Do you suspect your partner is having an emotional affair, or perhaps you’re the one catching feelings for your “just friend”?
Every emotional affair is complex and unique, and it moves through the 7 stages of emotional affairs.
When I think of the process of an emotional affair, I imagine this: It’s just another regular Monday (God, I hate Mondays), and M is at work trying to be productive and not think about the recent argument she had with her current partner.
Flashback: It’s Sunday evening. M and her partner (we’ll call him B) have just argued over something they’ve been talking about for months.
After a fight, B decided to ignore M again. M goes to sleep, devastated and disappointed in her relationship. She wakes up, gets dressed, and goes to work desperately trying to fake that smile of hers.
Her co-worker approaches her and tells her: “You look really nice today.” M instantly blushes, her heart rate accelerates, and she shyly replies: “Thank you.”
M goes back home, it’s evening, and she’s alone. Her partner has gone out with his friends, and they haven’t even been in contact since Sunday.
M decides to turn on the TV or watch Netflix, but her thoughts are all over the place when all of a sudden, her co-worker’s words pop into her mind again: “You look really nice today.”
M grabs her cell phone and starts searching for his profile on social networks.
She looks at his cute picture for a few minutes, and after some moral quandary, she decides to text him something like: “Hey, I just wanted to thank you for your nice words today. It meant a lot to me because I was having a bad day.”
Her co-worker (we’ll call him C) replies to her: “If I knew it would mean so much to you, I would have made sure to remind you of your beauty every day at work and not just today.”
M smiles shyly again, and after sending him another text, C replies with something even bolder and flirtatious.
M reciprocates, and she’s finally feeling great again (and she can’t wait to text him again, see him tomorrow, the next day, and the next day…).
And that is how she slowly but surely entered the realm of emotional affairs!
What Is An Emotional Affair?
An emotional affair or emotional cheating happens when a person has a romantic connection and receives emotional support and intimacy from another human being outside of their relationship or marriage.
It’s when one person invests all their energy in someone new who is not their current partner. They start experiencing a strong emotional attraction and feel like they understand them better than their current partner.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, approximately 35% of women and 45% of men report being involved in an emotional affair at some point in their life.
Emotional affairs and texting have become the most popular tool for emotional infidelity.
Our cell phones contain the largest data of emotional affair history, and this data becomes an eternal reminder of our sinful acts (or should I say thoughts).
Regardless if we’re talking about a physical affair or an emotional one, one thing is for sure: Cheating is a choice, not a mistake.
Even though you don’t directly decide to cheat on your partner, you choose to do some things that lead to the act of cheating. One of those things is sharing things with them you know you shouldn’t.
Is it because you connect with the other person on a deeper level? Is it because an emotional affair involves our hearts and not (only) our bodies? To those questions and many others, you’ll find the answers below!
How Do Emotional Affairs Start?
Remember M, B, and C from the introductory part? Well, that’s exactly how emotional affairs start.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Just because I’ve given an example of a woman cheating on her partner doesn’t mean females dominate this field.
Both men and women cheat, often without even being aware of it because emotional infidelity happens subtly and gradually. It can start with one text, a nice word, or a compliment.
But, for such an affair to happen, there has to be something lacking in that person’s current relationship.
There has to be something they don’t receive from their partner (or relationship) any longer, so they start seeking it in other people.
In that situation, their current partner becomes invisible to them because all their attention is directed to their new relationship.
6 Common Reasons Why Emotional Affairs Happen
Dissatisfaction with your current relationship
Let’s say that you’ve been in a committed relationship for years now, but you’re not as happy as you were in the beginning.
You and your partner seldom talk about what you can do to improve your relationship because you don’t have time for that or you’re not willing.
You feel that they no longer shower you with attention like before or give you compliments like they used to. And that is when you decide to seek emotional support from other people.
If your relationship lacks emotional support or any other aspect, you’ll be determined to find that somewhere else.
If you’re suffering from low self-esteem in a relationship and your partner is not doing anything to help you with that, one nice word from a cute stranger or a co-worker can mean the world to you.
Lack of intimacy and healthy communication
If you no longer hold hands, hug each other, or have open and honest conversations, you will feel disconnected from each other (from your current partner).
Lack of physical or emotional intimacy is a huge red flag in every relationship.
When these two aspects aren’t met, a partner (or both partners) start looking for it elsewhere. Healthy communication is the basis of every happy relationship.
When a couple is no longer capable of communicating in a healthy way, they start making connections with others who understand them “better” than their current partner.
The allure of attraction
One of the reasons why these types of affairs happen and why it is so hard to retreat once you’re in there is because of the addictive feeling provided by a new romance.
The other person becomes your escape from reality and the problems that you have with your current partner.
