As we’ve discussed in the past, sometimes emotional affairs can be more devastating to a marriage than physical affairs. Not only are the two often linked, but we also tend to see emotional affairs as a more serious breach of intimacy and trust – not that solely physical affairs aren’t breaches of trust, but people can sometimes take even greater offense to emotional and psychological intimacy.
That said, emotional affairs are a lot more difficult to identify than physical affairs. Unlike physical intimacy, which has some pretty clear lines, emotional affairs usually develop very slowly, and we don’t always have a clear definition of what constitutes friendship and what becomes and inappropriate level of emotional intimacy.
And because we don’t always know where a newly formed friendship may be leading, or if we (or our spouse) are wandering into the territory of an emotional affair, there are some important warning signs to be aware of.
Now, these can certainly be used to help identify if your spouse is having an emotional affair, but perhaps more importantly, you can keep these things in mind for your own interactions and make sure you aren’t participating in behavior that could jeopardize your marriage.
Here are some signs to look for:
1. Discussing Marital Problems
It’s one thing to seek comfort from friends and family, it’s another thing entirely to commiserate with someone outside of the relationship who isn’t going to offer any perspective or help you solve your problems. What can seem like seeking a shoulder to lean on can actually be opening yourself up to doubting the marriage. If the source of “advice” only knows half the story, they will “side” with the person they know, and that usually means reaffirming the other half of the couple’s errors and minimizing the wrongdoing of the person they know.
If there are problems in the marriage, talking to a person of the opposite sex – if there’s even a slight amount of attraction involved – can fill our heads with fantasies of different relationships, getting out of the marriage, and worse, cheating on our spouses. None of these fantasies are realistic, or even begin to address the problems you may be experiencing. It’s simply asking for trouble.
These are the issues you should be discussing with your spouse first.
2. Puppy Love Nerves
No matter how long you’ve been married, you likely remember those first feelings of falling in love, especially as a young person. You might feel nervous or flustered, giddy to see that special someone, even hyper-conscious of your clothing, behavior, and choice of words around that person. If you notice any of those feelings for someone other than your spouse, or see that your spouse may be feeling some of those things in relation to someone else, this is a HUGE red flag.
We can’t necessarily control our feelings, but we can control the scenarios we put ourselves in. Even if tiny inklings of those feelings are beginning to surface, it’s imperative to change something immediately – before they develop into something more and pose an even greater threat to your marriage.
3. Too Much Communication
If your spouse would rather text their “friend” than speak with you, if you’d rather take lunch with your coworker than swing home to meet your spouse, if there’s late night Facebook messaging going on, meetings that seem to run long, or just a little bit too much “friendly” conversation of any kind – this can pose a pretty serious problem.
Like we mentioned in #1, developing relationships (even platonic friendships) usually involve some amount of opening up, sharing personal history, talking about stresses or problems in life etc., but when you’re doing this with someone other than your spouse, you’re not only building a connection with this other person, you’re also “wasting” communication that could be had with the person you’re married to!
Identifying an emotional affair is difficult, and when confronted with the possibility, most people will brush it off as “just friends.” Those friendships, however, can quickly become much more if we aren’t careful. Know the signs to keep yourself in check, and talk to your spouse if you have suspicions. None of us are immune to temptation, and connecting with others is generally a pleasant experience – we just have to be aware of how those connections can hurt the relationships we already have.