What is an emotional affair?
What is emotional infidelity?
How does an emotional affair start?
Why do people have emotional affairs?
What are the signs of an emotional affair and emotional infidelity?
How to know if your partner is having an emotional affair?
How to protect your relationship form emotional infidelity?
What are the stages of an emotional affair?
What is the difference between friendships and emotional affairs?
How often do emotional affairs happen? Do all emotional affairs start at work?
In this article, I will be seeking to answer some of these fundamental questions and concerns about emotional affairs and provide some insights on how to identify an emotional affair, and what to do if you find yourself or your partner entangled in an emotional affair.
It is another mundane Thursday afternoon at work. You feel tired and annoyed. You had a fight with your intimate partner of a few years the night before, you woke up in a bad mood, and felt rushed getting to work.
Driving to work earlier in the morning, you pondered what happened in your relationship with your partner. They once adored you and showered you with compliments, and now they don’t seem to give you the time of day. You feel underwhelmed and unappreciated, and tired of the cycle of fighting and make up you find yourself in for the last few months.
In a desperate attempt to feel better, you had a long shower in the morning, and wore that outfit that compliments your body and makes you feel a few pounds lighter. You carefully brushed your hair and put on your favorite perfume. Your partner did not notice any of that in their morning frenzy to get ready for work.
An attractive colleague swings by your desk to ask you about a report you are working on. They stop and gaze at you a little bit before they speak, and then give you a heartwarming compliment on your outfit and how you look today. In a playful voice, they add that you look very nice every day. Your heart skips a beat. You like hearing that. You like that feeling of being noticed, appreciated, and desirable. You wish your partner would say things like that to you.
Later that night you go home and find a text message from your partner that they got stuck at work and will not be able to make it home in time for dinner. Your heart sinks. Your wear PJS, microwave some food and decide to binge watch Netflix. Halfway through your show, you find your mind wandering to that warm fuzzy feeling you experienced earlier today when your colleague commented on your outfit, and you feel a pang. You don’t want to feel like you are feeling right now…Alone, neglected, and shlubby in your PJS in front of a TV. You want to feel special and desired like your colleague made you feel.
You reach out to your phone, open the text app, and stare at your empty screen cursor flashing waiting for your input. What would I even say, you ask yourself?
Finally, you decide that it is only polite to say thank you when someone says something nice. Off course!! How impolite of me to not have thanked them earlier today for their nice words you argue to yourself inside your head.
With less hesitation, you start typing. “Thank you for your nice words earlier today, you made my day”. With your heart beating faster than you expected, you guide your finger to that send button, hesitate for a second, and then press SEND!
You sit there in disbelief about how fast your heart is beating. You are positively excited, and you don’t even know why. Before you have had a chance to solve the mystery of your excitement, your screen glows with a notification of a text message. Could it be? You ask yourself in shock.
You nervously open your text message to find that your colleague has responded. “I made your day? It makes my day that I made your day. I will make sure to stop by your desk everyday now and tell you some of the wonderful things I think about you. This way I can make your day, and you can make mine” their text reads…
You off course do not want to tell your partner about this innocent exchange. It would only make them jealous, and it is nothing serious anyways. You have nothing to hide you say to yourself. It is just a harmless chat with a friend.
In the days and weeks after, you find yourself a little playful and flirty with your new friend. Once in a while your handshakes seem a little more intense than handshakes should feel, your friendly hugs take a while longer too.
But it doesn’t mean anything. It just brightens your day. And here’s the all-important, get out of jail free card. You and your friend haven’t even kissed, you would not even consider kissing them much less sleep with them. So what’s wrong with having a little bit of innocent fun?
But is it innocent? Really?
Well no it is not. It is called an emotional affair or emotional infidelity and we have seen it at Naya Clinics be devastating to many solid long-term relationships. Having an emotional affair is described by most of our clients as equally hurtful as physical infidelity.
Read here about the life and marriage of a famous pastor that was nearly ruined because of emotional infidelity.
As a matter of fact, many of our clients report that this playfulness and flirting and emotional intimacy with someone else is more damaging to them than if their partner has had sex with someone else.
What is an Emotional Affair? What is Emotional Infidelity?
An emotional affair is when a person gives and receives intimacy, emotional support, and companionship from someone else other than their intimate partner.
While having an emotional affair, our clients report that they feel more emotionally intimate, at ease, relaxed and happy with the other person than with their partner. Many of our clients also report increased physical desire to be with the other person, coupled with a reduction in their physical desire towards their partner.
An emotional affair described another way, is when your partner feels like you do not have time and energy for them, when you are expending time and energy with someone else in an emotionally intimate way.
Even if no sex or physical intimacy is present, this type of emotional affair can be equally damaging – and at times more damaging- than full blown sexual affairs. Partners of people involved in emotional affairs typically report feeling betrayed, fooled, lied to, hurt and undesirable both emotionally and physically.
“Affairs are one of the most taboo subjects in our culture,” says Janis Abrahms Spring, author of “After the Affair” (HarperCollins, 1997) and a supervisor at Yale University. They are “so extraordinarily traumatizing,” she says. “And yet we talk about them only when we are making jokes.”
The vast majority of our clients who we have seen for emotional affairs issues report two striking facts. The first is that they were never looking for an affair. The second is that even when it was going on, they did not think of their emotional affair as an affair.
The overwhelming majority of our clients that we interviewed about this reported that something was fundamentally broken in their intimate partnership that they could not fix or did not know how to broach it.
