believe that this new person accepts your true self and don't forget to blame your mate for not providing the same validation as your new friend.

3. Pimping Tenderness:

To have a friend you have to be a friend. You always show sincere interest in the life of your "friend." Listening and showing unmatched concern when they have problems in their life. Whenever possible, criticizing others when they fail to respond or truly appreciate your new friend. Showing concern by picking lent off their clothes. Never missing an opportunity to tell them how nice they look or what a good job they've done. Learning to be their number one cheerleader so they'll always come to you for encouragement. Seeking out every opportunity possible to be thoughtful. Bringing them coffee in the morning. Offering to help when possible. Creating opportunities to go to lunch or dinner. When dressing, considering what they would like. Non-sexual touching such as rubbing their shoulders or hugging will help create familiarity and fuel relational desire. When your mate shares an opinion you always remind yourself what your "friend" would have said. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter. You'll find the excitement of keeping your relationship secret will only enhance your time together. When it feels your family is getting in the way of your time with your "friend," you'll know you've finally ignited an emotional affair.

4. Relational Lethargy:

It takes a lifetime to truly know the mysteries of your mate. It takes over 30 years of marriage to even reach your sexual potential. The deeper waters of a person's soul take years to discover. Paraphrasing the Second Law of Thermodynamics: you can never get as much out of a system as you put into it. Marriages have seasons where it feels you're putting in far more than you are getting out. Relational lethargy can allow you to justify your actions due to the lack of return from your marriage. Convincing yourself that your mate deceived you and that they've failed to live up to expectations, you'll begin to curtail your investments in the marriage and enjoy the effortless infatuation that comes from the beginning stages of new friendship.

5. Objectification:

Sustaining the denial necessary to justify an emotional affair requires objectification. It's necessary to see only the negative aspects of one's mate if you have any hope of pushing away the guilt that might come from betrayal. When your mate raises concerns about your friend, you don't listen; instead, you tell them they are being petty and controlling and are overreacting. Objectification of the affair partner is also necessary to sustain the emotional affair. Much of the benefit gained from an emotional affair is derived from seeing the other person as needing help, or as someone who is the most astute, most intelligent, most talented, or most beautiful. We imagine them being our counter-part. Someone who gets me or who is like me. Why would you want to have an emotional affair with someone who's just average? Magnifying what you most admire in the other person and minimizing their deficits will help you feel better about your decision to continue the "friendship".

6. Minimization:

If people really understood the long-term cost of their actions would they be able to continue? That awareness would only serve as an anxiety generator. To have an emotional affair, you minimize the impact of your actions and feign surprise when your mate gets upset. Never consider the impact on your children, after all they're resilient and over time they'll come to forgive you.

7. Self-deception:

Deceiving yourself into believing that you're as wonderful as your emotional affair partner sees you is absolutely necessary to obtain maximum benefit from your newfound relationship. Affair partners attempt to convince you that they're better than your mate and that you'd have been far better off if you'd married them. Marriage partners are the makeup mirrors of our lives. They highlight every flaw and blemish. Affair partners are vanity mirrors. We look amazing in their eyes. Self-deception requires we suspend reality and imagine ourselves as seen through our affair partner's eyes. Failing to deceive one's self makes entitlement almost impossible.

8. Being an Emotional Confidant:

To have an emotional affair it's imperative that you begin providing the emotional intimacy that their mate doesn't. You also need to look to them to be your primary source of support. Looking to them as your primary confidant will communicate their importance in your life and providing the same for them will cause them to become dependent on you rather than looking to their mate. You never miss an opportunity to probe how they feel and promise to be there if they need you. It won't be long until you're the most important person in their life.

9. Develop Common Interests:

Creating a shared activity with your "friend" provides something special the two of you can have in common. Activities such as bike riding, running, working out, etc. are great activities that allow a legitimate excuse to spend time with your "friend". Having something unique to your friendship allows for a feeling of exclusivity.

Once again, I want to remind you that this is actually a "what not to do" list.

Emotional infidelity is absolutely no less damaging than physical infidelity. If your marriage has been rocked by an emotional affair, I'd like to ask you to consider attending our virtual EMS Weekend. My team and I will be able to not only address the root causes of the affair(s) but develop a specific roadmap to the potential healing of the marriage. We've all been there ourselves and understand the pain you both are in. You don't have to be another statistic, and you don't have to walk this road to recovery alone.

Participants within our Programs and Courses" are able to submit questions to the Expert Q&A that are then answered in video form by various members of our Clinical Professional Contributors. Just recently I answered one of those questions related to emotional affairs. I hope it is a helpful piece of insight for you. The Expert Q&A videos can be accessed with a Recovery Library Membership, although it doesn't include the ability to submit questions as course participants.

