Emotional Infidelity in Marriage – Why It Happens And How You Can Recognize It

Emotional Infidelity in Marriage – Why It Happens And How You Can Recognize It

Is your marriage vulnerable to emotional infidelity?

And is emotional cheating just as damaging to a marriage as a physical affair?

Regrettably, it’s often challenging to save a relationship after any kind of infidelity. As it can destroy trust between you and your spouse and create a whole lot of pain and heartache. 

In this article, I’ll explore emotional infidelity in marriage, why it happens and how to recognize the signs when it is happening to you or your partner.

You’ll find out more about emotional affairs, the dangers, and the harm they can cause to your relationship with your partner:

First you need to understand the differences between an emotional and a physical affair as there are clear differences between them:

  • A physical affair requires that you or your spouse engage in sexual intimacy with another person and cheat.
  • An emotional affair might not become physical at all. You may never actually meet the person in real life. Even so, you share your most intimate thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams with him/her and that can hurt your existing relationship.

While a physical affair is one of the most difficult challenges faced by a couple, an emotional affair can be even more devastating.

An emotional affair is the most painful type of infidelity because it involves not only the body but the heart and mind as well.

An emotional affair is best described by saying that your partner has developed intimate feelings toward someone other than you, possibly even falling in love with that person even if they have never been physically involved.

Your reaction to finding out about this type of relationship can be anything from fear to sadness, anger to loneliness.

Describing exactly what an emotional affair is can be very difficult.

While the boundaries that describe a physical affair are fairly obvious, an emotional affair revolves around matters of the heart. Proof of the affair is difficult to gather, and it is easy for your partner to justify or deny the relationship.

Further complicating the matter is that it is often far more difficult to ask your partner to break off an emotional affair- often these affairs occur with close friends, co-workers, or other people who will remain in your lives.

The best way to define whether your partner’s relationship qualifies as an emotional affair is simply to ask yourself whether the emotional infidelity has a damaging effect on your own relationship.

When your partner’s attention toward another person begins to damage the love and trust you have built together, your partner is involved in an emotional affair, and to save your relationship, you must understand what is happening and how to change it. (One resource you will want to consider is the Infidelity Recovery Center. The site offers practical tips and real world advice on dealing with both types of affairs)

What is An Emotional Affair?

In most cases, an emotional affair doesn’t start between two people who have ill intentions. People who engage in emotional infidelity often don’t realize that they are doing anything wrong until it is far too late.

An emotional affair is defined by three characteristics:

Secrecy– Often, two people will start out as friends. They have lunch together, talk about their lives, and share thoughts and feelings that they feel they cannot share with their partner.

A friendship becomes an emotional affair when one partner conceals the nature of the relationship and the amount of time spent on maintaining that relationship from his or her partner.

Secrecy is often seen when a partner begins hiding or erasing texts and emails, taking calls outside or away from home, and spending more time away from home.

Deceit– An emotional affair turns serious when one partner begins lying or intentionally hiding things from the other. While secrecy may simply be a way of trying to keep communications private, deceit is when one person conceals things from the other because he or she knows that it would upset their partner.

This can mean lying about where they went, claiming to have stopped talking to the other person, or making up stories about where they are going to hide things from their partner.

Deceit breaks the bond of trust between two people, and is often the most painful part of emotional infidelity.

Betrayal– The final element of an emotional affair occurs when a person begins doing things that he or she knows would hurt their partner in order to maintain or build their emotional affair with someone else.

Often, this means saying or doing things with someone that a person wouldn’t do with their partner. In other words, a partner begins creating an intimate, secret life with someone other than their spouse that they know would hurt their partner to know about.

Is an Emotional Affair Really Cheating?

In a word, yes.

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Those involved in an emotional affair often justify it to themselves thinking that as long as they are not having a physical affair, it isn’t really cheating.

A physical affair is considered “cheating” not just because of the physical act but because it breaks the trust in the relationship and because it is a violation of the agreement between a couple that certain things will only be shared between the two of them.

That is exactly why an emotional affair is more damaging than a physical affair- while physical “cheating” may last only an evening, and emotional affair is a long term breach of trust that is profoundly damaging to a relationship.

When one person in a relationship becomes so involved with someone that they are willing to hide things from their spouse, lie to cover up the relationship, and take time away from their partner to maintain an emotional affair, it is cheating.

The definition of the word “cheating” means to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud, or to violate rules dishonestly. Thinking of an emotional affair in that way, it is hard to call an emotional affair anything less than cheating.

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Can an Emotional Affair Become a Physical Affair?

An emotional affair creates a slippery slope that often leads to physical infidelity.

In most cases, people involved in an emotional affair have no clear intention to cheat or become physically involved. But as the affair continues, the people involved in the affair begin to depend on each other for happiness and for the good feelings they provide.

