Talk to an expert from Relationship Hero for personalized relationship advice

14 Signs Of An Emotional Affair (+ 11 Reasons People Have Them)

Disclosure: this page may contain affiliate links to select partners. We receive a commission should you choose to make a purchase after clicking on them. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Get expert help dealing with an emotional affair, whether it was you or your partner who was engaged in one. Click here to chat online to someone right now.

Emotional affairs are more common than you might think.

And modern technology and communication is making them easier to carry out.

It’s so easy for people to connect in nontraditional ways, particularly through social media, that a platonic friendship can easily morph into an affair of the heart and mind.

Though they may never become physical, an emotional affair can be more devastating than a physical affair.

After all, a physical affair can easily be the result of bad decisions or impulsiveness.

An emotional affair, however, requires lies, deceit, manipulation, and omission of truth.

That level of betrayal can easily destroy all of the trust in the relationship.

What Is An Emotional Affair?

There are several interlocking cogs that turn in a relationship. One of the largest cogs is emotional intimacy.

A relationship partner should be a person you can confide your deepest thoughts, fears, desires, and emotions to.

They, in turn, confide the deepest parts of themselves to you, which helps to grow and nurture an intimate bond between you.

An emotional affair is when one partner starts to build that emotional intimacy with a third party that is outside of the relationship.

Emotional infidelity can lead to deeper emotional and mental attraction or a physical affair.

The person may also confide the problems they have in their relationship with the third party, which strengthens the bond between the affair participant and the third party.

It often starts off as a simple, platonic friendship

Jack meets this great woman and clicks well with her. He talks to her regularly and finds out they have a lot of common interests.

Jack starts talking to her about the difficulties of his career, his wife, and his family.

He and his wife haven’t really made any strides to stay intimate with one another through the responsibilities and monotony of everyday life, so the intimacy he is fostering with this woman outside of his relationship starts to interfere with his own relationship.

Jack starts to spend more time and energy on his communication with this other woman than his wife.

Next thing he knows, he’s starting to wonder what life would be like with the other woman instead of his wife.

8 Signs YOU May Be Engaged In Emotional Infidelity

There are various signs that you may be having an emotional affair. Here are the main ones.

1. You frequently communicate with the other person.

Communication with the person is often and ongoing.

You may find yourself brushing aside your partner to make time to talk to this person, often at inopportune times, like during lunch breaks, late at night, or when your partner is sleeping.

You devote an excessive amount of time to communicating with this person.

2. You find yourself thinking about this person often.

The person invades your thoughts regularly. You start to have thoughts of them like you would with someone you’re infatuated with.

You want to share things with them, share time with them, and often wonder how they are doing.

This person will be on your mind more often than what you would expect with a platonic friendship.

3. You discuss personal topics with the person.

Very few conversation topics will be off-limits between the two of you. You may find yourself relating your problems to them often, seeking solace in their words or actions.

You also find yourself sharing the problems of your relationship or criticisms of your partner with this person.

4. You believe this person understands you better than your spouse.

The person may seem like they get you in a much deeper way than your spouse.

And often, they will, because the lines of communication have broken down between you and your spouse so they aren’t privy to any growth or changes that you’ve experienced.

5. You start making excuses to spend more time with the person.

This may or may not be physical. It could also be skipping an activity to instead spend your time video chatting or texting with the person.

Emotional infidelity is often fueled by regular and constant contact with the person.

6. You start comparing your spouse to the person.

You may idealize the partner that you’re having an emotional affair with, comparing your spouse to them.

You may be angry or frustrated that your spouse isn’t like the third party or doesn’t do things the way they do.

The spouse often becomes the bad guy, even if they aren’t doing anything wrong, because the person having the emotional affair is now holding them to an unfair standard.

That unrealistic standard is usually based on an idealized version of this third party. That idealization is mostly rooted in the fact that the chemistry is fresh and you’re not living with the person, so you haven’t accurately seen their flaws or annoying behaviors yet.

7. You redirect more of your time and attention to the person.

Your spouse is getting less and less of you as time goes on. You are giving more of your time and attention to this third party, often cutting into the time you could be spending with your spouse instead.