EMS Weekend is Virtual!

If you're ready to start the journey of finding freedom and forgiveness, I hope you'll consider registering for EMS Weekend. This 3 day intensive is a safe place for you both to learn, grow and heal.
Our 3-day weekend intensive for couples to heal after infidelity now offering $1,000 discount for virtual months during the pandemic. Limited availability.

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"I thought the virtual session would not be as effective. I was completely wrong. The context, discussions, homework has given me hope for a future that is new with my husband."
- VIRTUAL EMSW Participant

"I honestly thought this had worked for other people but didn’t think anything could change our dysfunctional way of relating after 35 years of marriage. I was wrong. I have real hope going forward for the first time."
- VIRTUAL EMSW Participant

"Before arriving at EMS [VIRTUAL], I was hesitant and didn't believe that 3 days would do anything to help the state of my marriage (which was broken beyond recognition). I didn't believe that a group of strangers would help me open up to the extent that I did. Lastly, I had no faith in the idea that I would ever feel connected to anyone in that group or want to stay in touch with them. However, at the end of EMS weekend, all of the assumptions and reluctance that I had prior was completely gone. Within 3 days, I was able to share feelings to my wife that I hadn't our entire marriage, I understood the damage I did on our marriage more, and most importantly her pain and anger... It gave myself and my wife hope that we could have a great marriage in the future as long as we take what we have learned through EMS and continue to apply."
- VIRTUAL EMSW Participant

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After our very first Virtual EMS Weekend in April, Rick and Wayne shared their experiences in the videos below. Over 100 couples have now participated in our Virtual Weekend Experience and it's only getting better.



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

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Comments

Unbelievably my life as well

I got chills reading your words, K. That is exactly what I'm dealing with. Exactly.

So true.its happening to me

So true.its happening to me though he has admitted that she was just a special friend.the thing is he insists he did not touch her and behaves as though it was not that big of a deal because there was no physical intimacy and that them being connected that way is worse.ive been trying to get him to start his recovery but hes just going through the motions.confident in himself that he will not do it again and confident in my believing him.needless to say im in a horrible place right now because i know that with this attitude he is playing with fire and we will get burned sooner rather than later.

Dead on

This is the exact events that lead to my husband's physical affair. I told him what was happening but he just accused me of being controlling. Nothing I did was good enough while this was going on. I was blamed for his every problem and told that I needed to "shape up" if I wanted to stay with him. I'm glad I found out the truth sooner rather than later. He has come clean and we are waiting to stay EMSO. The part I still struggle with is that he still thinks that he and his AP are perfect and if her husband and I weren't so awful that they wouldn't have "needed" each other in the first place. How can I get him to see that he was the one making me out to be a horrible person and that in reality he was hurting me long before he started sleeping with her?

Physical Affair

My husband started with a physical affair (from Ashley Madison) and said it wasn't emotional. Months after Dday he admitted that it became an emotional affair several months into it - but the emotional level was 3-4 on a scale of 1 to 10 (according to him.) After reading your article, I can see how much more of an emotional affair it was - almost every sign listed applies to him.

Painfully true

Wow... that article "sums it up". I now clearly see the pattern for most of our marriage, and boy oh boy do I feel stupid. He had many EAs but it was only when he decided to leave me for one - did I wake up and smell the coffee. I want to help other couples SEE !!! The deception, the blindness, the justifications it is all so gut wrenching to the betrayed.

This hits a little too close

This hits a little too close to home because my soon to be ex hit all nine of these with her affair.

This is DEAD ON

Thank you for this Rick! As I read through this it was like you were narrating my affair(s). It is really sad to think that there are so many of us unfaithful out there that fall into these patterns but don't truly see it while in the midst of the affair. This is the cycle and it repeats itself time and time again from marriage to marriage. While in the entanglement of the affair one thinks that "no one else could possibly understand" or "this is different than everyone else's experience" and so many other thoughts to not classify it as an affair, but this article is proof that no emotional affair is any different or "special" than what any one else experiences. Thank you for putting things into perspective for me! We are 3&1/2 years out and every day I'm learning new ways to avoid bad behaviors and every day I continually try to change. It's a rough road and for all the betrayed that have stuck it through, thank you!

Sounds like the story my husband has told himself

This sounds like my husbands emotional affairs. He continually justifies them (just friends , it didn't mean anything, I was just being nice, she was depressed , Ilied because I didn't want to hurt you, etc. ). He is still telling the same story. I think he is starting to believe it. When will he just come clean with what his intentions were. I cannot forgive nor respect him until he does. What other path do I have?

emotional affair

Do emotional affairs ever end? When they do does the person start to see the reality of their folly? Do they ever see their spouse again in a clear light? Today I sat in a court room where the most lovely kind man I ever knew divorced me as he "does not feel connected". I tried everything- processing our marriage history, moving toward, moving away from, praying, working on my self. Nothing I have done seems to have mattered. I think he knows I love him as he walks away.

