What is an Emotional Affair? 3 Real Life Examples

Updated: Nov 13

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

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.


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 cause significant disruptions to overall health & life satisfaction over time.


Unresolved infidelity - even an emotional affair - leaves people open to significant disruption in our quality of life - including excessive worrying, 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 - that took place 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?"

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, as well as a general lack of balance in the primary intimate 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.


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 other 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.


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 risks, getting vulnerable, and taking emotional risks with your Partner to build greater trust & deepen the intimate connection.


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

When we have an emotionally intimate relationship with a third-party – even NOT involving physical contact at ALL – that level of emotional intimacy pulls away fuel from the primary romantic relationship.


As a result, the primary romantic relationship will go cold over time with a lack of emotional safety seeking through those hard times.


But If you can’t talk about the little things, then there is no way to get to the big things...and if you can’t trust each other with the big things, then WHY are you in a committed relationship with this person to begin with?


An emotional affair may not BLOW UP a romantic relationship like a sexual one, but over time, the lack of fuel for the fire will make the fire go out.



What is an Emotional Affair? 3 Real Life Examples

An Emotional Affair is Different for Men v. Women

Studies show that Men tend to be less likely to feel betrayed when their romantic Partner engages in an emotional affair, while Women tend to MUCH more bothered!


People are often surprised to hear this, but the research shows a clear difference between how Men & Women tend to react to an emotional affair.

There are many different explanations for this, but perhaps the most clear comes from evolutionary science.


Studies show that Men tend to be less likely to feel betrayed when their romantic Partner engages in an emotional affair, while Women tend to MUCH more bothered!

Through the history of our species, Men have been the primary Hunters/Providers due to the higher physical risk involved.


It did NOT make sense to risk the physical safety of Women due to their necessity for child-birth & early survival of this next generation.


Research suggests that when a female learns that her Partner has shared emotional intimacy with a third-party, this emotional affair is a greater predictor of sharing resources - money, social status, etc - that is (evolutionarily speaking) a greater threat to the survival of her offspring.


On the other hand, a male tends to be more bothered by a sexual affair because the physical aspect of sex is enough to result in his DNA being left out of the next generation.


It is common to have a VERY different reaction than your Partner when hearing about an emotional affair in your romantic relationship.


Your Partner might feel VERY betrayed & upset, while you might not think it’s that big of a deal.


There are many different reasons that this can happen, so don’t be alarmed – but a difference of opinion is NOT proof that the emotional affair didn’t happen!


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

Would you like to keep learning about how cheating hurts a relationship, along with how this painful experience can actually promote GROWTH (of course as long as you are working with a professional couples counselor)?


Unresolved infidelity - even an emotional affair - leaves people open to significant disruption in our quality of life - including excessive worrying, irritability – even to the level of Depression or Anxiety symptoms.

If you are ready to keep learning and start healing from an emotional affair - whether you live in Charlotte, North Carolina or not - consider reading more here.


Care to learn more about how a Professional Couples Counselor or Relationship Therapist can help you in Charlotte, NC?


New Leaf Counseling Group specializes in treating couples healing from infidelity, as well as concerns related to Mental Health - with a down-to-earth approach.


Find a therapist near you, or click here for more information.

5105-D Monroe Road

Charlotte, NC 28205

info@newleafCLT.com

 

Tel: 704-774-3078

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