8. You need to lie to control the information flow about the partner.

Lying by omission is still lying, and it’s easily the biggest red flag that you’re having an emotional affair.

You aren’t fully honest about your friendship with the person to your spouse.

You leave out details about what you talked about and when you talked. You don’t mention times when you meet up with this person, like lunches or meetings.

You deny communications happened or you may be regularly deleting conversation logs you’re having with the person so that your spouse doesn’t find them.

If you can’t openly discuss the friendship with your partner, it’s probably an emotional affair.

6 Signs Your Partner Is Emotionally Cheating On You

There are some clear signs that your spouse may be having an emotional affair.

1. Your spouse starts acting secretive about personal electronics.

The spouse who is emotionally cheating may install a pass code on their own phone when they didn’t have one before, clear the screen or put it into sleep mode when you come near, or never let their phone out of their eyesight.

This is one of the biggest and most obvious tells that your spouse is hiding something from you.

2. Your spouse starts mentioning a particular friend a lot.

Far more often than they mention any of their other friends.

They may seem to be entranced by what this person thinks, how they do things, or relate an excessive number of stories about the person.

You generally hear a lot about this person’s opinions.

3. Your spouse withdraws and becomes critical of you.

Your spouse may be overly critical of you, your choices, and how you do things.

This may seem like it comes out of nowhere, but it may be the result of your spouse comparing you to this idealized person they are talking to.

4. Your spouse is making extra time to be with the person.

This may look like needing to have meetings with the person, lunches, extra projects, or extracurricular activities that involve the other person.

New hobbies and interests that take your spouse away from the family that seem to come out of nowhere may also be an indicator.

For most people, they’ll have talked about being interested in a thing long before they actually try it.

But, all of the sudden out of nowhere, your spouse is getting into racquetball, even though they’ve never expressed any interested in racquetball before then.

5. Your gut instinct is telling you that something is off.

If you’re not generally a jealous person or prone to anxiety, a gut feeling is a good indicator that something is off.

That’s your unconscious brain picking up on the differences of typical behavior by your spouse and trying to tell you that something is off.

6. Your spouse refuses to talk about the other person.

A person who is having an emotional affair, whether they realize it or not, will try to control the information that will allow their spouse to see what is going on.

They may become angry or agitated when you want to talk about that person with them.

They may deflect and vehemently claim ignorance. Responding with anger is a pretty large red flag that there is emotional infidelity going on. What do they have to be angry about?

They may also try to push that fault back onto you, as though you have no right to ask questions about their friendship with the person.

You always have a right to ask.

11 Reasons Why People Engage In Emotional Affairs

One of the many problems with emotional cheating is that it is really easy for the person to rationalize to themselves that their actions aren’t harmful.

“They are just a friend,” is a common statement because it’s easy to convince oneself that what they are doing isn’t wrong if it’s just a platonic friendship.

But it’s not a platonic friendship if the person feels they need to hide the relationship from their spouse.

Why might a person get into an emotional affair in the first place?

1. The person doesn’t understand what they’re doing is wrong.

People are not that emotionally intelligent.

It requires a great deal of self-awareness and emotional intelligence to understand why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, and even to realize that the things that we are doing may be harmful to other people.

2. The person is a narcissist and requires constant attention and validation.

Narcissists live and breathe off of the attention they get from other people.

Once you settle down into the monotony and consistency of a stable relationship, the narcissist may start looking outside of the relationship for the attention that they crave.

3. They are angry with their partner and not confrontational.

Avoiding a problem is the far easier path than actually fighting for and dealing with it.

The person may engage in emotional cheating because they don’t want to face the issues in their relationship.

This can also be fueled by a partner who refuses to compromise or actually try to work out problems.

Sooner or later, the spouse just stops trying and their eye starts wandering to something they perceive to be better.

4. They are afraid of commitment.

Committing to a single person is a scary proposition for a lot of people.

What if you made a mistake? What if there is something better out there? What if this person doesn’t turn out to be who you thought they were?

A person who is emotionally cheating may actually have commitment issues that prevent them from making a long-term relationship work.

5. They are afraid of being alone.

On the other side of the fear of commitment is a fear of being alone.

This person is rarely single for long and usually has someone waiting in the wings to jump to if things aren’t going well in their relationship.

