What is an Emotional Affair? 3 Real Life Examples

Updated: Mar 19

By: Logan Cohen, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, Founder of New Leaf Counseling Group - Charlotte, NC

what is an emotional affair?
An emotional affair causes a lot of stress and must be addressed, or it will cause serious disruptions to overall health & life satisfaction.

Our intimate relationships are important to our Health & Happiness as Human Beings.


When our intimate relationship is a safe & secure place where we can expect trust & unconditional love, we THRIVE in terms of Happiness & overall Health & Well-Being.


what is an emotional affair?
When it comes to an emotional affair, it can be VERY difficult to be clear about exactly what has happened.

An emotional affair causes a significant disruption to the safety & security in our romantic relationship and must be addressed, or it will bring down quality of life in general.


Unresolved infidelity - even an emotional affair - leaves people open to excessive worrying, insecurity & irritability – even to the level of Depression or Anxiety symptoms.


It is easy enough to define when there has been a sexual relationship.

There has been contact of a specifically sexual nature - whether involving sexual penetration, a one-time encounter, or more of an “affair” that took place over time between a Partner in a romantic relationship & a third-party outside of the romantic relationship.


When it comes to an emotional affair, it can be VERY difficult to be clear about exactly what has happened.

As a Marriage & Family Therapist who has worked with HUNDREDS of couples recovering from infidelity, I find that this lack of clarity around the definition of an emotional affair has a LOT of People even wondering…”What IS an emotional affair?"

what is an emotional affair?
Rather than involving a physical relationship with sexual interaction, an emotional affair is happening when a romantic partner involves a third-person outside of the romantic relationship in roles that should remain inside of the intimate relationship.

Before we provide these real-life examples of an emotional affair, let’s go ahead and define it.


Rather than involving a physical relationship with sexual interaction, an emotional affair is happening when a romantic partner involves a third-person outside of the romantic relationship in roles that should remain inside of the intimate relationship.


Many People get confused when an emotional affair is not sexual because it SEEMS innocent but still, this involvement of the third-party pulls intimacy/attention/resources away from the primary romantic relationship and creates emotional distance in the primary relationship.


Even with a clear definition, there is a WIDE range of behavior that could be included in this description of an emotional affair.

Like the “Spelling B” as a child growing up, we would like to “use it in a sentence” by providing some real life examples so you can better understand how to identify an emotional affair, protect your romantic relationship, as well as your own Health & Happiness as a Human Being.

What is an Emotional Affair? 3 Real Life Examples

An Emotional Affair as a Distraction from the Relationship


Our intimate relationship should be one of the SAFEST places we have in our personal life.


When something is scary or creates personal insecurity, we should be able to go to our romantic partner to speak openly about our thoughts & feelings.


what is an emotional affair?
An emotional affair causes a significant disruption to the safety & security in our romantic relationship and must be addressed, or it will cause significant disruptions to overall health & life satisfaction over time.

A sense of safety & lack of judgment creates an experience where both Partners can become more vulnerable with each other and as a result, deepen the bond in the romantic relationship.


If you have wondered what “unconditional love” LOOKS like, then this is IT!


When someone shares this level of emotional vulnerability with a third-party outside of the romantic relationship, this is a BIG distraction from what SHOULD be a focus of connection in the romantic relationship.


It might feel easier to share those more vulnerable (even embarrassing) parts with a third-party rather than our romantic partner but in the end, an emotional affair will end up doing harm to the romantic relationship - even with no sexual contact involved.


What is an Emotional Affair? 3 Real Life Examples

An Emotional Affair as a Block To Deeper Intimacy


If someone is active in an emotional affair with a third-party, this will block a deeper level of intimacy from being developed in the romantic relationship.


what is an emotional affair?
If someone is active in an emotional affair with a third-party, this will block a deeper level of intimacy from being developed in the romantic relationship.

There is only so much fuel for the fire – there is only so much that you will be emotionally affected by in your life – and those emotions (fuel) is what keeps the passion alive in your romantic relationship.


Even if the beginning of the relationship is exciting & full of chemistry – this will only last so long.


The way to keep that level of chemistry HIGH is by taking emotional risks and getting vulnerable with your Partner to build greater trust & deepen the intimate connection.


what is an emotional affair?