How an Emotional Affair Impacts Your Marriage

  1. Men and Emotional Affairs
  2. Why Men Have Emotional Affairs
  3. The Epidemic of Men and Emotional Affairs
  4. Emotional Affairs at Work Start Subtly
  5. Research on Emotional Affairs
  6. Are Emotional Affairs Common?
  7. Guilty for Having the Affair vs the Impact of Having it
  8. Risk Factors… Character or a Sense of Entitlement?
  9. Do You Need to Heal from an Emotional Affair? Complete an Online Assessment
  10. Will An Emotional Affair Kill Your Relationship?
  11. What is an emotional affair?
  12. Why people have emotional affairs.
  13. Signs you're in an emotional affair.
  14. 1. Recognize the fantasy.
  15. 2. Learn self-validation.
  16. 3. Cut off ties with the other person.
  17. 5. Recommit to making your relationship work.
  18. 6. Know that trust will take time.
  19. Emotional Affairs and Texting
  20. Is Texting Someone You Find Attractive Cheating?
  21. Signs of Emotional Cheating
  22. 1. You or your partner has been hiding their phone.
  23. 2. You or your spouse can’t stop talking about their new friend.
  24. 3. You or your spouse has changed their work schedule.
  25. 4. You believe that this new friend understands you better than your spouse.
  26. What should you do if you find out that your partner is having an emotional affair over texting?
  27. What’s the difference between an emotional affair and friendship?
  28. Why do emotional affairs happen?
  29. How long do emotional affairs last?
  30. Do emotional affairs turn into love?
  31. Do emotional affairs turn physical?
  32. Footnotes
  33. 3 Tips to Help Your Relationship Survive an Emotional Affair — Therapy Blog
  34. Tip 1: Be willing to look at the affair in the context of your relationship.
  35. Find a Therapist for Relationships
  36. Tip 2: Talk about your feelings and needs with your partner without judgment or blame.
  37. Tip 3: Be open to coming up with new strategies to solve the underlying problem.
  38. How to Move Past an Emotional Affair
  39. The Spouse Who Had The Emotional Affair
  40. I would only add to that excellent advice that you need to apologize to your spouse, ask for their forgiveness and express your commitment to them and your marriage.
  42. The Spouse Who Was Betrayed By The Emotional Affair
  43. At a minimum, you should know the following:
  44. Here’s what they discovered:
  45. This is important to acknowledge as you work toward understanding what happened, heal, rebuild trust, grow in security, and strengthen your marriage. Take care of yourself so that you are physically and emotionally healthy and whole
  46. Find resources that work for you. Don’t hesitate to seek out professional counseling for yourself and marriage counseling for you both. 
  47. Some Other Helpful Resources:

Men and Emotional Affairs

How an Emotional Affair Impacts Your Marriage

Revised on 1/5/20

There is a growing problem for men and emotional affairs.

Emotional affairs (EA) is more than a state of being “Just friends.” It can be an elusive and subjective experience for men, especially in the workplace.

Emotional affairs are a common problem that we often work on in our intensive marriage retreats. New research has helped marriage therapists to understand men and emotional affairs; how they begin, gain traction, and build momentum.

Emotional affairs are friendships that willingly harness the strong headwinds of sexual attraction. They eventually sweep away appropriate relational boundaries and transparency.

Research has helped clinicians to understand men and emotional affairs, and how clinicians trained in science-based couples therapy can help couples to heal.

Why Men Have Emotional Affairs

Here is how emotional affairs start.

Your EA partner may begin to complain about her husband. You listen gallantly and sympathetically. She compliments you on what a “good listener” you are and continues to lavish you with praise.

You continue to listen even more sympathetically to her tales of woe. Eventually, perhaps a sense of self-consciousness, the need for reciprocity kicks in. Or she calls attention to the imbalance of the relationship.

“And what about you?” she asks.

Gradually, you find yourself complaining about your life…and maybe even your wife. Your co-worker shows increasing levels of kindness and understanding.

This pattern of self-disclosure and mutual support continues to deepen over time.

Eventually your significant other becomes.. well, less significant.

Then you begin to notice an emotional shift.

You start to look forward to seeing your EA partner at work. They eventually inhabit your heart and monopolize your attention.

You compare and contrast. You fantasize. Eventually, you show increased impatience and annoyance to your wife.

The pattern of men and emotional affairs is now well underway. It is a riptide, pulling you away from your spouse with great emotional force. Married men who have emotional affairs often slide more often than decide to have an affair.

The Epidemic of Men and Emotional Affairs

Research from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) reveals the extent of the problem. About 45% of men have reported being drawn into an emotional affair at some point.