Whenever you receive a text message from the other person (that you really like), your heart skips a beat, and you can’t wait to open it and to reply in a flirtatious manner, hoping they’ll reciprocate.
You can’t wait to see them, even for two seconds, because they can always make your day and make you feel special.
You become convinced that they are better than your current partner and they are everything you want in a man/woman. But, the allure of attraction can sometimes be delusional.
Lack of firm boundaries
When you were at school, you knew that you couldn’t call your teacher by their name, right?
Or, if you have a boss, you know that you can’t talk to him/her like they are your best friend (of course, unless they are your good friend).
We (often) know exactly how we’re supposed to behave in certain circumstances, but sometimes we refuse to listen to reason but let our impulses prevail.
We know that we shouldn’t send that text message to that one person, but still, we choose to do it. Why? Because we lack firm boundaries? Or because we no longer care about boundaries at all?
This one is interesting. Sometimes, a person chooses to emotionally cheat on their partner because they’ve got nothing to lose.
They do it because of their ulterior motives. Perhaps they already decided to break things off with their current partner, but they didn’t want to tell them yet.
Instead, they just go with the flow and jump into a new relationship with another person. They know that once their current partner finds out, it will be too late.
But, they don’t care because they secretly want to end things either way.
Fear of abandonment
If you’ve been hurt in previous relationships one way or another or experienced emotional abuse, it’s natural for you to be insecure in current or future relationships.
You might be afraid of becoming attached to your partner because you don’t want to experience pain again (if they decide to break things off or if things just go south).
Due to your fear of abandonment, you may start connecting with others so that you have an alternative (or plan B) in case your current relationship fails at some point.
10 Warning Signs Of An Emotional Affair
If a person is having an affair, awkward conversations will become inevitable. Often, partners realize when something fishy is going on in their relationship, so they start looking for answers.
If your partner is emotionally cheating on you, you will start asking one too many questions about their co-worker, friend, or someone else who you suspect is involved in an affair.
Your partner might blame you for doing that and accuse you of overthinking and overreacting.
Such conversations always end up being labeled as awkward, making things even more complicated than they are at the moment.
If your partner is having an emotional affair, they will become overly protective of their things, namely their cell phone.
If you try to come too close to them when they’re texting with that one person, they will accuse you of “trespassing.”
They will seldom (or never) leave their cell phone unattended, especially if you know their password.
Sometimes, they will sneak to talk to that person in the middle of the night and then pretend it was someone else.
Your partner will often lie to you about his/her whereabouts, and you’ll become a legit Sherlock Holmes, determined to put an end to this misery.
You’ll start overthinking their every word, move, and gesture. From the person you trusted with your life, your partner will become a stranger to you.
Sudden schedule changes
Remember all those movie scenes where one partner calls their significant other to tell them that they’ll be home late from work because they “suddenly” have extra tasks to deal with?
Sudden schedule changes, extra office hours, and other things are often just an alibi for their sinful actions.
If you notice that your partner is working late hours or has sudden changes in their schedule, chances are they’re doing something behind your back.
Excessive thinking about the other person
If you or your partner are emotionally cheating on each other, excessively thinking about the other person is one of the first signs that you’re entrapped by the shackles of emotional infidelity.
Are you looking for signs they are thinking about you? Are you often imagining what their reactions would be in certain situations? Do you find yourself daydreaming about the other person 24/7?
If yes, then you know they’ve become your main priority. Being focused on that one person makes you forget everything and everyone around you, including your current partner.
That is where neglecting and taking for granted comes into play.
Feeling and acting differently
Are you suddenly overly concerned about your looks, health, and wellness? Are you feeling and acting differently? Has anyone around you noticed that?
Usually, when we meet someone new that we’re attracted to, we start behaving silly and obsessive. We let the affection toward them consume us, and they become the center of our world.
When we really like someone, we become ready to get rid of our toxic habits and turn into better versions of ourselves overnight. We do that hoping that they will notice us, compliment us, and fall for us even more.
Remember the last time you rejected your current partner when they asked you to see a movie or go for a drink? Do you do the same thing when that one person asks you to go for a drink or similar?
When we really like someone, we don’t make excuses. Instead, we make an effort. When we really want to do something, we’ll find a way to make that happen.
If you’re suddenly leaving the office earlier only to meet the other person, then you’re making sacrifices for them. Why? Because you like them and you want to spend your time with them.
But, are you doing the same thing for your partner as well?
A growing emotional distance from the current partner
The more you’re connected with the new person, the more you’ll feel distanced from your current partner. A growing emotional distance becomes a huge gap in your relationship.
You no longer communicate, smile at each other, or talk about your day. You just live your separate lives and talk only when you need to.
You no longer enjoy hanging out with your current partner because the new person is constantly on your mind.
