Emotional affairs can be somewhat murky territory. Because there aren’t necessarily clear definitions of infidelity – like there are with a physical or sexual affair – it can make the boundaries blurry, and sometimes the people involved don’t quite know that they’re doing something that could seriously damage their marriage.
Emotional affairs usually begin as friendships or friendly working relationships, and only become a problem when certain aspects of that friendship become inappropriate – usually when one or both people start looking to that friendship for emotional support and companionship, instead of looking to their spouse.
There aren’t quite set boundaries here, and every relationship (both marriages and friendships) are a little different, but if you’re worried that you may be wandering into an emotional affair, or suspecting that your spouse is, these 6 signs can help you get a clearer picture of what’s happening.
1. Comparing To Your Partner
If you find yourself weighing the qualities of your “friend” against the qualities of your spouse, from appearance to personality to everything in between, it means you’re starting to think of that friend in a romantic way – even if you’re not directly aware of it.
Friends should not be occupying the same mental space as the person you married, and if thoughts of someone other than your spouse are creeping in, it’s time to stop what you’re doing and reevaluate the connections you might be building to someone else. If you’re weighing the two against one another, it means you’re beginning to think of them in the same way.
2. You Look Forward To Seeing Them
Of course you can look forward to seeing many people in your life, but when emotional affairs are budding, the feeling is a little different. It’s that same sensation as early puppy love – butterflies in your stomach, a little bit of nervousness and excitement – these are signs that your subconscious or unconscious mind is expecting an emotional reward from seeing this person, and a clear indicator that you are developing feelings beyond friendship for them.
If you find yourself experiencing such feelings, it may be time to take a step back from the friendship.
3. You Feel The Need To Defend Your Friendship
If people are asking you about the amount of time you spend with someone other than your spouse, or are making snarky comments about how close you are, and you defend your actions with “we’re just friends!” – it might mean that you’re more than friends after all…
Even if we aren’t totally aware of falling into an emotional affair, part of us is – and that’s why we defend the “friendship” or try to downplay the closeness of the relationship. If others (your spouse included) are criticizing the way you interact with your friend and it puts you on the defensive, it likely means that you’re doing something you shouldn’t be, and that somewhere inside, you feel guilty about it.
4. Sharing Marriage Frustrations
Friends are important as confidants and support structures, but lamenting your marriage to a friend of the opposite sex (and allowing them to be your place of comfort) is a dangerous path. When we find someone who seems to understand all of our problems, who has all the right things to say, and who doesn’t seem to display the things that are bothering us about our spouse, we can start to idealize them.
This perceived stability and concern then starts to make us attracted to that person, sharing more and more personal information as trust builds and the relationship grows. But this doesn’t solve any problems; it only diverts attention to someone new and creates more difficulty for the marriage.
It should also be noted that the major problem here is in our perception of that other person as some ideal mate or someone who doesn’t share any of our spouse’s undesirable characteristics. This is largely imagined. We don’t know what it’s like to live with that person, what bad habits they have, or anything else beyond a surface-level friendship. The idealizing we do is in our minds, and mostly just a mechanism for escaping the problems we may be facing in our own relationships.
5. Extra Communication
Crossing over from friendship to emotional affair, as the previous warning sign indicates, has a lot to do with communication. It’s the amount of personal information you’re sharing, the advice you’re asking for, and all the while, the trust and emotional investment you’re placing in this other person.
When communication (no matter how innocent) begins to include text messaging, phone calls, social media chat, etc., and you’re going out of your way to stay in touch with this person on a regular basis, you may be wandering into affair territory – especially if you’re trying to keep those conversations secret.
This large amount of communication likely means you are looking to your “friend” for support instead of your spouse, or are simply sharing the parts of your day, concerns, and fun stories with someone else – and this is precisely the kind of communication that keeps your bond with your spouse strong.
6. Withdrawal From Your Spouse
This is when you know things have truly gone too far, when you’re thoughts and emotions are so focused on your “friend” that you begin to pull away from your spouse both physically and emotionally. As we invest in another person emotionally, our bodies follow suit, and even if you never cross the line into a physical relationship with this other person, the fraying connection with your spouse will make sex, snuggling, and even casual contact less appealing.
This damage to the physical part of your relationship, coupled with your thoughts being with another person, will not only raise red flags for your spouse – it can also cause them to question their self esteem, their importance, and ultimately cause even more damage to the marriage because of their lack of confidence and stability.
For some, emotional affairs can do more damage to the marriage than physical infidelity. It’s a slippery slope from friends, to flirtation, to emotional investment, and this kind of betrayal can be devastating to your spouse. No one is above the risks here, for we all thrive on emotional connection and the support of others – the problems happen when we knowingly look to someone other than our spouses for that support.
Keep these things in mind as you interact with your friends and coworkers, and be aware of the warning signs. Not every friendship will become an emotional affair, but given the right circumstances (and not paying attention to changing feelings), it can happen right under our noses, and result in a long road to recovery and rebuilding trust.