Unless it is admitted, the vast majority of emotional affairs are never disclosed. Men are quick to hide behind the “I did not have sex with that woman” defense. Emotional infidelity does not register as cheating with men because of the lack of consummation.

Paradoxically, in a recent survey, 88% of women reported that they were far more concerned about their husband being emotionally unfaithful than just having sex outside the marriage.

That’s twice as high as men who were asked the same question. So it’s not just defensiveness on the part of men. This is a clear gender difference. when it comes to the issue of emotional cheating, There is a difference between men and women. Women care more about the issue of men and emotional affairs.

Emotional Affairs at Work Start Subtly

More than 60% of emotional affairs begin at work. Most men begin emotional affairs by spending a lot of time with someone they already know from work, or at work.

Men are vulnerable because they do not recognize the warning signs of boundary violations. Married men who have emotional affairs also tend to be more comfortable wandering alone in the garden of their own private thoughts and fantasies.

Men are often unprepared for emotional affairs. They do not understand the risks. A recent study shows that 68% of married men who have emotional affairs never thought it could happen to them. And almost all men who rely on an emotional connection with a co-worker wish that they hadn’t.

Research on Emotional Affairs

It’s a popular and inaccurate notion, (especially among poorly trained generalist therapists), that an emotional affair is clear and compelling evidence of a serious underlying deficit in your relationship.

Research shows that while this notion might feel obvious, the truth, (as are many truths in research-driven couples therapy), is far more complex and counter-intuitive.

Contrary to popular belief, relationship health is not a reliable determining factor with men and emotional affairs. Why do married men have emotional affairs? Men often get drawn into workplace affairs because they become addicted to the approval and validation they feel from their affair partner.  It’s an emotional slide that is as subtle as it is incremental.

Many men who describe themselves as “happily married” slide into an emotional connection with a co-worker that crosses the line. The issue of men and emotional affairs is more elusive than most couples realize.

Are Emotional Affairs Common?

  • Take women for example. While 66% of women involved in emotional affairs described themselves as unhappy in marriage, a huge 34% described themselves as happy or very happy with their partner when the emotional affair began.
  • 48% of men report emotional dissatisfaction as the main reason they were swept into an emotional affair. And a good question is, how many of these men are merely being defensive?
  • However, a slight majority of them (52%) had no pressing emotional complaints against their spouses.
  • A recent survey reports that 66% of men feel guilty about their emotional affair.
  • And another recent study reports that 56% of men surveyed were happy in their marriage when they began an emotional affair.

Guilty for Having the Affair vs the Impact of Having it

But as Esther Perel points out, there is a difference between feeling guilty for how your partner has been impacted by learning about your emotional affair, versus your guilt for having the affair itself.

And a surprisingly low 12% of men reported that their EA partner was more physically attractive than their spouse. Only 8% of men say that their primary motivation for pursuing an emotional affair was sexual dissatisfaction.

Recent research on men and emotional affairs is clear on this point. While marital dissatisfaction clearly can play a role, there is a lot more going on here than just an “unhappy” marriage.

New thinkers such as Esther Perel are helping to expand our paradigms about the dynamics of emotional intimacy. I think people not only have feelings for their affair partner…they also fall in love with the person they believe they are becoming with their affair partner.

They feel more alive. They feel more attractive. These feelings become addictive… and the problem is that they can be experienced at work every day, or with the click of a button through social media.

Risk Factors… Character or a Sense of Entitlement?

It might not be popular to express this opinion, but I also wonder if the epidemic of emotional affairs might sometimes involve a crisis of identity, or character and maturity.

Affairs are often more about sharing intimate feelings as well as sexual attraction.

Evolutionary psychology describes how ambiguity and unavailability tend to feed and sharpen desire.

Research shows that couples under the age of 30 are at the greatest risk of falling into an emotional or sexual affair.

Research has also shown an economic correlation to emotional affairs.

Regardless of gender, the more money a partner brings home in relation to their spouse, the more ly they are to engage in an emotional affair.

Paradoxically, the reverse is also true for men. The more they lag behind, or outstrip their wife’s income, the greater the chance of infidelity. But when their incomes are roughly equal, the lihood of infidelity declines.

The problem of men and emotional affairs is a sign of the times. The more gender-integrated a workplace becomes, the greater the risk of emotional infidelity.

What is needed is a more sophisticated understanding of how inappropriate emotional bonds form, and why boundaries in the workplace are so vitally important.

Do You Need to Heal from an Emotional Affair? Complete an Online Assessment


Glass, S. (1998, August). Shattered vows. Psychology Today, pp. 34ff.


Will An Emotional Affair Kill Your Relationship?

