A blog follower recently left a comment on my article, Turning Complaints Into Requests, asking me to define “emotional affair.”
It’s a good question.
You may have a sense that you know an emotional affair when you see one, but couples sometimes disagree about whether or not a certain relationship was—or is—an emotional affair.
Betrayed partners often perceive an emotional affair as a greater threat to their relationship than one that is primarily sexual. That’s because deeper emotional connection more closely mirrors the kind of attachment found in long-term committed relationships.
An emotional affair involves the participation of two people. The affair may include physical affection, but does not include sexual contact. A fantasy relationship that exists only in a person’s mind or their thoughts is not an emotional affair.
Here are 5 factors that strongly indicate that a person is engaged in an emotional affair:
Discussing Intimate Details About Your Primary Relationship
When choosing what to share about your primary relationship with other people, there are many factors to consider including the context in which you know the other person (friend, co-worker, or family member, for example) and the type of information you share.
Generally speaking, the type of information you share with another person about your primary relationship should correspond to how close you are to the person with whom you are sharing the information. For example, you would not tell a complete stranger you just met intimate details about your relationship or your spouse. However, you might share this information with a trusted friend, a therapist, or sponsor.
Intimate details about your primary relationship include the type and quality of your sexual relationship, sensitive or very private information about your spouse, or how you feel about your spouse, especially if those feelings are negative.
Sharing Information Not Shared With Your Spouse
When you share with another person who is not a trusted friend, therapist, or sponsor intimate, private thoughts and feelings that you are not sharing with your spouse, you create secrets in your primary relationship. When you begin to hold secrets from your spouse, there is a very high likelihood that you are involved in an emotional affair.
A dysfunctional—and highly seductive—bond is created when one person shares information, thoughts, and feelings that are not being shared with a primary partner. Sharing secrets is one of the most powerful and bonding experiences between two people engaged in an emotional affair, and is often how a person seeking an emotional or sexual affair seduces the other person.
When in doubt, if you are not willing to discuss a certain topic or your thoughts and feelings with your spouse, the only people you should share that information with are those with whom you are not emotionally or sexually attracted to who can help you sort through and process what you are experiencing.
Discussing Sexual Matters
Sexual experiences, thoughts, or preferences are highly private information and should only be shared with your closest friends, or a therapist, clergy, coach, or sponsor, for example. Discussing sexual matters with someone other than your spouse or support circle to whom you are emotionally or sexually attracted is extremely dangerous—and damaging—to your primary relationship.
If you are minimizing, hiding, concealing, or in any way attempting to misrepresent the type or amount of contact you are having with another person you feel an emotional or sexual attraction to, there is a strong likelihood you are engaged in an emotional affair.
Ongoing Emotional Support
If you find yourself in a situation where you are seeking or getting ongoing emotional support or comfort from someone other than your spouse, especially if you are minimizing or hiding your contact with that person, you are likely headed toward—or engaged in—an emotional affair.
Emotional support and comfort includes verbal expressions of affection, flirting, sympathy, or offers of various types of help or assistance.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)