You may have heard the term “emotional affair.” Do you understand what it really means? Is it really ‘cheating’?
Consider the following:
What Is an Emotional Affair?
An emotional affair can start off innocently but quickly develop into something more. How so?
For instance, imagine that you are in a relationship. You feel satisfied with your partner and vice versa.
Then someone new enters your life, or an existing relationship becomes more meaningful to you. For example, you begin to confide in a co-worker about your personal life; about your thoughts and feelings about your life. Soon you begin to look forward to seeing them at the office. You realize that you “click” with this person. You feel open and vulnerable, connected to them in a way that you haven’t felt before, or lately.
But instead of talking about these things with your partner, you talk about it with this new person. Even worse, you don’t tell your partner what’s going on.
You’ve slowly slipped into an emotional affair.
How Is Talking Considered an Affair?
Talking with another friend or co-worker is obviously not an emotional affair. It is the level of intimacy involved with the conversation along with the emotions that can make it so.
After all, you could easily talk to a friend about a personal topic without having this type of emotional reaction. In fact, you most likely would have already had the same discussion with your partner.
But once you begin to have an emotional reaction, like looking forward to seeing the other person, you are no longer simply having a private conversation. Once your feelings are involved, your conversations take on a degree intimacy. And if the other person begins to feel and behave as you do, an emotional bond has formed. When this bond comes into conflict with the bond you’re supposed to have your partner and you keep it a secret, you are having an emotional affair.
But I Thought Affairs Were Strictly Sexual!
Yes, it’s true that many affairs are sexually-based. However, remember that many who participate in an emotional affair do so for two reasons.
- They feel an emotional desire for another person.
- There is a lack of emotional desire in their current relationship, and they are seeking that out.
Both reasons imply the same thing: the desire for a deeper connection. You don’t have to have sex with someone to experience an intimate connection. In genuinely satisfying relationships, the sex is better because of the already existing emotional connection between partners.
If that emotional connection is lacking or damaged, an emotional affair could easily develop, whether you intended it to happen or not. This is not an excuse for having an emotional affair, but it’s true that attraction and desire are not something we can just turn on and off. These are subconscious urges that sometimes can be hard to control.
That Could Never Happen to Me!
Really? In today’s day and age, it may be actually easier for this to happen.
For example, imagine, an old classmate from high school connects with you on social media. You both begin sending messages back and forth to catch up. Then, gradually, you start texting one another more frequently. Or, think about a situation where you spend long, stressful days at work with someone.
You begin to innocently confide in each other about how work has interfered with your personal lives. They listen to you. They tell you they appreciate you “being there” for them. From here, it’s easy to begin talking about deeper things, like unmet needs or dreams or desires. These intimate conversations and the feelings you have lay the foundation for an emotional affair.
What at first seemed like innocent conversations or ordinary online messaging now include more personal information. You begin to share your hopes, fears, desires. What started off innocently is quickly turning into something much more.
And before you know it you’re hiding the truth from others about what and how often you talk to the other person.
Secrecy and Emotional Affairs
Just like a sexual affair, having an emotional affair involves secrecy and in both cases, you would be cheating.
People usually have an emotional affair so that they get an unmet emotional need satisfied, something that they can’t get from their primary relationship. If this is you, you’re probably talking about things that for whatever reason, you and your partner can’t or don’t discuss. So you decide to keep your communication with the other person secret because first of all, you want to keep getting your needs met and secondly, you know how your partner will react.
In general, sexual affairs can be less difficult to cope with, primarily because this type of infidelity doesn’t always include deep emotional connection. And to be clear, if you keep a secret about another person meeting your unmet needs, this is extremely intimate.
What Should You Do If You are Having an Emotional Affair?
One way to determine if you are in an emotional affair is to ask yourself: “If our conversations are innocent enough, then why keep them hidden from my partner?”
As human beings, we need to have affirming connections with other people. However, when you start to feel drawn to another person outside of your committed relationship, it’s a potential problem.
So, if you believe you are having an emotional affair, it’s important to set boundaries with the other person. This includes completely ceasing communication with them if necessary.
Next, talk with your partner. Even if it started out innocently enough, you still played a role in the affair. Take accountability for what has happened and why. Talk about what you’re not getting from the relationship.
If this is you, doing this can be hard to manage on your own. That’s why working with a professional therapist can be helpful. Alone or with your partner, you can get the much needed guidance on what to do next; learn how to talk about what happened with your partner; understand what happened and why, and begin to heal and repair your relationship. The counseling process also can help you determine whether or not you should stay in your relationship.
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