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

Nine Signs of an Emotional Affair

9 Nines Emotional Affair

Emotional affairs are devastating. The collateral damage from sharing your heart and life with another outside the marriage not only devastates the betrayed spouse. 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. Just what is an emotional affair? What qualifies it as such? Perhaps your spouse is resisting the idea that’s 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 ‘out there.’ 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 a how to in reverse, meaning if you can identify with these signs you may be developing a dangerous "friendship".

Signs you are developing an emotional affair:

1. Intimacy avoidance:

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’s 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 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 you always consider 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 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. As the second law of thermodynamics states, 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 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 don’t listen; instead tell them they are being petty and controlling and that they 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 you’re as wonderful as your Emotional Affair Partner sees you is necessary to obtain maximum benefit from your new found relationship. Always believe the lie that you’re better than their 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. Emotional 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. Be 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 need to remind you that this is actually a "what not to do" list. At the very least I hope this gets people to think. Emotional infidelity is absolutely no less damaging than physical. If your marriage has been rocked by an emotional affair, I’d like to ask you to consider attending our in-person, 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.

Just recently I answered a question from a Recovery Library member in our Expert Q&A regarding emotional affairs. I thought it would be another helpful piece of insight for you. The Expert Q&A is available through the Recovery Library

 

  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

7 out of 9

For my wife, she was 7 out of 9.

It's too bad that we don't read this kind of information before the affair happens...or even before we get married.

I agree with you, I used to

I agree with you, I used to skip over infidelity articles. I was so sure I married a man with integrity.

Signs it could be an EA

This brings me to tears because this is spot on. 

Me too and it's been 5

Me too and it's been 5 years.  He chose the affair partner.  He said it was easier to wipe the slate clean with her than try and repair our 21 year marriage.  It's been devastating, but through years of counseling I've perservered.  I am now re-married to a wonderful man.  "He" has married the other woman.  I'm working on forgiveness but am in the acceptance stage right now.  I would ask that you pray for my girls.  They are great but I know they miss their dad.  They have difficulty spending time with him because he insists she be present and they still aren't ready for that.  Healing is a long and difficult process, but do-able.  Blessings to you all!

On your daughters' healing

What you mentioned about your ex always insisting that AP be present when he sees his daughters is the same thing we're going through. My husband moved out 8 months ago to move in with his AP. My precious 14yo who was his princess, his little daddy's girl has all but shut him out of her life after begging him, at times with tears, to spend time with her without the AP along. He even refused to eat her birthday dinner with her if he couldn't bring AP. It certainly is a matter of prayer. Sometimes I think it hurts more to see our children hurting than ourselves!

long term affairs

This is so accurate it makes me want to vomit. Number 2 specifically, but also number 3, are the reasons why the emotional affair turned into a physical affair. Number 7 is why it stayed physical.

Crazy...

It's amazing to me that these steps are so detailed, yet so right on. I agree that I wish I could have had these signs BEFORE it took place. :-\

Emotional Affair Signs

This says it all--absolutely spot-on. All of these were present in my husband's relationship with the AP, and led to the affair. Thanking God for 3 years together post-revelation and for the healing brought by the Affair Recover programs! It is possible to rebuild, renew and move forward.

thank you

Thank you for posting a positive thought. I am one year post-revelation. My husband and I have come to the root of what was causing our relationship to deteriorate. We are working everyday to avoid being in that position again. It is nice to hear that it is possible to recover what I was certain was lost for good. I still hurt. I still wonder if I know the truth, and if I don't, would the truth change anything. I still wonder if it will happen again. But I am still trying.

Trust

I am 3 months out and still my heart aches. I was totally blindsided by all this and don't believe what he tells me. He has been lying for over 6 months and tells me it's over between him and his first wife and that he don't "love" her, but I don't believe him! We always had a strong, truthful 34 year marriage (or so I thought) but in fact I found out what a sneaky, lying, deceptive person he really is. I want to save our marriage, but everything just plays over and over in my mind and I don't know how to move on!

