What is an emotional affair or emotional cheating?


Category: Better Relationships | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 01-03-2019 | Modified: 14-03-2019

Emotional cheating or emotional infidelity: a friendship or a betrayal?

An emotional affair is a deep connection with a person who isn’t your partner or spouse. 

Let’s assume you’re having an emotional affair. You probably feel the other person is attentive and understanding. You may also perceive them as being loving and caring. You’re likely to feel like the two of you have really clicked in a way that you can’t quite describe.

Over time, what might have started out as a platonic friendship developed into a relationship with a much stronger attachment.

And, importantly, the relationship – or the depth of it – is a secret. The signs you are cheating are little different than for an affair that includes a sexual relationship.

What is an emotional affair?

Emotional infidelity: could it actually just be a harmless friendship?

Yes, it certainly could be. As human beings we’re capable of different kinds of love. You only have to think about your feelings of love for the various people in your life.

It’s also perfectly possible to experience a strong loving bond with someone for whom you have no romantic feelings. You’re probably also fairly certain in this case that you’d never have sex with them.

So, what’s the reason for the secrecy…?

5 potential reasons for KEEPING your friendship a secret:

  1. You’re confused about your own feelings.
  2. Your partner already has issues around jealousy and is unlikely to accept that you have such a close friend.
  3. You’re confused about your identity (your friendship may be with someone of a different gender than your partner).
  4. You know you’re gay or bisexual but haven’t come out of the closet yet. For now, it may feel safer to call this an emotional affair.
  5. A combination of any or all of the above.

Let’s carry on assuming you’re having an emotional affair for now. I suspect the following may bring some clarity…

From friendship to emotional cheating

Where are you on the following scale?

10 stages of the development of an emotional affair

1. You feel alive again.
You feel seen, heard, acknowledged, flattered, unique, important and alive again when you’re with that person.

2. You long to be with them.
You think of every excuse to contact them (if you’re not already in close proximity, e.g. at work or where you live). You constantly think about them and wish you were with them.

3. You exchange confidences.
You talk about very personal things, and perhaps the state of your primary relationship(s) or marriage(s).

4. You’re in constant contact.
You constantly check your emails, phone, social media and maintain contact regardless of the time of day and your circumstances.

5. You become increasingly fond of that person.
You become evermore aware that this is really more than a friendship – even if you’re not ready to fully admit this to yourself. It’s no longer just a crush and you’re certainly not just fooling around.

6. You can’t put that person out of your mind.
You go to sleep with that person on your mind and wake up thinking about them.

7. You keep moving the boundaries.
You keep telling yourself that this or that behaviour, thought or feeling is acceptable in a friendship – you’re definitely on the sliding scale of emotional cheating.

8. You update your looks.
You may have hit the gym, updated your wardrobe, changed your hairstyle or colour, attempted to lose that extra fat etc.

9. You fantasise about that person.
You may fantasise about making love to them, perhaps even whilst making love to your partner.

10. You may ultimately transgress sexual boundaries.
There’s likely to be an ever-increasing sexual tension. You’re flirting. You may not have had penetrative sex, but perhaps you have touched sensitive areas. Or, you’re now having a full sexual relationship with your friend/lover/mistress.

Somewhere early on in this process, your behaviour probably no longer matched your values, if you consider(ed) monogamy to be important.

I suspect, though, that you shielded yourself from the impact of that mismatch. The reward of being with the other person was just too satisfying.

To learn more about what I mean by impact, see my article: Dealing with infidelity.

Still assuming you’re having an emotional affair, looking back, can you tell when the friendship became an emotional affair?

Get help now. Click here. Sign up to get Better Help counselling. www.professional-counselling.com

What is emotional infidelity?

One of the defining features of emotional infidelity (or any form of infidelity for that matter) is that the extent of the relationship is kept secret from – at least – your partner or spouse.