Emotional betrayal

My husband betrayed me this way with my sister. 10 years later, we’re still together but it still hurts because he won’t tell me what they talked about. I feel he’s still protecting her. I cut off all contact with her but I can’t be sure he has. I will never trust him or her or anyone again. Before I found out about their secret phone calls, I felt in my gut something was up when we were all together but I didn’t say anything. I told him I thought it was inappropriate for him to be talking to her behind my back(she totally stopped talking to me and I didn’t know why) and yet, thanks to cell phone records I found he was still doing it. He would leave the room when she called and then lie to me who he was talking to.
I think it would have gone on to a physical affair if I want there that time she called.....I would leave him but I’m afraid to be alone after 28 years together. I have been spiraling down mentally ever since. I am one breath away from a total breakdown. Will the pain ever end? Will I ever get over it?
He has me convinced I am crazy and what I saw didn’t happen and he “doesn’t remember” leaving the room when she called or what they talked about and says they weren’t hiding it from me. Several times I said to him I hadn’t heard from her, despite leaving her messages and calling everyday and he never once said he just talked to her. MayBe they weren’t trying to hide it, but they certainaly weren’t putting it out there in the open.
She never once after I found out called me to explain herself. If it was just an innocent friendship as he claims wouldn’t she call me and say so? Idk.

COULD RELATE EXACTLY

This is exactly what happened to my husband of 23 years. He got a emotionally involved with a Japanese woman co-worker. They don't really work together but belong to the same organization and work in the same building.My husband is 67 years old and the woman is at least 30 years younger. He said they became very close early March . I discovered the affair September 30. The discovery is a miracle I believe God's compassion on me. I have been very trusting and very patient with his ever increasing emotional distance and sometimes outright rudeness and his treating me with contempt a lot of times just to avoid "strife" in our marriage.

I never met this woman or never heard her name till the D-day. My husband kept this all secret. Little did I know that at he has been consistently investing in her, meeting her pratctical and emotional needs, giving her a lift home after work every afternoon and driving her off to the bus station to catch her bus to another cuty on Fridays , to be with is lived in partner. Then my husband will pick her up again on Monday mornings from the bus station. On Fridays, they will tell each other how much they are going to miss each other and look forward to Mondays. My husband "stole' persimmons, feijoas, mandarins,and chokos form our garden and consistently supplied her. They are part of a tennis group that play doubles on lunch breaks, but they also played one on one for an hour each time , not a serious play , just frolicking and laughing and enjoying each other on the tennis courts .At the same time my husband also mentored her of tennis as h is 30 years ahead of her playing tennis. This is significant because he never did this to anyone, never to me or our children who are now 21 and 18 years old. He never took me or the kids out for a walk o outing, but he took her out one time for a walk in a beautiful gorge outside which is 1 and a half hours outside the city. They did this by taking one afternoon off one Wednesday. My husband came home that night close to 8PM, and I never questioned him. He also has taken her out for lunch in a restaurant (something he never did to me) and for a morning snack on a very nice cafe in town ( he never did this to me either). Sometimes my husband is away for his work or she is away for her work. When that happens they texted each other early mornings and at night and through the day updating each other, caring for each other, and how they look forward to see each other again. When my husband went away to Australia with my son for a week he emailed her updates and even took a beautiful photo of koala especially for her and sent it to her, He never emailed me or sent sent photos to me. Just texted me 3 times. When our family went for a short 3 day holiday , he was as usual cold to me and even to the kids. I learned later that he has been emailing her and sending photos to her.Clearly he was with us physically, but he was constantly thinking and missing this other woman.My husband was very u creative in finding opportunities to be with this other woman alone. They both work in teh dairy industry as researchers, but she is in social science science research, but my husband is in soil research so he gets to visit farms often while she is most of the times in the computer or attending conferences but never been to a dairy farm herself. My husband managed to take her to a dairy goat farm after work hours, just a personal trip. Could go on and on