There is almost always a component of physical attraction, even if the people involved don’t initially acknowledge it. The thrill of keeping the relationship secret and “sneaking around” can lead to feelings of excitement and increased physical attraction.

As an emotional affair becomes more thrilling and feelings become more intense, the likelihood that the relationship will become physical increases.

There are often signs that a relationship will soon move from emotional to physical.

  • Your partner may begin working out or may suddenly change his or her appearance.
  • They may begin picking fights more often, or they may become suddenly more distant.
  • You may also notice that he or she begins wearing a particular cologne or perfume or dresses in a different way on days when he or she will see the other person.
  • You may even notice that your partner seems to feel guilty about something that he or she won’t tell you about.

All of these are signs that the emotional affair is, or will soon be, a physical affair as well.

Why Do Emotional Affairs Happen?

The most painful question to ask is why your partner has engaged in an emotional affair.

The reasons behind an emotional affair are more complicated than those behind a physical affair. Most people don’t intend to get involved in an emotional affair.

In most cases, emotional infidelity is something that just happens.

For most people, the affair begins when they find someone that they are somewhat attracted to who seems to be interested in them in a way that their partner is not. Often, emotional affairs occur when the excitement of a new relationship has worn away, whether that is a few months into a new relationship or years into a marriage.

The partner who engages in an emotional affair is looking for someone who makes them feel interesting and exciting again, and they often don’t realize how powerful those emotions really are.

Another reason that emotional affairs happen is simply because it is easier than ever for people to engage in emotional infidelity.

Your partner likely spends time with people at work or during leisure time who have similar interests, hobbies, and personality traits.

The growth of social media puts people in touch with other people and makes it easy to reconnect with people from their past as well as people who are looking for a new relationship. In fact, a majority of emotional affairs start simply as a matter of convenience when people connect online or at work with someone who seems to understand them.

Emotional affairs happen for a wide range of reasons, and finding out why your partner is engaged in one might be easier than you think.

  • Is your relationship troubled?
  • Does your partner have low self esteem or love being the center of attention?
  • Does he or she have a parent or past partner who cheated?

In order to understand why emotional infidelity occurs, you have to understand your relationship.

How to Recognize Emotional Cheating Signs

Recognizing the signs of an emotional affair can help you keep one from occurring. The signs of emotional infidelity are often very similar to those of a physical affair. Start by looking for changes in your partner’s demeanor and actions.

The following are some of the most common signs that your partner is involved in an emotional affair:

He or she begins working out, changing their style of dress, or spending more time on their appearance before going to work.

Your partner begins hiding his or her cell phone, “locking” it, or becomes protective of the phone and the information on it.

You spouse spends an excessive amount of time online, getting up early or staying up late to spend time online and refusing to tell you what he or she was doing.

Related:  How to Deal With Your Husband's Emotional Affair

He or she suddenly becomes vague about how their time is spent. Examples might include suddenly being too tired after work to talk about their day or “forgetful” about details of lunches or other activities.

Your partner suddenly demands that you not contact him or her at work, removes pictures or other family mementos from their wallet, purse, or car, or stops wearing gifts like jewelry or clothing from you.

He or she becomes very secretive or defensive about another person, defending his or her actions even when you haven’t challenged your partner about that person.

The best indication that your partner is having an emotional affair is simply a “gut feeling” or intuition that something is not right.

You will often feel that you are losing your connection to your partner.

You will find that your partner picks fights and seems to be purposely distancing himself or herself from you. When you feel that something isn’t right, chances are, you should be worried.

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How to Confront Your Spouse about an Emotional Affair

The realization that your spouse is likely emotionally involved with someone else can be devastating, but how you confront your spouse will likely determine whether or not your relationship can be saved.

For many people, their first impulse is to become angry and accusatory, but if you are interested in fixing the problem rather than breaking up, you will need to control your emotions.

Start by taking a few minutes to write down what you would like to change to resolve the problem, and then take some time to remind yourself that you care enough about this person to fix your relationship.

Once you are ready to confront your spouse, you will need to keep a few things in mind.

The first step is to find the right time and place to discuss the situation. Calling your partner at work or starting an argument in a public place will only make your partner more defensive and angry.

Instead, find a time when the two of you can sit down together and talk. Choose an environment in which you feel comfortable and there will not be many distractions to help you remain calm and focused.

When you begin talking to your partner, remember to use words that explain how you feel, rather than accusing him or her. Avoid statements like “you never” or “I always” and try to avoid words that will cause an emotional reaction such as “cheating” or throwing out the idea of a divorce or separation.

Instead, focus on how your partner’s behavior makes you feel, and why you feel that his or her relationship with this other person may be interfering in your relationship. Expect that your partner will defend the relationship and avoid saying negative things about the other person, as this will only make them more defensive.

Also, as much as possible, avoid admitting to “snooping” through emails, texts, or receipts. Avoid giving your partner ammunition to blame you for making the situation up or misinterpreting what you have seen.