They may know that you and the other person met, work together or are part of the same social circle. You might have dropped their name into casual conversation as if there was nothing unusual going on. However, in the case of an affair, your partner will be oblivious to the depth of your emotional connection.

What is clear is that an emotional affair is just as damaging to a relationship as a sexual transgression, if not more so. What may not be so clear is at what point you began to betray your partner or spouse.

To get some insight into what infidelity does to the betrayed partner, read my article on how to survive infidelity.

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. -Henry Ford

Emotional infidelity: what about an online or social media affair?

An online friendship can also easily develop into emotional infidelity. Just look at the different stages (above) again. The only difference is that you might not meet up very often or at all in real life.

Equally, sexting, sending each other sensitive photos, and having intimate sexual discussions are also a betrayal of your partner’s trust. Snapchat cheating or developing an illicit affair on Kik are common, as is using a fake account on Facebook to cheat.

All digital forms of infidelity can also be played out in online gaming. If you’re involved in a virtual reality game, you might want to ask yourself if your partner would feel betrayed if you were to share your role with them.

And you might want to consider sharing it, because it could add some excitement to your real life sexual relationship!

Sexting, sending each other sensitive photos, and having intimate sexual discussions are a betrayal of your partner’s trust. Relationship advice. professional-counselling.com

Is your emotional affair satisfying your essential emotional needs?

It’s possible that you and your partner or spouse are already having relationship problems. But infidelity occurs in happy relationships too.

In either case, what you have with the other person is simply a different kind of affection (and maybe even love) than what you may find at home. You may feel as though you haven’t experienced anything like this for a long time and had almost forgotten what it was like. That can even happen when you still love your partner or spouse.

Know that as a human being, just like anyone else, you have inborn emotional needs (see my article on the Human Givens). These include the need for:

  • giving and receiving attention
  • a sense of control and autonomy
  • friendship
  • laughter
  • a sense of belonging
  • self-esteem

In order to live a contented and rewarding life, your emotional needs must be met in balance. If any one need isn’t met, that’s likely to have an impact on your emotional well-being in one shape or form.

You might even be happy on the whole, but you may have neglected some of your essential emotional needs.

I’ve developed a worksheet for you to help you assess the state of your emotional needs for yourself…

Everyday chores and responsibilities may have become the order of the day for you and/or your partner. Perhaps you’ve been giving your phones more attention than each other.

None of that is an excuse for betrayal, though.

And please note: a partner or spouse can’t meet all of your needs, but you can ensure your other needs are met in a legitimate, transparent way. 

Your betrayal doesn’t need to mean the end of your relationship or marriage. If the survival of your relationship or marriage is important to you, then now is the time to end the affair (you may find it helpful to get the End the affair hypnosis download. See my article on hypnosis downloads.)

I understand completely that you can’t just turn off your feelings of the other person. Your disconnection may cause you much distress, sadness and longing.

However, know that these feelings are temporary, depending on what you do next. If you wish it, your relationship or marriage can become stronger than it has ever been.

To start you of, see my article: How to get over an emotional affair (published soon).

I also highly recommend that you get some expert advice. It’s very easy these days to find accessible, professional counselling. For more information on how to go about that, see my page: Online relationship advice.

Is your emotional affair satisfying your essential emotional needs? Expert relationship advice. www.professional-counselling.com


I hope this article has helped you to answer the question, what is an emotional affair? If you’re having or have had an emotional affair, you may have a bit of a bumpy road ahead of you.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing… after all, challenges help us to grow and improve 😉

Your goal now needs to be deciding what you want to do next. Do you want to repair your primary relationship? Or end that in order to see if the affair can develop into something more?

Whatever you want to do, I’ve got plenty of relationship advice to help you figure out your next step. There are plenty of free resources out there as well as some paid-for options.

Whatever you need, I’ve got you covered, and I’m rooting for you to have a relationship or marriage in which you can make mistakes, be challenged and grow. Without that, happiness is rather bland. 🙂

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