How an Emotional Affair Impacts Your Marriage

Infidelity, dishonesty, cheating, secrecy, affairs—these are all words that describe potential death blows to your relationship.

While you may be clear that a sexual affair is a true threat to your marriage that needs to be addressed if you're going to save it, you may be less sure about the damage caused by an emotional affair or whether that's as big a violation as a sexual one.

The short answer is: Yes, it's an affair.

And no, it doesn't have to be the end of your relationship.

What is an emotional affair?

An emotional affair is typically defined as a relationship with someone with whom you have emotional intimacy, sexual attraction, and secrecy or dishonesty about it with your spouse.

This type of affair doesn't involve sexual contact, but it can be devastating nonetheless.

While it doesn't bring some of the pain that comes from a sexual interaction with a third person, it still brings the pain of dishonesty and lack of care for the feelings of the spouse.

Many people don't consider emotional affairs to be cheating since they aren't having sex. But it is the secrecy and betrayal of trust that creates the most damage. If you find there is intimacy, attraction, and secrecy, you are in an affair.

As hard as it is to recover from the effects of sexual infidelity, an emotional affair still confronts you with the harsh realities that one of you was willing to indulge their own desires at the expense of the other's trust and intimacy.

Why people have emotional affairs.

Emotional affairs can go through stages. They often start by accident, sliding down the slippery slope of friendship and attraction. What begins as a work dinner, a message from an old friend or flame, or a shared workout at the gym can be developed into a flirtation and an intimate affair.

Many people have these interactions without it turning into cheating. Others, especially those who aren't completely fulfilled in their own relationships, begin to indulge the feelings of validation, attraction, and excitement.

They continue to pursue the communication when they know it is starting to have an intimate or sexual charge to it, and they know enough to keep it from their partner.

What starts as moments of micro-cheating turns into full-blown emotional cheating.

Signs you're in an emotional affair.

If you're still not sure if your relationship with another person qualifies as an emotional affair, consider these questions:

  1. Are you keeping the relationship from your spouse? Or are you misleading them about how often or how much you talk to the other person?
  2. Are you sharing things with this other person that you don't tell your spouse? Do you rush to tell them things first? Do you tell them about your unhappiness with your partner?
  3. Do you seek out contact with them when you're feeling down or lonely?
  4. Are you attracted to them? Is there sexual tension or a charge to your interactions?
  5. Do you fantasize about being in a relationship together? Do you wonder if you should be with them instead?

If you or your spouse has cheated through an emotional affair, it does not have to mean the end of your relationship.

A breach of trust this always provides an opportunity to evaluate how you feel about your marriage, and it can be an opportunity to recognize an unhealthy pattern and decide to walk away.

But if you want to work it out and use it to improve your relationship, there are steps you—the person who emotionally cheated—can take.

1. Recognize the fantasy.

Affairs are full of New Relationship Energy. They exist in the infatuation phase, where brain chemistry goes crazy and makes you believe you've found your soul mate. This type of feeling is intoxicating, and it's important for the cheating partner to realize that they've been making decisions the drug of that neurological reaction.

Emotional affair partners aren't real—in the sense that you are not dealing with real life, with the stresses and negative attributes that would show up later. You've been indulging in a dream. As appealing as it may have been, you can let it go more easily if you accept that it's been a mirage.

2. Learn self-validation.

Many people get involved with someone new because they are looking for positive reflection and attention. When you are missing that in your primary relationship and don't know how to validate yourself, it can be especially easy to find it somewhere else. It's important to develop the ability to feel good about yourself without needing external validation.

It probably goes without saying, but it's also important to improve your relationship with your spouse so it's infused with positive attention and interaction.

Consider where, how, or why you feel this lack, be open with your spouse about how you feel, and try to work toward a solution together that helps you feel secure and loved—without placing the full burden on your spouse to change.

3. Cut off ties with the other person.

This is the time to focus on your marriage and not risk the slippery slope anymore. In order to earn trust with your spouse, there should be no contact with the third person that isn't required (for work and such). Splitting your attention and continuing to siphon some of your energy to the other person just keeps the dynamic going.

Be clear that you are ending it (both with the third person and with your partner), and be willing to demonstrate that by being transparent with your communication mechanisms (social media, email, etc.). This is key to how to stop cheating any further.

The worst part about affairs is the breach of trust, the willingness one spouse shows to disregard the feelings and experience of the other. The person who had the affair needs to wrestle with the fact that they were willing to lie to their spouse and hide what was happening.

Share exactly what happened and when, to the degree that your spouse wants to know. Examine the extent of the dishonesty and the prevalence of lying in your life in general. Commit to speaking the truth and being transparent from now on.