Spot on

Excellent description and exactly how it happens, from what I've experienced with my husband.  I can also see how my husband and I still have problems that could spell more trouble in the future.  I'm going to try to get him to read this.  He has pretty much shut down all my attempts to deal with his infidelity.

Thank you!

DJ

Helpless

My husband is a stranger to me and to intimacy. In almost 30 yrs. of marriage, he has run from conflict. We can't work through anything, including his infidelity, because he flatly refuses. But God is faithful. My hope, joy, and peace rest in Him.

cheated on

i'm mot sure if my story can top ur's but my husband took me on a cruise with his girlfriend and her husband. try moving on after that with ur spouse! it's the hardest thing in this world especially if u want to keep the family together.

Reply to: NINE SIGNS OF AN EMOTIONAL AFFAIR

I have read many of these columns in trying to process what my wife did to me. But this made me break out into a cold sweat, it was so detailed and spot on. I'm not sure whether this was compiled from an astute understanding of human nature, a ton of experience working with couples who have been through something like this or both. But whatever it is, I commend the author of this. Now if only it can be determined what can be done to make somebody other than the victimized spouses be the ones to benefit from columns like this.

The "I did not cheat on you" affair

Wow, this is so right on. I have experienced from my husband almost everything on this list...he finally confessed, after I kept probing. I saw some of it but I thought I was being jealous because my husband is just a "friendly" guy with women.... or so I thought. Little did I know that his "friendliness" had crossed the line, a while back, with several women in his office. He has found himself telling me that they are just very close friends, like his sisters, and that I was reading too much into it and that he has never "cheated" on me. Of course this is just a devastating as if he had had a physical affair, the trust has been broken and it's very painful to the offended spouse.

This has just happen to me

This has just happen to me that i got flirting emails between my husband and another women. He said they were innocent and would never do anything with this women. that he was just doing to make her feel better and she said they were innocent and friends nothing more. But still crossed a line and the trust has come down. And it does feel like he had a physical affair. Innocent and what not married men should not be flirting with anyone but there wife and women should not feel the need to flirt with married men so they can feel good. Cross the line and is really hard to get the trust back and not feel the hurt by it

Sisters!

My husband said the same thing! After buying lingerie & perfume and flowers and sex toys for his "sister" over the past 3 years. So brotherly! I asked if he would feel the same way if someone had given the same to our teen daughter, would that be considered "brotherly"? [He balked] And I haven't even touched the idea that if her *own brother* would be the one sending those things, would THAT be wrong? He is very sick. Twisted. This is the result of years of justification, rationalization and minimizing of wrong behavior. He came to believe his own distorted lies. I cannot fathom his thinking processes. And...he wants to reconcile! Of course, why not? He hardly did anything wrong, right?

exactly

I printed the nine signs page and highlighted the parts of each sign that I had seen with my husband and his EA partner and then wrote out in red ink the exact things I knew they had done. Then I gave it to my cheating husband, who only admits that he "called and texted too much" and wouldn't admit that it was even an affair. Even after reading everything, he still won't call it an affair. Dday was late last November, confrontation was Christmas Day, and I have been waiting for 8 months for him to come clean and admit this affair. I am convinced now that it is not going to happen. He doesn't think he did anything wrong, but I have over 53 pages of phone records that indicate otherwise, including texting between the hours of 2:00 am and 5:00 am. Of course, he says they are "just friends" and since they work together, he has to speak to her about stuff at work. ( I guess he needed to know if a package he ordered came in and decided to call her at 2:00 am about it.) This article shows exactly what happens in an EA and at least it validates that I am not crazy or making too much out of what I felt in my gut and what I had seen. Now, 8 months later, I have moved out, am trying to regain some sense of self worth and respect, and have realized that he is too self centered to actually feel any remorse or guilt for what the devastation he caused. I have to take care of me now and he and his EA partner will have to figure out a way to answer to God. I am trying, with a lot of prayer, to move on.

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.

What type of affair was it?

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