You start rejecting your partner’s new ideas for spicing things up because you feel like you’re cheating on that new person you barely know. Yup, emotional affairs are that powerful.
They can reflect on your mental health and turn you into the person you never wanted to become.
Sharing intimate details about your marriage/relationship
Do you have this urge to share things about your marriage or relationship with the other person? Do you feel like they understand you and are the only ones who can make you feel better?
Do you perceive them as your best friend, someone you can trust?
Sharing intimate details about your marriage or relationship is cheating in itself because you’re cheating both on you, your partner, and your current relationship.
Instead of focusing on seeking comfort in other people, you should try resolving things with your partner because that’s the only way to improve your relationship.
Excessive fantasizing about being intimate with the other person
Let’s say that you’re at work, you’re doing your tasks, but you find it kind of hard to focus on just that. Your mind starts wandering, and you enter the realm of fantasizing about THEM.
Or you’re watching a movie in the evening, and the main character reminds you of THEM. Or you’re washing dishes when you suddenly start thinking about THEM.
Okay, I think you get the idea.
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself fantasizing about other people, which is completely normal. But, excessive fantasizing about being intimate with that specific person is another warning sign of having an emotional affair.
Arguing with your current partner more than usual
Have you noticed that you suddenly argue more with your partner than before? Perhaps you’re the one initiating arguments and nagging them about certain things?
The thing is, when you meet someone new, it’s natural to start comparing that person with your current partner (or an ex-partner).
The more you compare them, the more you’ll be irritated and disappointed when you’re not happy in a current relationship.
You’ll criticize them, tell them how irresponsible they are, or how unromantic they are towards you. You’ll argue both over trivial things and those of greater importance.
7 Stages Of Emotional Affairs
The innocent friendship stage
The first and one of the most innocent stages of an emotional affair is the innocent friendship stage. You add each other on social media, exchange phone numbers, and enjoy the magic of instant messaging.
Soon your texting habits become more frequent, and as time passes, you share more and more information about yourself, your fears, dreams, and so on.
But, you’re still nothing more than just friends. You’re pen-pals, perhaps also co-workers, and close friends.
The ‘more than just friends’ stage
At this stage, a friendship gradually starts to cross the line, so you’re no longer “just friends” but something more. This stage is also known as the infatuation stage.
You have a strong emotional connection (and it’s getting even stronger), and you feel as if you’ve known each other for years.
You finish each other’s sentences. You know each other’s likes, dislikes, and other things related to your personalities.
There is also a strong underlying desire for deeper intimacy, lots of daydreaming about the other person, and unbearable tension.
That is when you gradually start shifting toward being a legit emotional cheater. The other person is no longer just a friend but an emotional affair partner.
The closest confidant stage
Contrary to other stages of emotional affairs, this one is the peak of emotional connection.
At this stage, you’re not only sharing things about yourself with the other person, but you’re also sharing things about your primary relationship.
Your “new friend” becomes your confidant, someone who understands you and someone you can tell anything you want.
If the other person is also in a relationship or is a married man or woman, you will also become their confidant.
A strong emotional bond has reached its climax, and now the following question arises: Will your emotional bond grow into physical intimacy or not?
Emotional intimacy can sometimes lead to a physical affair, but this is not a prerequisite.
From being “just friends,” you find yourself in a labyrinth surrounded by new terms: extramarital affairs, unfaithful spouses, cheating partners, and so on.
Physical intimacy happens naturally because your bond is now stronger than ever. You feel connected on a higher level, both mentally and physically.
And perhaps you feel guilty for being unfaithful to your current partner because, unlike emotional infidelity, physical infidelity is something that is visible, “something that actually happened,” so you can’t help but feel remorse for it.
The growing discomfort stage
The growing discomfort stage describes the relationship between you and your current partner.
There’s a gap between the two of you that grows even wider due to your constant arguing, ignoring each other, and taking each other for granted.
You no longer ask your current partner to go for a drink or a walk or do anything else you used to do before. And they no longer do that either. From partners in a committed relationship, you’ve become strangers.
Feeling repulsed by your current relationship
You’re feeling more and more repulsed by your current relationship because you can’t find a single positive thing about you and your current partner.
You’re annoyed by their habits, their personality, and all the other things that you used to like.
Your current partner feels neglected because you have no time for them. They start demanding answers for your sneaky behavior, and perhaps they even play detective.
You’re focused on contemplating your new relationship and your current one, hoping that everything will fall into place one day.
The final decision
One of the most difficult stages of emotional affairs is the final decision. It’s when you finally have to decide whether to leave your current partner or cut all contact with the other person.
Sometimes, emotional affairs fade out, but unlike physical affairs, they are stronger. Because of that, they last much longer.
It’s harder to recover from emotional infidelity than from a physical one because you can’t stop thinking about the other person overnight.
