9 Warning Signs Of An Emotional Affair & What To Do About It

From emotional withdrawal to defensiveness, here’s what you need to watch out for.

Reviewed by Dan Auerbach, Psychotherapist & Relationship Counselor Dan Auerbach Dan AuerbachPsychotherapist & Relationship Counselor linkedin_icon
Written by , MA (English Literature), Certified Relationship Coach Shivani Chandel MA (English Literature), Certified Relationship Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
Edited by , BSc Shatabdi Bhattacharya BSc linkedin_icon Experience: 2.5 years
Fact-checked by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
Last Updated on

“Love is friendship set on fire.” – Jeremy Taylor

Most emotional affairs evolve from friendships. Have you ever wondered what sparks an emotional affair? Well, there are several reasons — a deep emotional connection with unclear boundaries, harmless flirting, not naming the relationship, and not keeping the sexual attraction at bay. Even innocent platonic friendships end up turning into emotional affairs for different reasons. In this article, we will find out what contributes to people cheating on their spouses emotionally, the types of emotional affairs, and how to deal with them. Keep reading!

What Is An Emotional Affair?

When a partner is romantically and emotionally attached but not physically involved with another person apart from their spouse, it can be termed an emotional affair. It is often clandestine and usually does not have a sexual component, so such a relationship seems benign. Such affairs start off as simple friendships but soon develop into something more, creating discord between the couple.

Although there can be other reasons for the marital discord, having an emotional affair will usually escalate it. It is important to be emotionally tuned with your partner for a harmonious relationship. It builds intimacy and keeps the relationship thriving. When these emotions are diverted, it can destroy the relationship as it can turn into infidelity easily.

A survey conducted on 2000 Americans found that 73% considered creating an intense emotional attachment with another person as cheating. Furthermore, 54% of respondents who have ever been in a monogamous relationship have been physically or emotionally cheated on. Also, 33% reported to have physically or emotionally cheated on their partners during a relationship.

No one starts off with an intention to cheat on their partner. So, what causes people to have emotional affairs? Find out in the next section.

Why Do People Have Emotional Affairs?

The innocuous nature of emotional relationships and friendships can blur the line and create havoc in relationships. There can be multiple reasons why people seek emotional fulfillment outside of a relationship. Some of the common reasons are:

Wondering how to catch an emotional affair early? Look out for these tell-tale signs.

9 Signs Your Partner Is Having An Emotional Affair With Someone

1. They Are Emotionally Withdrawn

Your partner has stopped discussing their feelings with you and has become emotionally withdrawn. They would rather discuss how they are feeling with their affair partner rather than with you. They believe that their affair partner can understand them better, so they share their problems and frustrations with them. Their affair partner will know more about your partner than you. They will get the news first-hand.

2. Unexplained Absences

Your partner is spending extended periods of time away from home. They do not spend quality time with you anymore. In fact, they plan how to spend alone time with their affair partner instead of you. You have no idea where or with whom they are. Long office hours or overtime are some classic excuses to cover up unexplained absences.

3. They Are Overly Private

Is your partner overprotective about their privacy? They may be acting secretive, hiding their phone from you, or shutting down the computer screen suddenly when you are around. They may be spending more time on social media and yet trying to keep their friendship a secret.

4. They Are Acting Defensive

Your partner may be trying to evade any questions you ask them about showing interest in someone else and avoiding serious conversations about your relationship altogether. They may also get upset or defensive when you ask them where they were. They are probably also not giving you an account of a sudden or excess expenditure. You may even notice that they are taking their “friend” out on extravagant dinners or pampering them with gifts.

5. Sudden Behavior Changes

Your partner has probably picked up a new hobby or is dressing differently. Chances are they are using this time to spend more time with their affair partner. Any confrontation with them results in defensive behavior. They may make you feel guilty for judging them or not trusting them. They will always maintain that they are just friends and accuse you of being jealous.

6. Lack Of Intimacy

You may have noticed a sudden lack of intimacy with your partner. They don’t show affection toward you or say that they love you anymore. They may also seem distracted or preoccupied with some other thoughts. On the flip side, they may try to allay their guilt by overcompensating with token gestures. They may randomly take you out on dates to soothe their guilty conscience. Although they may not have cheated physically, they do realize something is off about the relationship.

protip_icon Quick Tip
Emotional affairs can be as damaging as physical affairs as they lead to a loss of intimacy and connection. Communicate honestly and openly with your partner about your emotional needs to ensure emotional transparency.

