The Signs of an Emotional Affair: Is Emotional Infidelity Cheating?
Are you wondering what the signs of an emotional affair look like? In my work as a couples counselor and affair recovery coach, I work with couples who are experiencing discomfort in their marriage around one partner’s seemingly too close of a relationship with another friend. “I’m not having an affair,” or “We aren’t sleeping together,” is often the defense in the conversation – but what a lot of couples don’t understand is that an emotional affair is just as serious (if not more) than a physical affair.
I recently authored a guest post on Emotional Infidelity for hitched.com, and because it’s such an important topic, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject here on the Love, Happiness and Success blog, too.
Emotional infidelity, jealousy, and trust are common issues for couples we see in couples therapy or marriage counseling. I know from many years of experience as a “relationship expert” that the first step in healing for many couples is having good information to help you understand what’s going on, and what needs to change.
It can be incredibly anxiety provoking when your partner has connected with someone new. It’s also especially difficult when you are not feeling confident about your own relationship. And if that “someone new” happens to be attractive, it can trigger massive amounts of insecurity and jealousy.
Understanding Emotional Infidelity
Emotional infidelity is a problem because when your partner is getting their emotional needs met by another person they are, by definition, not sharing them with you. Even if these interactions are just on something as innocuous as Facebook, you still want to protect your relationship from vulnerability. Check out my article, “Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair” for an in-depth description of how emotional affairs start, and why they become so dangerous.
But We’re Just Friends… What’s the Big Deal?
A common difficulty with emotional affairs is that the partner involved often feels very innocent about their involvement with the person who causes this kind of jealousy. So, for example, if you share your anxious feelings with your partner, they are likely to get defensive and tell you “we’re just friends” or make you feel like you’re being unreasonable. This, of course, only adds to your anxiety!
If your partner maintains their relationship with the attractive person you’re worried about, and is continuously unresponsive to your escalating anxiety, it can create huge problems in your relationship. Namely, that you start looking like the crazy irrational person…. and their new “special friend” is seemingly even more attractive in comparison.
As I’m sure you know if you’ve lived this, that “anxiety > defensiveness > more anxiety > more defensiveness” loop starts to create a very yucky dynamic that can be difficult to unwind.
Stopping this unhealthy cycle first requires acknowledgement from your partner that they currently may have an inappropriate attachment to another person. “But why is it inappropriate?” they may wonder. “Why is it not okay to have friends?” As a counselor, I can assure them that it’s a big deal because their primary commitment is to you, and you feel uncomfortable with it.
Furthermore, it is beneficial for people to understand that many affairs begin innocently enough. From my experience, unless they started in response to some gross Craigslist sex-ad or ashleymadison.com profile, ALL AFFAIRS begin as platonic emotional entanglements. Hardly anyone sets about to have an affair, destroy their marriage, blow their family apart, and live in the aftermath of the financial and emotional destruction that causes. [Listen to my podcast about affairs, if you want to learn more about the sad reality.] Instead, affairs begin by appreciating their time with a new person, which can lead to attraction until it grows like a wildfire that only the cold shock of discovery and divorce can drown.
Signs of an Emotional Affair
There are very specific signs of an emotional affair that I share in my hitched.com article. Awareness of these signs can help you flush out the presence of an emotional affair. For example (and this one may surprise you) if you have been having conflict and disagreement in your relationship, and that tension suddenly fades – without other resolution – it may indicate the presence of a new emotional outlet in your partner’s life.
If your spouse suddenly seems more cheerful, more secretive about their phone, or stops telling you about their day-to-day life, it may also point to a new, increasingly important, relationship.
The reason why these new attachments are so problematic for your relationship is that when your partner is going to someone else with their thoughts, hopes, fears, concerns, and emotional needs they are not giving you the opportunity to share them, or meet them.
Believe it or not, the biggest “danger signal” for a relationship is not fighting. People fight when they still care about a relationship and want to change things. A relationship is in real trouble when fighting stops, because it signals a loss of hope. People break up because they no longer believe that change is possible. If your partner is sharing all their important emotional needs with someone else, it’s a sign that they are withdrawing their emotional trust in you. Over time, they may stop believing that your relationship is worth fighting for.
Healing From Emotional Infidelity
There are many things that you and your partner can do together to ease your anxiety and strengthen your trust and security in your relationship. (If your trust has already been broken, you might listen to my podcast: “Sorry’s Not Good Enough: Repairing Trust in Your Relationship.”)
For example, if your partner wants to maintain their new friendship, they need to help you feel safe with it. That might mean planning activities where you are included, cc’ing you on correspondence, and having boundaries around the other relationship. If they are not willing to do that, it’s a sign that their attachment to that person may be as important to them as their attachment to you.
For my full advice on recovering from an emotional affair, read the full article on www.hitched.com. If you’re struggling with emotional infidelity, jealousy, and trust issues in your relationship, I sincerely hope that the advice I shared in this article, and others, helps you both find your way back together.
All the best,
Lisa Marie Bobby
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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