We used to think of cheating as a purely physical thing. Kissing, groping, (definitely!) having sex - all of these things are considered cheating if the other person in the relationship has not agreed to them (polyamorous lovers, you’re off the hook).
But relatively recently, the term emotional affair has gained traction, and it’s no surprise. Back in the early 2000s when social media still wasn’t a thing, keeping an emotional affair was difficult and quite expensive - anyone remember the price of an SMS back in the time? Nowadays, however, people can reach each other anywhere, at any time, and even end up having three separate conversations on three separate apps!
All that has made forming and holding up an emotional connection with someone that much easier. And thus, emotional affairs were born.
What Actually Is an Emotional Affair?
Much like the sort of cheating that includes kissing or sex, an emotional affair means certain boundaries have been crossed when it comes to intimacy. Only this time, it’s about emotional intimacy.
Just ask yourself: what does it mean to be in a relationship with someone?
It’s not just sex - sometimes, it’s not about sex at all. But what it always is about is a special type of emotional connection. You trust each other and feel the need to be with each other and communicate as often as possible. You want to tell them everything important that happens to you. You know everything about them, their family, their friends, their deepest fears and greatest dreams, their biggest secrets…
When you see a funny picture, who’s the first person you think of? Them. When you wake up in the morning and see a text from them, there are butterflies in your stomach. You smile every time there’s a notification from them. You’re sad and worried if they promise to call but they don’t. You spend the longest time preparing for a date with them...
Things like these are the testimony that you’re in love and share a deep connection. If your partner is having an emotional affair, it means these things are no longer exclusive to you - they feel this way about another person, too. They have romantic feelings towards them and rather than dealing with it and making a decision, they end up staying emotionally involved with both of you.
How to Recognize Your Partner is Having an Emotional Affair
Anyone who’s been on the other side of an emotional affair knows that they can be just as painful as physical ones, with an additional struggle: finding the proof of one is much more difficult, and understanding when certain boundaries have been crossed can be tricky. As someone who’s experienced it and has heard about it from my clients, I’ve decided to write up a list of signs that your partner is engaging in one, and offer you some advice on dealing with it.
Sign no.1: You notice they’re talking to someone else - a lot.
If your partner is a social butterfly in general, this will hardly be a red flag. But if they’re someone who only has a couple of friends and isn’t that big on keeping in touch at all times, it might be a sign of something troublesome.
If you’ve been noticing that they’re getting a lot more notifications than usual; if they try to see and answer them as soon as possible; if you see them smiling every time they read them; and especially if they avoid telling you who it is - your relationship may be in trouble.
Now, I know you’ll want to take their phone and go through their messages, but once you do it, even if they never find out - the trust has been breached, and it may affect your relationship forever. There’s a better solution, and I’ll offer it towards the end of the article.
Sign no.2: They have started neglecting you.
It may only be the small things at first. They may stop texting as much as usual or start being late for dates. But over time, the neglect may grow. You may notice you’re the only one in the relationship initiating date nights, vacations, or something as simple as a “let’s meet up after work”.
Now, when we’re emotional, we may become biased and overlook those instances in which they did text first, or invite you for a movie etc… So the best thing to do here is: a) be patient (I know it will be hard, but it’s only for 2 weeks!), and b) become a scientist (well, kind of - humor me here).
It’s time for an experiment! During the next 2 weeks, make a note every time you initiate something vs. times when they do it. After some 15 days, you’ll know for sure whether the emotions have blurred your vision, or if you have reason to suspect there’s an emotional affair.
Sign no.3: You notice they spend extra time preparing for a night out when that person will be present.
If you’re worried about a person they’re seeing relatively regularly, you’ll be able to notice if your partner is especially excited when they’re about to see them. They may take longer in the shower, change more outfits before finding the perfect one, staying out longer than they usually do, and all in all showing more excitement when a certain person is involved.
They may even be talking about that person a lot without noticing it - but you’ll definitely be able to. And it’s not because they want to hurt you, but because a lot of people don’t exactly believe in the concept of emotional affairs. For a lot of them, if there’s nothing physical going on, all is good! - but that doesn’t mean it’s not real, and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s not hurtful.
Sign no.4: They get defensive when you bring it all up.
Even if you’re being perfectly reasonable and tell them you’re simply worried about your relationship, they refuse to talk to you about it. Instead, they call you paranoid, jealous, and a plethora of names and adjectives that derail the conversation and end up changing the topic. You end up being the culprit and taking the blame, and before you know it, you realize you’ve been manipulated into apologizing. So if you notice that despite all your attempts you can’t get a straight answer out of them - that’s most probably all the answer you need.
Addressing an Emotional Affair
Much like any affair really, it should all start with an honest conversation. Tell them you don’t feel comfortable in the relationship anymore. You don’t want to see their messages and all the records of every conversation that ever happened, but you do want to hear them say out loud what is going on.
Tell them everything you’ve noticed and that you feel hurt, alone, even angry… And ask for an explanation. If they decide to tell you everything there is to say, you’ll be able to figure out what to do next.
What Are Your Choices?
If you have been on the other side of an emotional affair, you have two rational choices. Either it’s something you simply can’t forgive, in which case you’ll leave, grieve over the loss of a relationship, and eventually move on… Or you’ll decide to give it another shot. But if you opt for the latter, you both need to have a clear set of rules, and the continuation of your relationship cannot be based on blame, but forgiveness. It will be hard, but otherwise both of you will only be losing time, and your relationship will be doomed. Try to understand them, set some boundaries, look for counseling, forgive them and move on.
However, if they won’t move past the stage of defensiveness and shifting the blame, there is nothing more for you to do. It means they lack respect for you as a person and for your relationship, and that’s exactly what I did when confronted. My ex partner did admit to an emotional affair, but rather than wanting to work on it, he shifted the blame and said it was all my fault anyway. So I left that relationship and I never looked back.
If you’re dealing with an emotional affair and aren’t sure what to do, you can schedule a free first consultation!