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How to Protect Your Relationship From Emotional Cheating

An emotional affair generally starts innocently enough as a friendship. But when a person invests significant emotional energy and time in a close friendship outside of their marriage, the friendship can form an emotional bond that ultimately threatens and hurts the person's intimacy with their spouse or partner.

While some believe that an emotional affair is harmless given that there is no sexual relationship, most marriage and relationship experts view it as a form of cheating. Emotional affairs can also act as gateway affairs, eventually leading to both emotional and sexual infidelity. For many, the most hurtful and painful consequence of a partner's emotional cheating is the sense of being deceived, betrayed, and lied to.

Emotional Cheating?

Emotional cheating is when a person not only invests more of their emotional energy outside their marriage but also receives emotional support and companionship from the other relationship.

In an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other person than their spouse or partner and may experience increasing sexual tension or chemistry along with the emotional intimacy.

If you believe your spouse’s emotional energy is limited, and they’re sharing their most intimate thoughts and feelings with someone else, an emotional affair may have developed.

Emotional Affair vs. Platonic Friendship

A platonic friendship can evolve into an emotional affair when the investment of intimate information crosses the boundaries set by the married couple. Emotional cheating is opening a door that should remain closed.

One of the differences between a close platonic friendship and an emotional affair is that the extent of their emotional investment and intimacy is downplayed or even kept secret from the spouse or partner.

Another key difference is that people involved in emotional cheating often feel a sexual attraction to one another. Sometimes the sexual attraction is acknowledged, and sometimes it isn't.

Warning Signs of Emotional Cheating

Emotional affairs commonly develop over time progressing toward deeper and deeper emotional investment and intimacy. Though they may develop gradually and unintentionally, there are several warning signs that your close friend is an emotional affair:

  • Anticipating alone time or communication with your friend

  • Beliefs that your friend understands you better than your spouse

  • Decreasing time with your spouse

  • Giving your friend personal gifts

  • Keeping your friendship a secret

  • Lack of interest in intimacy with your spouse

  • Preoccupation or daydreams about your friend

  • Sharing thoughts, feelings, and problems with your friend instead of your spouse

  • Responding to confrontations about the emotional cheating with, "We're just friends."

  • Withdrawing from your spouse

Questions to Ask Yourself If you have a close friendship that you think may have crossed the line into an emotional affair, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are you experiencing repetitive hostility and conflict in your marriage?

  • Do you feel an emotional distance from your spouse?

  • Do you find it difficult to talk with your spouse?

  • Are you sharing more with your friend than you are with your spouse?

  • Do you think your friend understands you better than your spouse?

  • Are you sexually attracted to your friend?

  • Is the phrase, "We're just friends," your rationalization for your close friendship?

  • Does your spouse know about the friendship or the depth of your friendship?

  • Do you look forward to being with your friend more than being with your spouse?

  • When you talk to your spouse about your day, do you avoid talking about your interactions with this friend?

Signs Your Spouse Is Having an Emotional Affair

Conversely, if you are worried that your spouse or partner is having an emotional affair, there are some warning signs to be aware of:

  • Your spouse starts withdrawing from you or criticizing you.

  • Your spouse acts secretive, hides their phone, or shuts down the computer screen suddenly when you are around.2

  • Your spouse seems interested in certain technology or hobbies seemingly out of the blue.

  • Your spouse seems to always work extra hours on a "project" with this friend.

  • Your spouse's friend gets mentioned a lot. You seem to hear much about this person's opinions and yours seems to count less and less. (Or, conversely, you suspect your spouse is connecting with someone else, but they are being secretive about it.)

  • Your gut tells you something is going on. You are normally trusting and do not get jealous easily, but something feels off to you.

  • When you try to discuss any of these things with your partner, you are met with defensiveness or are made to feel like you're out of line.

How to Protect Your Marriage From Emotional Cheating

There are differing views on how to protect a relationship against emotional cheating, some of which aren't without controversy.

But others call this approach problematic. Not only does it not address the underlying issues that can motivate someone to seek emotional intimacy outside of their marriage, but it can create a sense of isolation for married and partnered people. Friendships and social support are important for psychological well-being, and having them does not need to come at the cost of your primary relationship.

The reality is that it takes both partners in a relationship to guard against emotional infidelity. A marriage or partnership is best protected when both people work together to build a marriage on a strong foundation of friendship and trust.


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