At D-day, and subsequent weeks and days my husband said that did nothing wrong because they didn't have sex nor intend to have one. But he said they were very close and enjoyed being together and just de-stress. In his words they really enjoyed it as they have no expectations from each other, no pressure to have sex, no bills to worry about and no children, etc. He said that her company has a calming effect on him.
At D-day my husband said that she would make a very good catch as a wife and if he were 30 years younger, he would like to marry her. To make me feel better, he followed with saying that I am still his number one and she is her number 2 for companionship. However in practise, he never desired my companionship, he avoided me, and hid in his busyness every day at home at night and on at weekends. He said to me he is very fond of her and one who's company he really desire. He said he finds her finds her attractive and there is chemistry between f them. I told him its an emotional . Its a violation of the marriage vow. I told him that the cleaving in sickness and in health doesn't only means sexually but emotionally, in fact the emotional, mental and spiritual bond which he broke is at the very hear of our marriage. He gradually sort of accepted it, that it was an affair. Initially after the affair he promised he would distance himself from her,avoiding the on one they used to have. So after the first week he was still emailing and texting her.
After 3 weeks he met her in person to put a "closure". He did not allow me to be there when he talked to her. But he said that he told her that he really like her and don't really want the friendship to end, but he has to distance himself as it s hurting our marriage. He also told her that he is going to miss her.
About 2 weeks ago he talked to her again. I got mad and so I confronted her and wrote to her lived in boyfriend about it. I still hope things will get better. Thank you for what you are doing for hurting people like me and my children. There are too many of us out there, and there is not enough help, because this the kind of problem that you should keep secret to protect the reputation of the abuser, if you could consider this an emotional abuse

My husband in a Nut shell

This is exactly my husband. First with an in person emotional affair. Now with a social media one with a woman from Romania. I no longer feel pain, just sadness for him. He is a loser.....of me.

painful

This is so my husband. From day one of our marriage (probably the two years we were engaged too), he has sought out emotional affairs online. No amount of love and attention on my part will make it stop. He is wonderful to me, until I put my foot down about the flavor of week, then he turns volatile. His first wife was a nice person, but a lazy, spendthrift hoarder. I am the opposite, so I've freed up a lot of time for him. I help run our jointly-owned contracting business (he did all the legwork himself before I came along), I keep our home immaculate, our gardens are a show-piece, and we are building up our savings account for the first time in his working career. Our interaction usually consists of business work, yard work (we own a lot of land), and an hour of TV now and then. I feel like I'm sleeping next to someone I've borrowed. He did tell me recently that he's grateful for me because it's the first time in his life that he's actually had a life. But he spends his new-found spare time on other pursuits. Knowing that there's probably another emotionally dependent woman waiting in the wings, just sucks the joy out of everything that we've accomplished together. For the first time in our relationship/marriage, I'm considering what it would be like to be on my own. I don't want anything from him and can manage just fine on my own. I just want peace in my life. Interestingly, he said part of the problem is that I don't need him--he needs a needy person. I replied, no I don't need you, but I do WANT you. His first wife was very needy, and it dragged the marriage down in every way. In actuality, I think he wants both, someone who's needy, and someone whos' self-sufficient--and not in the same person. I'm just at a loss at this point.

Spot on!

Spot on!

Emotional affair

My husband and I are recovering from his emotional, and eventual sexual affair with my best friend. I watched EVERY SINGLE ONE of these progressions and felt helpless to do anything. He always figured out how to convince me I was imagining things and was overly possessive and jealous. Since "D day", We are finding ways to find healing and repair our marriage. Thank you for your ministry. It has been a lifeline for me.

Just connecting with a story that sounds like mine

I find myself wishing I could ask you so many questions. What has the husband attitude been? And what about the friendship?

I was really excited a couple

I was really excited a couple of weeks ago when Wayne announced he was going to address emotional affairs in an upcoming video. Thanks so much for talking about it as I feel so many folks out there in the world do not understand or accept that emotional affairs are infidelity and how utterly devastating they can be. Eyes get rolled, like are you kidding me, that didn't have sex so it is not an affair!

Long before my formerly unfaithful husband had this type of affair, God schooled me in setting boundaries with friends of the opposite sex. Oh how I tried to share this with my spouse on a few occasions, but he would say it was nonsense and he and his friend were "just friends". How validated I felt despite the horrific circumstances we were in, when we came to EMS Weekend in August 2017 and heard we are "just friends" is/was one of the signs of an emotional affair.

I am so very pleased to say that now, my husband truly understands those words, "just friends" is not a good thing and has set up boundaries (although it took a while as old habits die hard), to keep himself, me and us safe!

Thanks Wayne for speaking on this type of affair and sharing on what not to do as it is just a reminder for us both to ever be diligent in our friendships!

Voly

Emotional & physical

What is it called when it is both a very emotional and physical affair. Double pain and devastation most certainly but is there a name for that. Saying physical just doesn’t seem to be serious enough of a description when words of love were expressed as well

Yup

This is the literal blueprint of my husband's emotional affair, and now that we are 3.5 years post dday, he sheepishly confesses to having all of these behaviors. He was in "we were just friends" denial for the first 6 months, but eventually saw the light, thanks to Affair Recovery and independent counseling.

What type of affair was it?

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