5. Recommit to making your relationship work.

Emotional affairs often sprout from the fertile ground of relationship dissatisfaction. Now is the time to figure out where the two of you have been struggling and how to recreate your relationship now so that both of you can get your needs met.

Consider going to couples therapy or taking a workshop together. Work through relationship self-help books to strengthen your foundation. Talk honestly about your wants, needs, and complaints. An affair can put your relationship on the brink; this is the time to lay it all out there and address all the problems.

6. Know that trust will take time.

You don't heal from an affair just because it ends and the offending partner apologizes. The person who had the affair has shown an ability to lie and hide things. It's normal to struggle with trust, and there may be strong emotions (including both sadness and anger) for quite a while.

What will move you through this is a combination of time and demonstrated change. The cheating partner needs to be trustworthy if they are going to earn trust.

You both need to see that there is a new level of honesty, an ability to bring up and address unmet needs, and a recommitment to the marriage.

Whatever laid the groundwork for the affair has to change, and that means both people have work to do to make sure the relationship is fulfilling to the other.

Affairs, both of the emotional and sexual varieties, are painful. But they can also be the impetus to tackle long-standing problems and transform your relationship for the better.

If what you see is a fatal flaw of dishonesty or lack of commitment, use the affair as a chance to find a better relationship.

But if you believe that yours is worth saving, take this as an opportunity to make important growth as a person and as a partner.


Emotional Affairs and Texting

How an Emotional Affair Impacts Your Marriage

This is the fourth article in our seven part Causes of Divorce series. Links to the other articles are at the bottom of the page.

Is Texting Someone You Find Attractive Cheating?

If you take a look around at the couples you know, it might seem cheating is rampant. Unfortunately, the statistics support this observation. One survey for the Institute for Family Studies showed that 20% of men and 13% of women report cheating on their husband or wife. 1

Maybe you’ve even had (or been) an unfaithful spouse yourself before. If so, then you probably know that emotional infidelity can be every bit as painful as sexual infidelity.

Nowadays, it seems we’re all glued to our phones. Frequent texting on the part of one spouse (even with a close friend of the opposite sex) isn’t necessarily a relationship red flag, but how can you tell where a close friendship ends and an emotional affair begins? 

Let’s explore the connection between emotional affairs and texting whether your marriage is solid or you’re doomed for divorce.

Signs of Emotional Cheating

So, you’ve been feeling some emotional distance between you and your spouse, but you’re not sure if it’s because another person has become the new object of emotional intimacy. 

Above all else, you’ll want to trust your instincts, because you know your marriage and your spouse better than we ever could. However, here are some hints that you may want to look for as you process your feelings and decide whether your current relationship is here to stay.

1. You or your partner has been hiding their phone.

Even if there hasn’t been any physical intimacy outside of the marriage, secrecy is a pretty reliable sign that what you thought was a platonic relationship may actually be something more. There is no innocent reason why a married person would instantly stash their phone as soon as their spouse enters the room. 

If this is a pattern that you’ve noticed your husband or wife engaging in, your suspicions are probably warranted. If this is something you’ve noticed yourself doing, then it’s probably time to examine how you feel about the friend you’ve been texting. 

Does the emotional bond you feel toward them rise above the level of platonic friendship after all? If not, then what exactly do you feel you have to hide from your spouse?

One thing to keep in mind is that this is probably only something to worry about if it’s been happening consistently for an extended period of time. Otherwise, maybe your partner is just planning some sort of surprise for you, or perhaps you and your friend have just been talking about a sensitive topic that you fear would hurt your wife or husband’s feelings. 

Hiding your phone doesn’t make a dear friend an emotional affair partner unless your main  concern is that your partner will see that you’re talking to them.

2. You or your spouse can’t stop talking about their new friend.

It’s normal to be excited when a new friendship really just clicks, and it’s normal to want to share your excitement with your partner. However, if this new friend has become the main topic of conversation, what does that remind you of? 

Chances are, you were approximately that chatty about your spouse when the two of you first met.

As a married couple, you and your partner are supposed to be each other’s primary relationship. If one of you seems positively obsessed with someone else, then that’s probably where they’re directing most of their emotional energy, and this “friend” might actually be their partner in an emotional affair. 

A possibly inappropriate level of emotional attachment doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your spouse are headed for divorce, but it’s an excellent reason to examine the level of intimacy within your marriage. 

A married man and woman probably won’t always feel head-over-heels for each other, but intimate conversation should be a staple in any committed relationship. We all crave emotional connection, so if you and your spouse aren’t getting it from each other, it’s very ly that one of you is engaged in an emotional affair.