You can decide not to see them or text them ever again, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll completely erase them from your mind. As with everything else, time is your best friend.
Do Emotional Affairs Last?
The answer to this question varies from person to person. It’s true that some emotional affairs result in marriage, while others end after a few months.
However, research shows that happily ever after in such affairs happens in 3–5% of cases. The main reason for such a low percentage is that emotional affairs are based on an unstable foundation.
Breaking a commitment to be with another person might be perceived as flattering in the beginning, but in the long run, it can leave serious consequences for your new relationship.
One question that partners need to ask themselves is: Can I trust that my new partner won’t do the same thing to me?
Another reason why such affairs usually don’t last is that they start noticing each other’s imperfections over time. They realize their relationship is no longer as exciting as it once was.
Indeed, emotional-based affairs offer hope to new partners who were in a rut in their current relationship.
Sadly, after the honeymoon phase is over, they realize their new relationship has become a burden to them, just like the previous one.
All in all, emotional-based affairs seldom have a fairytale ending, and they cause pain to everyone involved.
5 Ways To Protect Your Relationship From Emotional Infidelity
Spend quality time together
One surefire way to protect your current relationship from emotional-based affairs is by spending quality time with your partner.
Our hectic lifestyles often prevent us from doing so, but you need to do your best to protect what matters to you.
Check-in with each other regularly, don’t ever stop going on dates (regardless of how long you are together), never stop making each other feel special, and always find time to listen to each other.
Visit new places, discover hidden gems, and enjoy life together. Challenge each other and always be on the lookout for new ways to make your relationship exciting.
But also spend some time apart!
This is the number one mistake many couples make, especially at the beginning of their relationship. They start spending too much time together and avoiding their friends and family.
Now, did you know that spending too much time together can ruin your relationship? Every couple needs some space for quality time together and for spending some time apart.
You need to allow your partner to miss you, to keep maintaining their connections with other people, and to be able to spend some time alone when needed.
That is the only way to establish a healthy and happy relationship.
There will indeed be many things you and your partner will disagree on, and that’s where compromising comes in!
Many couples only focus on who’s wrong or right in a certain argument, and they’re not willing to listen to the other person’s perspective.
When that happens, arguments become the primary form of communication between partners.
As always, compromise is the key to every healthy relationship, and it will help you protect your relationship from emotional-based infidelity.
Argue in a healthy way
Arguing is inevitable in every relationship, and you cannot change that. But, what you can influence is the way you argue with your partner.
Toxic arguing patterns like yelling, blaming, or ghosting each other will gradually create a gap in your relationship.
When that happens, one or both partners will start looking for a way out of that toxic situation. They will focus on connecting with someone else and seek understanding outside the relationship.
That is how they enter the realm of emotional-based affairs.
If you want to keep that from happening, make sure that you argue in a healthy way, that you don’t insult or ignore each other after the argument.
Apologize and forgive
If you do something wrong, make sure to apologize to your partner for that and vice versa. I’ll repeat: Arguments and mistakes are inevitable, but you have the power to choose to apologize and forgive.
Don’t assume that your partner has forgiven you, but make sure always to apologize when you hurt them one way or another. Demand the same treatment in return.
And learn how to forgive yourself as well. Sometimes, forgiving yourself is harder than forgiving others, but it’s an art that needs to be mastered.
Saving A Relationship After An Emotional Affair
Cut off all contact with the other person
After the affair, the cheating partner needs to cut off all contact with the other person.
This is the first step to saving the relationship, but it’s important to understand that cutting off contact will not delete everything that happened.
The cheating partner will probably still think about them even after that because they will need time to forget and detach from that person.
That is why an emotional-based relationship is more complicated than the physical one.
Evaluate your relationship
The next step is evaluating your relationship. To save a relationship, both partners need to be willing to work on it.
They need to think of the things that their relationship lacks and target the reason(s) for infidelity.
Is it lack of attention, lack of effort, understanding, or something else? They say that it takes two to tango. Well, it also takes two to be in a (healthy) relationship.
Often, infidelity is not one partner’s problem, but it results from underlying issues in their current relationship. ,
Talk about the other person
No matter how difficult it is to talk about the other person to your current partner, this needs to be done.
By sharing with your partner what attracted you to that person in the first place, it will help you understand better what is that you lack in your relationship.
For example, if you were attracted to the other person because they showered you with attention, you need to work on that aspect.
Be determined and patient
And, of course, remember to stay determined and patient.
There will come times when you will feel like giving up on your partner and your relationship because the process of recovering from infidelity is really slow. But don’t do that.
Be patient when following steps to rebuilding trust in a relationship, and remember that it will take some time until your partner can trust you again.
Also, make sure to go through the above stages of emotional affairs so that you can have a better understanding of how everything happened. Good luck!