7. Changes In Sexual Dynamics

They seem to have lost interest in sex with you and don’t initiate sex anymore. The frequency with which you used to have sex has decreased. Even when you do have sex, you may feel something is amiss – like they are not completely present.

8. They Are Overly Critical

Your partner has probably started getting angry or irritated with you easily or is criticizing you constantly. They may be comparing you to their “friend” or suggesting something that you do not understand them as well as said friend. They idolize their “friend” and pit you against each other.

9. They Constantly Talk About The “Friend”

You will never hear the end of their friendship. Your partner goes on about how special this friend is or how much they admire the friend. They may tell you about how effortless and easy it is to spend time with said friend. This is probably because they are constantly thinking about them.

These are the most common warning signs indicating that your partner may be emotionally cheating on you. But what are the stages involved in an emotional affair? Let us check it out.

Stages Of Emotional Affair

The following points elaborate on how an emotional affair escalates in stages.

  • Attraction: They feel a subtle pull towards someone, sensing a connection beyond friendship.
    Intimacy: As emotions intensify, interactions deepen, blurring the lines between platonic and emotional involvement.
  • Secretive Bonding: The relationship becomes clandestine, adding an element of secrecy that fuels emotional intimacy while keeping it hidden from you.
  • Conflict: Growing emotional investment leads to internal conflict and guilt, as they grapple with the consequences of the affair. The affair unravels, causing turmoil for all parties involved.
  • Confrontation and Healing: Facing the aftermath, they confront the reality, leading to an opportunity for healing and growth, either individually or within your primary relationship.

As the emotional connection strengthens, the next question that comes to mind is, how do you approach this situation discreetly? Find out below.

How To Put A Stop To An Emotional Affair

  • Be honest with your partner. First and foremost, talk to them and have a discussion about what you feel is happening. Chances are your partner is unaware that they are walking on a thin line. A simple reality check is all that is needed to put most emotional affairs to a stop. In these situations, communication is key. Having those discussions with your partner to know what they’re feeling and thinking can help overcome this emotional affair. Couples will realize what is at stake and set their priorities straight once the affair is out in the open. Then both partners will be able to work on their relationship once everything has been discussed and go from there.
  • Bring to their attention how much time they are spending with their friend and how it is affecting you and your relationship.
  • Check in with your partner often. Let them know that you care about them and are interested in them. Let them not feel neglected or unappreciated and tell them you want to build a stronger connection..
  • Try couples therapy. This will help highlight the miscommunication in the relationship and address the underlying issues in a professional manner.
  • Find out how your partner is feeling about your connection. Try and work backward to understand when things started to change, and see if you can regain some of the points of connection that worked in the past.
protip_icon Did You Know?
Neil Patrick Harris and his husband David Burtka have openly shared their journey with couples therapy: “We go to couples therapy. Not that there’s anything wrong, but it’s nice to sort of just talk to someone who is a mediator. That’s helped our relationship.”
  • Try to bring back the romance. Set up romantic dates and have deep conversations with each other. Try to get connected with each other emotionally and physically.

If you can relate to the signs mentioned above, the chances are that your partner has an emotional affair with someone else. However, it would be wrong to assume and jump to conclusions. So, speak to your partner, let them know how their changing behavior makes you feel, and seek a logical explanation for the gradually transforming dynamic between you and your partner. Make sure they are honest with you and are speaking the truth. Finally, do not hurt each other in the process and broach the subject with civility.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an emotional affair considered adultery?

Emotional affairs may be perceived differently by different courts. Although they are not considered a form of adultery, such affairs may lead to infidelity and can sway people to commit adultery eventually.

Can emotional affairs be good?

Emotional affairs are often considered harmless. However, they might threaten the emotional bond with your partner and make both feel disconnected, leading to infidelity and divorce.

Key Takeaways

  • When a partner is romantically and emotionally attached but not physically involved with another person apart from their spouse, it can be termed an emotional affair.
  • While it doesn’t excuse it, a lack of trust and intimacy or feeling neglected can push a partner to seek an emotional connection outside the relationship.
  • Emotional withdrawal from the relationship is among the first signs of an emotional affair.

Uncover the complexities involved in navigating the aftermath of an emotional affair and the importance of recognizing inappropriate behavior. Check out the video for guidance to deal with this challenging situation.

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Dan Auerbach
Dan AuerbachPsychotherapist & Relationship Counselor
Dan Auerbach is a Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist and a Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist for Couples with two decades of experience. He is also the Founder and Co-Director of Associated Counselors & Psychologists, a network offering diverse counseling services across over 40 locations in New South Wales and online​​.

Read full bio of Dan Auerbach