3. You or your spouse has changed their work schedule.

Coupled with other signs of emotional cheating, a change in work schedule might occur because you or your partner wants to make more time for that questionable friend. This might indicate that the emotional affair has turned into a full-on extramarital affair, but it doesn’t have to. 

Whether or not the relationship has progressed to physical adultery, changing your work schedule with someone else in mind demonstrates a new level of commitment that we don’t normally make for our platonic friends.

This sign is particularly dicey, however, because there are so many other, innocent reasons why you or your partner would change their schedule. As a result, you really have to examine the surrounding circumstances. For instance, if your spouse is “working” a lot more than usual but there doesn’t seem to be any extra money coming in, then you probably have a cheating partner on your hands. 

At that point, it might not even matter to you whether it’s physical infidelity or a purely emotional affair.

4. You believe that this new friend understands you better than your spouse.

Of course, this fourth sign of an emotional affair only applies if it’s you who might be having one. After all, you can’t read your spouse’s mind, and this probably isn’t the sort of information they would volunteer unless they were in the process of asking for a divorce. 

The same logic applies to your own feelings, though — if this is a thought you’ve been having, then your relationship with your spouse might be nearing its end.

Feeling this way doesn’t just speak to the intimacy you’ve developed with your new friend. It also exposes a dearth of intimacy with your spouse, which is the real relationship red flag. Maybe this is even the real distinction between friendship and emotional infidelity — a friend is just a friend until they begin to replace your spouse.

What should you do if you find out that your partner is having an emotional affair over texting?

How you should react when you come face to face with your partner’s emotional infidelity depends on your needs and values. For example, some people might consider an emotional affair to be the greatest betrayal possible, while others might consider a physical affair to be much more serious.

Certainly, if you know that you value honesty above all else and don’t believe you’ll ever be able to trust your partner again after discovering their emotional cheating, then ending the relationship is the only real option. You shouldn’t stay in a relationship unless you have faith that it can be a happy one.

That being said, there is some data regarding how people do react when affairs come to light. According to a survey conducted by Health Testing Centers, when men admitted to cheating, they ended the relationship themselves 13.

9% of the time, and their partners ended the relationship 22.2% of the time. 2 Meanwhile, when women admitted to cheating, they ended the relationship 21.1% of the time, and their partners ended the relationship 10.9% of the time.


Assuming that most of the survey participants were in heterosexual relationships, these numbers suggest that women are more ly than men to end a relationship when infidelity comes to light. 

It should be noted that most of the survey participants admitted to physical cheating rather than a purely emotional affair, but it’s possible that this discrepancy occurs no matter the details of the intimate relationship in question.

What’s the difference between an emotional affair and friendship?

If there’s any good thing you can say about a sexual affair, it’s that it’s pretty easy to spot one. That just isn’t true when it comes to emotional affairs. There really is a very fine line between an innocent friendship and a threat to your marriage. 

The question it all comes down to is this: is one spouse’s new “friend” beginning to replace the other spouse? This can take many forms — the potential cheater might be spending more time with their supposed friend than with their spouse, or they might be talking about more intimate topics with their friend than with their spouse. 

Whatever the exact change is, you know that a friendship has crossed the line when it has become more, better, or deeper than the marriage.

Remember, though: just because you know it’s an emotional affair doesn’t mean your marriage has to end. If you and your spouse are committed to work through this, then you shouldn’t let any third party stand in the way.

Why do emotional affairs happen?

There is no single cause of all emotional affairs, but there has been plenty of research that might shed some light on this question. Most of the time, there is underlying dissatisfaction that prompts married people to seek emotional support outside of their partnership. 

According to research conducted by psychologist and infidelity expert Shirley Glass, 48% of men cited emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason they cheated, while only 34% of women who had affairs said they were either happy or very happy in their marriage. 4

That isn’t very specific, but psychologist Mark Borg has some deeper insight. According to him, “The epidemic of emotional affairs coincides with a tendency that we have noticed for people in long-term relationships to defend themselves psychologically. That is, ironically protect themselves from anxiety-provoking aspects of love.” 5

So, if you want to prevent an emotional affair in your relationship, the best thing you can do is be vulnerable with your spouse, and maybe even give up a little bit of control.

How long do emotional affairs last?