How to Repair Your Relationship after Emotional Infidelity

While an emotional affair can be devastating, the good news is that your relationship can recover and become stronger if you are both willing to forgive the past and work on becoming a stronger couple.

There is no single method that will work for all marriages, but the first step involves admitting what is wrong in the relationship that may have caused one partner to become involved with someone else. You should both understand that there is a difference between handing out blame and working on a relationship.

To make your relationship stronger, you have to both be willing to admit to your faults.

Start by discussing the great things in your relationship, whether it is kids, favorite hobbies that you share, or even a great physical relationship. Be willing to talk about how things have changed in your relationship as well.

All people grow and change, but to repair your relationship after emotional cheating has occurred, you have to be willing to grow together rather than apart. Talk about what you both want from your relationship and focus on the things you have in common.

Often, emotional affairs occur when a couple starts to grow apart, but you can choose to become close.

One of the most important parts of repairing your relationship is identifying what you both need to feel that the emotional affair is over.

While your partner will likely be reluctant to simply quit talking to the other person completely, you need to discuss ways that he or she can begin distancing themselves from the relationship. Avoid making demands, as this can make your partner feel that he or she is receiving an ultimatum.

Instead, ask your partner how he or she can end the relationship on his or her own terms. You will also want to find ways to fill the role that that third person has played in your partner’s life.

Related:  The Harrowing Impact of Emotional Infidelity And How to Heal

Take time to talk to your partner, spend time doing fun things together, and find ways to enjoy each other’s company. Rebuilding your relationship will take effort, but a good relationship is always worth the work.

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How to Build Trust after an Emotional Affair

One of the most devastating effects of an emotional affair is the destruction of trust between two people.

Rebuilding that trust is the key to creating a happier, healthier marriage. While you may be tempted to make demands that your partner give up all privacy, your relationship will suffer in the long term.

Healing requires a lot of forgiveness, and you will not be able to trust your partner if you can’t let go of the past. Let your partner know that you don’t want to hear the details of the affair, as this will only hurt you further. Instead, focus on creating a healthier relationship by paying attention to the things you do well together.

Trust in a relationship should grow over time, and helping your partner understand what you need will help that trust grow. Don’t demand that you be able to read all of his or her text messages, instead ask him or her to avoid answering the phone or sending texts during certain times that you are together.

Additionally, talk to your partner about things he or she has done well in the past that have increased your trust level. Whether it is occasional calls from the office or being introduced to his or her friends, focusing on the things he or she does right will make your partner more likely to do those things again.

The most important part of building trust is found in your ability to forgive. While there is no doubt that emotional infidelity hurts, only you can decide how long to let it keep ruining your future. Giving your partner the honest chance to rebuild your trust will help you build the type of strong relationship that you have been missing out on.

After the Affair- How to Affair Proof Your Marriage

emotional cheating on spouse

After the initial pain of dealing with an emotional affair has passed, it is time to focus on building a relationship that is immune to future emotional infidelity. The process begins by creating a relationship in which the lines of communication are always open.

Often, couples will open themselves up to affairs because they feel that they can’t be themselves with their spouse. Open communication in a relationship requires that you stop judging your partner and see him or her as they really are.

Talk about things with each other that address the core parts of who you really are and be willing to accept that while you may not agree on everything, you can accept that your partner is different and love him or her for those differences rather than in spite of them.

Another key component to creating an affair-proof marriage is cultivating a life together that involves shared relationships and experiences. Rather than spending time with your own friends, find friends that you can spend time with together.

Also, if either of you has friends who cheat, it is time to stop spending time with those friends since another person’s moral compass can have an impact on your own. Spend time with people who love you as a couple and build relationships together that help you fulfill your emotional needs together.

Finally, find ways to return to the parts of your relationship that made you fall in love to begin with.

Don’t discount the importance of a physically intimate relationship, a trap that many couples fall into. Whether it is sex or simply physical closeness, the bonds of a relationship are often formed when you are physically together.

Find ways to remind each other of why you are good together- complimenting your partner when he or she does something that makes you happy is a simple way to strengthen your relationship. Being your partner’s best friend is the best insurance against a future affair.


An emotional affair can be one of the most difficult challenges that a couple will ever face. Realizing that your partner has become emotionally intimate with another person can make you feel sad, angry, lonely and fearful for the future you had planned on.

There are many reasons that emotional affairs happen, but only you can decide how an affair will affect your marriage. If you decide that your marriage is worth saving, an emotional affair doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship.

Instead, if you are strong enough to forgive your partner and move on together, an emotional affair can be the start of a stronger bond. Moving forward with your life after an emotional affair may be difficult, but the love you have for your partner will always be worth the effort it takes.

For more information on how to help mend your marriage after an emotional affair, look into the Infidelity Recovery Center. You’ll be able to get more insight on how things can work out for the better.

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