An emotional attachment to another person while in a relationship can be just as devastating to a partner as a physical affair. However, it is also possible to simply have a good friend who shares an emotional bond, without being in anything more than a friendship relationship. But sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, about 35% of married women and 45% of married men self-report as having had at least one emotional affair during the marriage. While it is not unusual for both partners in a marriage to have emotional or physical affairs (or both), in self-reporting online surveys 88% of women and 44% of men stated that they were more concerned about their partners having emotional affairs than physical affairs.
Recognizing the signs of an emotional affair is often a challenge; it may be changes in your partner's behavior and his or her response to any questions you may have that provide the details needed to make this determination. At the same time, and this is a significant challenge, a manipulative or deceptive partner can explain away the other "relationship" and, if it is online only, may not see it as being unfaithful as there is no physical dimension to the affair.
Signs Of A Problem
A spouse may ignore or overlook some of the signs of an emotional affair or even view the situation as a fault of their own. This often causes them to try harder to be their partner's "ideal mate," which only results in pushing them further away.
This becomes a vicious cycle that can affect the "offended spouse's" sense of self-esteem, ability to set boundaries and ability to see the issues with the partner's behavior choices. This cycle has to be broken for the offended spouse to see the truth and get out of the toxic relationship.
Some of the signs/indicators of an emotional affair include:
- Secretive communication – Text messages, phone calls, emails, social media private messages or any number of other forms of communication that are kept secret or hidden are often signs of an emotional affair.
- Anger and denial – Anger and denial often go hand in hand with secretive communications and behaviors. If the communication is discovered, the "emotional cheater" can become angry and defensive, or simply shut down and refuse to talk about the issue or the questions that you may have.
- Turning the tables – Often a person having an emotional affair will blame the other partner for the same type of behavior, or bring up a past friendship and make accusations, even if they may be unfounded.
- Emotionally distant – People in emotional affairs outside of the marriage begin to distance themselves from their spouse or partner. At the same time, they may begin to see the partner as inferior or negative, often pointing out issues that were not apparent in the past.
- Changes in interests and opinions – It is not uncommon in any new "relationship" to take on the ideas, interests, and values of the person they are spending time with, even if the time is only occurring online or via electronic communications.
- Lack of attention – If a previously attentive partner seems not to notice when you are upset, when there are changes in your life or when you are concerned about the changes you see in them, there may be a deeper reason than just being tired or stressed out at work.
If you think your partner is unfaithful, even if it is a long-distance, online type of emotional affair, it is important to consider the short and long-term implications of the behavior and how it fits into your expectations of the relationship.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She helps people find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. She is also the author of “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking your Obsession.” Sherry maintains a private practice and is a sought after online dating and relationship coach. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.