The answer to this question also varies, of course, and there isn’t much data available regarding this exact question. However, we do know that the hormonally excited, “in love” stage of a new relationship “typically lasts six to 18 months, and occasionally as long as three years,” according to Denise Bartell, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. 6

We also know that affairs in general do not make a very good basis for a long-lasting marriage. Only 5 to 7% of affairs ultimately lead to marriage, and 75% of those resulting marriages ultimately end in divorce. 7 This makes sense intuitively, but relationship expert Stephanie Stewart put it best: 

Shame and guilt greatly overshadow a relationship that started as an affair, so it’s very difficult to be wholehearted. The longevity of the relationship is impacted by their emotional intelligence/management and reasons for being in an affair. Are they truly connected and in love, or are they each filling a void? 8

Do emotional affairs turn into love?

They certainly can, but that doesn’t mean that they always will. All of the same factors that determine whether any two people with chemistry fall in love apply here as well.

 Do they have shared interests? Are their values and lifestyles compatible? Do they want to fall in love? There is one major additional factor here, though: is it more important to the married participant to work things out with their spouse?

Even if the emotional affair does ultimately break up a marriage, that doesn’t mean it’s a love that will last forever. Sometimes an emotional affair begins because the guilty party’s spouse was not meeting all of their needs. When their spouse is the picture, they might realize that their new relationship doesn’t meet all of their needs, either. 

New relationship energy can be exciting, but the only way to tell if a relationship can stand the test of time is to wait and see.

Do emotional affairs turn physical?

They definitely can, but they often don’t. How do we know this is true? Well, in a massive, ongoing online survey (with well over 90,000 participants), 91% of women and 77.5% of men admitted to having an emotional affair. 9

Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality estimated that roughly 30% to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage. 10  This discrepancy also suggests that many people do not consider emotional affairs to constitute infidelity, even if they might simultaneously think that engaging in an emotional affair is wrong.

In the next article of this series, we discuss when to walk away from a sexless marriage.




3) Id.





8) Id.


10) Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Susceptibility to infidelity in the first year of marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 193-221.


3 Tips to Help Your Relationship Survive an Emotional Affair — Therapy Blog

How an Emotional Affair Impacts Your Marriage

I define an emotional affair as a relationship in which one or both parties are involved in another significant relationship where there is emotional intimacy, sexual chemistry, and romantic feelings, without the relationship having been consummated.

Frequently in emotional affairs, the partner who didn’t have the affair experiences the same degree of betrayal and breach of trust as he or she would if a spouse had a physical affair. At times, an emotional affair can feel even more damaging because someone else has met the partner’s emotional needs.

If you or your partner has had an emotional affair, your relationship can most certainly survive and perhaps even become even closer than it was before the affair.

Here are some tips to get you back on track:

Tip 1: Be willing to look at the affair in the context of your relationship.

Emotional affairs don’t occur in a vacuum. If one person is looking outside the relationship to get emotional needs met, it may be ly that person’s needs aren’t being met within the primary relationship. Be willing to honestly consider what had been going on in your significant relationship prior to the beginning of the affair.

Find a Therapist for Relationships

“Joanne” and “Jeff,” both teachers at an international school, recently came to see me for therapy because Jeff had an emotional affair with Eileen, another teacher at the school. When Eileen was in the process of separating from her husband, Jeff had become her confidant, and the relationship deepened from there.

When Joanne found out about the affair, she was furious, hurt, and felt control. She made going to therapy a condition of continuing the relationship. As we began to work together, it was revealed that Joanne had given birth to the couple’s first child a year ago.

Since that time, Jeff reported feeling left out and uncared for as Joanne had been preoccupied with the baby’s needs. He was missing the easy companionship and enjoyable sex they had before.

However, he never told this to Joanne, and she had no way of knowing how Jeff was feeling.

Here, the context of the relationship was the birth of the couple’s first child and Jeff’s feelings of isolation and exclusion when Joanne’s attention was diverted to their baby.

Because he didn’t share this with Joanne, his emotional needs went unmet within their relationship.

Once this came out in therapy, Joanne was able to acknowledge Jeff’s feelings, and together they came up with strategies for Joanne to meet Jeff’s emotional needs and vice versa.

Tip 2: Talk about your feelings and needs with your partner without judgment or blame.

This is often easier said than done when strong feelings are present. Accusations can be flung, which rarely help couples resolve anything.

When I work with couples, I teach a communication model called nonviolent communication (NVC), or compassionate communication as I prefer to call it.

Using this model, couples learn how to identify and express their feelings and needs to each other without blame, then to make a request of their partner, which can be answered yes or no.

I find when people take responsibility for their own feelings and needs and communicate them directly to their partners, they can be heard in a non-defensive way because there is no judgment involved.