Keeping those avenues open to jump to another relationship requires emotional infidelity to keep the third party interested and attracted.

They may not be emotionally healthy enough to really focus on the single relationship.

6. They may have poor boundaries and models for relationships.

A person who has poor relationships modeled throughout their childhood and life will often jump into poor relationships.

They may view betrayal and cheating as just a normal part of a relationship if they haven’t learned that’s not the truth.

A person who watched their father betray their mother (or vice versa) over and over may come to think of that behavior as expected.

7. They have unresolved trauma, grief, or loss.

It’s easy for a person to idealize someone who has passed away. The grief often causes us to overlook the negative things about the person and focus on only the good.

Losing someone can burn a hole in a person’s heart, and they may look outside of a relationship to fill that hole with qualities that the spouse doesn’t have as a way to be closer to their deceased loved one.

8. They don’t like feeling restricted and need to rebel.

Some people are just not fit to lead a calm life. The responsibilities of work, family, and a relationship can feel oppressive, causing the person to lash out by looking for something outside of the relationship.

They may not want to feel restricted in the role they’ve chosen for themselves, and instead of addressing it, go outside of the relationship.

9. They are just not emotionally mature enough for a relationship.

Relationships can be difficult, particularly when the negative parts of life start to really hit the couple.

Deaths, tragedies, lost income, and lost opportunities will all test a relationship.

The person who is emotionally cheating may not be emotionally mature enough to deal with all of that, so they use an emotional affair as a means to escape to a fantasy for a while.

After all, it’s much easier to idealize someone when you don’t have to live with them or deal with the negative parts of their personality day to day.

10. The relationship is over, but they won’t admit it to themselves.

Sometimes relationships run their course. Not everything is going to last forever.

The relationship might have clearly ended a while ago, with the loss of feelings and breaches of trust, but they might be afraid of admitting that to themselves or don’t want to be the bad guy by breaking up with the person.

They may choose emotional infidelity as a means to find their own happiness and give their partner a reason to break up with them, so they don’t have to take responsibility for being the bad guy by ending the relationship.

11. They struggle with impulse control and are looking for the rush.

That rush of novelty, of newness, of meeting that great new person and the possibilities that come with the potential of a new romantic partner.

Poor impulse control can manifest in many ways, from binge drinking and eating to adrenaline chasing to physical or emotional infidelity.

A person with poor impulse control may be looking to get their next burst of endorphins and dopamine by reaching outside of the relationship.

How Do You End An Emotional Affair?

Ending an emotional affair is the easy part. You, or the person engaged in the emotional affair, needs to break all unnecessary contact with the third party so that those emotions have a chance to die off.

The hard part is addressing why it happened in the first place and rebuilding the relationship.

An emotional affair can easily destroy a committed relationship because so many people view it as worse than a physical affair.

A physical affair can be something as simple as a drunken mistake. A severe one, a life and relationship changing one, but a mistake all the same.

Emotional infidelity requires lying, deceit, and manipulation on a large scale to ensure that the partner does not find out about it.

It’s calculated.

That specter will always be looming over the relationship.

What if it happens again?

Will I know if it happens again?

Why should I continue to invest time and emotional energy into someone that disrespected me in this way? Particularly if there is no way that I can know they won’t do it again?

And if the person who did engage in the emotional affair doesn’t fix the problems that caused them to have the affair in the first place, it’s not unreasonable to think the same thing will happen again in the future.

It’s difficult to rebuild love and intimacy, particularly when it has been violated in such a deep way.

If BOTH people in the relationship want to try to save it (and it really does need to be both people), couples therapy can provide a safe place to discuss the obvious and less obvious issues.

The therapist can also provide exercises and a framework to address the cracks and chasms that have opened in the relationship.

And a lot of time and effort will be required for things to return to a healthy state.

Still not sure what this emotional affair means for your relationship? It’s not an easy situation to be in, and it might be all the more difficult if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it. Talking to someone is a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can listen to you and offer tailored advice to help you end the affair or deal with your partner’s emotional infidelity, depending on which party you are.

Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.

While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people – both couples and individuals – try to muddle through and do their best to solve problems that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to an expert. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

You may also like:

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.