As hard as it is to recover from sexual infidelity, an emotional affair still highlights the harsh facts that one of you willingly indulged their own desires at the expense of the other’s trust and intimacy.
Emotional affairs can go through stages. They often start by accident, sliding down the slippery slope of friendship and attraction. What begins as a work dinner, message from an old flame, or a shared workout at the gym can develop into a flirtation and intimate affair.
Many people interact like this without it morphing into cheating. Others, especially those who are unfulfilled in their own relationships, start to indulge the feelings of validation, attraction, and excitement. They continue to pursue the communication when they know it is starting to have an intimate or sexual charge to it, and they know enough to keep it from their partner.
What starts as moments of micro-cheating can turn into full-blown emotional cheating.
Signs you’re in an emotional affair
To determine if your relationship with another qualifies as an emotional affair, consider these questions:
- Are you keeping the relationship from your spouse? Or are you misleading them about how often or how much you talk to the other person?
- Are you sharing things with this other person that you don’t tell your spouse? Do you rush to tell them things first? Do you tell them about your unhappiness with your partner?
- Do you seek out contact with them when you’re feeling down or lonely?
- Are you attracted to them? Is there sexual tension or a charge to your interactions?
- Do you fantasize about being in a relationship together? Do you wonder if you should be with them instead?
If you or your spouse has cheated through an emotional affair, it need not mean the end of your relationship. A breach of trust like this always provides opportunities to evaluate how you feel about your marriage, and it to recognize an unhealthy patterns. You may decide to walk away but if you want to work it out and use it to improve your relationship, you (the emotional cheater) can take these steps
1. Recognize the fantasy. Affairs are full of New Relationship Energy. They exist in the infatuation phase, where brain chemistry goes crazy and makes you believe you’ve found your soul mate. This feeling is intoxicating, and it’s vital for the cheating partner to realize that they’ve been making decisions based on the drug of that neurological reaction. Emotional affair partners aren’t real—in the sense that you are not dealing with real life, with the stresses and negative attributes that would show up later. You’ve been indulging in a dream. As appealing as it may have been, you can let it go more easily if you accept that it’s been a mirage.
2. Learn self-validation. Many people get involved with someone new because they are looking for positive reflection and attention. When you are missing that in your primary relationship and don’t know how to validate yourself, it can be especially easy to find it somewhere else. It’s important to develop the ability to feel good about yourself without needing external validation. Clearly, it’s also vital to improve your relationship with your spouse so it’s infused with positive attention and interaction. Consider where, how, or why you feel this lack, be open with your spouse about how you feel, and try to work toward a solution together that helps you feel secure and loved—without placing the full burden on your spouse to change.
3. Cut off ties with the other person. This is the time to focus on your marriage and not risk the slippery slope anymore. In order to earn trust with your spouse, there should be no contact with the third person that isn’t required (for work and such). Splitting your attention and continuing to siphon some of your energy to the other person just keeps the dynamic going. Be clear that you are ending it (both with the third person and with your partner), and be willing to demonstrate that by being transparent with your communication mechanisms (social media, email, etc.). This is key to how to stop cheating any further.
Share exactly what happened and when, to the degree that your spouse wants to know. Examine the extent of the dishonesty and the prevalence of lying in your life in general. Commit to speaking the truth and being transparent from now on.
Consider going to couples therapy or taking a workshop together. Work through relationship self-help books to strengthen your foundation. Talk honestly about your wants, needs, and complaints. An affair can put your relationship on the brink; this is the time to lay it all out there and address all the problems.
What will move you through this is a combination of time and demonstrated change. The cheating partner needs to be trustworthy if they are going to earn trust. You both need to see that there is a new level of honesty, an ability to raise and address unmet needs, and a marital recommitment. Whatever fuelled the affair has to change, and that means both people have work to do to make sure the relationship is fulfilling to the other.
🙏🏼Bottom Line. Both emotional and sexual affairs are painful but they can also be the impetus to tackle long-standing problems and transform your relationship for the better. If you see a fatal flaw of dishonesty or lack of commitment, use the affair as a chance to find a better relationship. But if you believe that your relationship is salvageable, use this learning opportunity to grow as a person and a partner.