It is a very simple model that looks this:

  1. Observation: I make an observation about what I heard or saw the other person say or do, a video camera recording the action. A video camera has no judgment or blame; it’s simply recording. The statement starts with, “When you do or say ________ …”
  1. Feelings: I name the feeling I experienced as a result of the observation. An example would be, “When you say I don’t care about you, I feel hurt and misunderstood.”
  1. Needs: This refers to common human needs that we all experience. Examples are needs for acceptance, love, understanding, collaboration, harmony, happiness, peace, etc. Now the model looks , “When you say I don’t care about you, I feel hurt because I have a need for respect and understanding.”
  1. Request: I then make a request of the other person that can be answered yes or no, using the phrase, “Would you be willing to ________?”

In Jeff and Joanne’s case, after the sentence in the third category of the model (needs), I would ask, “Would you be willing to talk with me more about this without blaming me so I can better understand what you mean?” This puts the whole conversation in a different light and can elicit a very different response than when I’m simply told, “You don’t care about me.”

When an emotional affair has occurred in a relationship, it’s essential that both partners learn to express delicate and vulnerable feelings without judgment so they can get past the accusation phase and arrive at some solutions.

Tip 3: Be open to coming up with new strategies to solve the underlying problem.

In Joanne and Jeff’s case, the underlying problem was that, since the birth of their son, Jeff had felt excluded and hurt by what he perceived to be Joanne’s inattentiveness. Because Jeff didn’t want to feel more vulnerable, he didn’t express his feelings to Joanne. They first needed to identify the problem and then communicate their feelings and needs to each other.

I find when people take responsibility for their own feelings and needs and communicate them directly to their partners, they can be heard in a non-defensive way because there is no judgment involved.

This paved the way for them to strategize about effective solutions. Jeff might have said, “When I come home from work and tell you about my day and you don’t listen, I feel hurt and dismissed because I have a need to be heard.

Would you be willing to tell me when would be a good time for us to talk if you’re busy with the baby?”

Joanne, for her part, would have heard it was important to Jeff to talk about his day, and she may have been willing to make another time. When Jeff swallowed his feelings instead of expressing them, there was no way for Joanne to know there was a problem, so of course no solution could be reached.

Indeed, a relationship can survive an emotional affair if both partners are committed to finding a way past it. If you find this too difficult to do on your own, often just a few sessions of couples therapy can kick-start the process.

Note: To protect privacy, names in the preceding article have been changed and the dialogues described are a composite.


Rosenberg, M. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. Encinitas, CA: Puddle Dancer.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dhyan Summers, MA, LMFT, Trust Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.


How to Move Past an Emotional Affair

How an Emotional Affair Impacts Your Marriage

Your marriage has been blindsided by an emotional affair. One of you is struggling with thoughts and feelings of betrayal, shock, and hurt. One of you is struggling with thoughts and feelings of confusion, guilt, and sadness.

How can your marriage move past this? The good news is, your marriage can not only move past this emotional affair; it can grow stronger because of this difficult circumstance—but both spouses need to be willing to to navigate the aftermath well, both individually and together.

The Spouse Who Had The Emotional Affair

Maybe you weren’t even sure you were having an emotional affair. You might have slid down the slippery slope of innocent friendship to emotional dependency and intimacy with someone who’s not your spouse.

Maybe there were issues in your marriage that made it easier for you to begin to disconnect from your spouse and build a relationship with someone else.

Maybe this is all about you and the little spark you got from the novelty of someone new and the secrecy of your interaction with them.

Please read this account of how this individual was able to move past an emotional affair and how their marriage survived and grew stronger. ★ Note the steps that were taken.

[Information in brackets is mine.]

  • I admitted it: Shame can only exist in secret. When I was able to voice what was really going on, all the complexities of why I allowed it to go as far as it did and how I had realized the line had been crossed, the shame that surrounded the entire situation dissipated. [This is the first step. Friendships that are innocent don’t have to be kept a secret from your spouse and are nothing to be ashamed of. Come all the way clean with your spouse.]
  • I stopped it: I wrote my ex co-worker a lengthy email telling him our friendship had crossed a line and that I felt it was unfair to ourselves and our spouses to continue it. I let him know that I had told my husband and encouraged him to tell his wife and take time refocusing on his marriage too. [Inform this person that your relationship is over. Full stop. Your spouse might want to read your email or listen via conference call. This is one of the first steps in rebuilding trust with your spouse.]
  • I set personal boundaries: Hindsight is 20/20, so I was able to look at my mistakes and create a guide for boundaries in future opposite-sex friendships.  Such as, I will never write another man something that I wouldn’t want my husband to read. [Your spouse will ly have input for the boundaries to protect your marriage. Be willing to do whatever it takes.]
  • I reinvested in my marriage: Obviously no marriage is perfect. There is always work that needs to be done. With my energy and attention refocused on my husband, we grew stronger, together. [This is the key. Your marriage is in the ICU. The “what came first” question doesn’t matter. It’s time to reconnect with your spouse and pour your energy and attention into your marriage.]

I would only add to that excellent advice that you need to apologize to your spouse, ask for their forgiveness and express your commitment to them and your marriage.

If you want to move past the emotional affair, communicate your willingness to do whatever it takes to rebuild trust and your relationship. ☆ You may need professional help to break the fantasy world you created and to deal with the addiction- dynamics of your experience. You may also need professional help to reconnect with your spouse and to pour yourself into your marriage. 

Emotional affairs can be just as shocking and damaging to a spouse as a sexual affair. Your spouse might bounce back and forth between hurt, anger, and normalcy. Be open to their needs, whether it is to answer questions or be alone. Understand it will take more than words and it will take time.  

You need to be open to and compliant with any accountability related to your phone or other devices as you begin to rebuild trust.

You need to accept any other accountability that your spouse deems necessary, including whatever else they need to feel secure, heal, and continue to rebuild trust (even if you think they’re going overboard or being unreasonable).

They are probably navigating severe anxiety and hypervigilance. This is not the time to try to negotiate; it’s the time to live out true self-sacrificial love. 

This is when you need good friends who are for your marriage and accountability.


And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)

The Spouse Who Was Betrayed By The Emotional Affair

You didn’t make your spouse have an emotional affair. Know this, believe this, feel this, but it is also true that affairs do not happen in a vacuum. There is always a context to infidelity and betrayal. The marriage and the affair are usually connected. 

Often, the marital context allows for a better understanding of the emotional affair. As marriage therapist Esther Perel points out, “The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage.

” As the therapist puts it, “The betrayed spouse, to one degree or another, can be one dimension of the infidelity—just narcissism, low self-esteem, addiction, or a mid-life crisis can be a key for understanding your spouse’s [emotional] infidelity.”

But make no mistake, your spouse chose to have an emotional affair. Probably in a series of little choices. It all could have been avoided by choosing to ignore a text, to not eat lunch with a coworker, to unfollow someone on social media, to not divulge things to someone that only a spouse should hear. They could have chosen to work on your marriage.

At a minimum, you should know the following:

  1. Who the emotional affair partner was.
  2. How long the affair lasted.
  3. How often they met.
  4. Where they met.
  5. How they communicated. (Email, secret texting apps, phone or burner phone, etc.


If the marriage survives, this information is essential to avoid future affairs and for appropriate accountability and to put boundaries in place. Take time to think about what would be most helpful for you to know.

Sometimes when affairs are uncovered, the betrayed spouse says they want to know every single detail of the relationship, only later to discover that all that information wasn’t really helpful.

Understand that men and women generally view emotional affairs differently. In fact, according to a survey by, an online affair dating site (the U.K.’s for people who are already married or in relationships, there are some clear distinctions between how men and women view emotional affairs.

Here’s what they discovered:

  • 72% of men said sexual affairs were worse than emotional affairs.
  • 69% of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs.
  • 76% of women said they would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair
  • Only 35% of men said they would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair.
  • 80% of men said they would forgive an emotional affair.
  • Only 30% of women indicated they would forgive an emotional affair.

According to this and other research, women are much more unforgiving of emotional connections while men are much more unforgiving of physical ones.

Again, understand that, in general, men and women look at emotional affairs very differently. 

This is important to acknowledge as you work toward understanding what happened, heal, rebuild trust, grow in security, and strengthen your marriage. Take care of yourself so that you are physically and emotionally healthy and whole

When you’re ready, you need to offer and communicate true forgiveness. Be open and willing to change as an individual and in how you relate to your spouse. You can’t “dance the same dance” anymore. This is your new, second marriage even though it is with the same spouse. Be intentional about making it strong and healthy!

Expect good and bad days, ups and downs, three steps forward and two steps back. Healing as an individual, healing for your spouse, and healing as a couple is a process. Don’t be discouraged by bad days or setbacks. Have a friend who is for your marriage who can keep you accountable, and you can be honest with and vent to. 

Don’t blame and focus on their affair partner. This is understandable but completely counter-productive, can re-traumatize you, fuel intrusive thoughts, and impede healing. 

Find resources that work for you. Don’t hesitate to seek out professional counseling for yourself and marriage counseling for you both. 

★ Only about 15% of marriages break up directly because of infidelity and end in divorce. According to counselors, couple’s therapists, and marriage coaches, whether the marriage will survive is how each spouse responds to the emotional affair.

Some Other Helpful Resources:

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse.

At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233.

For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Did this blog give you the information you were looking for and give you tools to help improve your relationships?


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