They found solace and empathy from another person, started talking and sharing with them, and that was the beginning of an emotional attachment that lead to the emotional affair.
As the emotional bond with that other person strengthened, they felt progressively less able to find the strength to face the challenges in their relationship with their partner (and less reason to).
Interestingly enough, the strength of the emotional bond created with the other person was also highly -correlated with the likely hood that an emotional affair would turn into a sexual affair.
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How Emotional affairs start?
If the frequency at which we see couples for emotional affairs in Naya Clinics is any indication, emotional affairs are possibly reaching epidemic levels.
We live in a time that obliges us to keep running. We walk, eat, talk, type, work fast. Also, we tend to fall in love quickly too. But, sometimes, we don’t even realize it.
Our life style is also increasingly keeping us in what seems like constant contact with other people. From our phones and gaming consoles being gateways to meet and socialize with new people all the time, to the time we spend with colleagues at work, exercising with other people at the gym, or out on the town with friends meeting random strangers around every corner, we are bombarded with seemingly endless opportunities to meet and engage with new people.
Some of these people are inevitably interesting, attractive, and sometimes both! What starts as a harmless friendship with somebody one meets in the gym, can very quickly transform into an emotional affair if the conditions are ripe for it.
It is important to remember that emotional affairs fly under the radar, and sometimes we’re not aware it’s happening until it’s too late.
It can start with a text that makes you smile; with a compliment you want to get. Many times, it starts with friendship which, eventually, you want to evolve into something more. You need to feel loved and you, subconsciously, form a bond between yourself and another person.
Everything sounds idyllic, right?
Yes, but what happens when you are already in a relationship? Is it friendship or an emotional affair?
Imagine this. That new friend that you made becomes someone you can vent to about the frustrations you have in your intimate relationship or your marriage. After all, isn’t that what “friends” are for?
The thing is, if you are confiding in your new friend about the problems of your relationship (and other life frustrations), you’re creating an exceptional and special bond with this person and cutting your partner out of this loop.
The implication of that is two sided. Firstly, your partner is no longer the person you confide in, making it impossible for them to know what is bothering you and how they can help make you feel better. Secondly, your friend now becomes someone you depend on more and more for emotional support, making it inevitable that they “look” much more appealing than your partner.
Said another way, if you are criticizing your partner with your new friend, your friend is in a much better position to know and be able to fulfill your needs and tackle your frustrations than your partner is.
That is why Emotional affairs can be devastating to your intimate relationship or your marriage. No body wants to vent the same way twice in the same day! If you are venting with your friend, then you do not have the energy or inclination to vent with your partner.
The thing is, the only way you can get your needs met in your relationship with anyone, is if you TELL them what your needs are. If you are telling your friend what your needs are, then it is your friend that can meet them.
With the same logic, if you are NOT telling your partner what your needs and frustrations are, then there is not a way on God’s green earth your partner would be able to address your needs and concerns.
And let us not ignore another fundamental fact. Emotional vulnerability is a pre requisite to physical vulnerability in many cases. And the cycle is, being emotionally connected, leads to being physically connected which then makes you feel more emotionally connected and so on and so forth.
Safe to say that if one does not feel safe enough to talk to their partner, then they also don’t feel safe enough being physically intimate with them, which makes them grow apart even further.
That is why this new found emotional intimacy with the new friend can very easily – and very often does – evolve into a physical and sexual relationship as well.
For some individuals, the most hurtful and painful consequences of an emotional affair is the sense of being deceived, betrayed, and lied to. Any part of one’s life that is essentially kept a secret from a partner is dangerous to the trust between spouses.
Stages of emotional affairs
Research and clinical experience with the topic of affairs, both emotional affairs and physical affairs, yields a very linear and somewhat predictable pattern of how affairs develop. The research suggests a distinct four stages of an emotional affair.
Stage One: Friendship and emotional closeness
This stage is one where you meet someone that you feel comfortable talking and sharing with outside your intimate relationship. You feel some type of connection and chemistry. It feels innocent and seems like a friendship. No foul play is intended for the most part at this stage. Just seeking comfort and solace in talking to someone else and being able to vent. It can happen at work, at the gym, on the internet, or practically anywhere.
Stage Two: Protecting your new relationship
At this stage, you start feeling dependent on your new relationship. You begin to experience anxiety about what it would be like if your partner or your friends and family disapproved of your friendship.
You therefore decide to keep it a secret. You comfort yourself that you are not doing anything wrong, and that you are just not ready to deal with the questions and investigations of your partner or your family and friends.
In a way, keeping it a secret makes it even more exciting and interesting, and it makes you want to protect this relationship even more.
Stage Three: More than talking
In this stage, you start incorporating your new friend in your life. You dine together on occasion, you work out together 3 days a week, you find ways to spend physical time together. It is like the beginning of dating someone, but you tell yourself you are going out as friends.
Stage Four: Physical intimacy
At this stage, your level of emotional connectedness and the bond you created with this person has overwhelmed you, and you start having a full blown physical and sexual relationship with them. Sometimes these full-blown affairs can last for years, and sometimes even end up in another marriage. On the other hand, getting to that stage sometimes becomes the beginning of the end of that fantasy of perfection and the relationship that had so much promise becomes the source of endless drama and heartbreak.
Signs of an emotional affair and emotional infidelity
You Think About The Other Person All The Time
We’ve all been there, and we know how this one feels like. Everything starts with our minds which constantly play the same image: The person we want to get involved with.
Thinking about the other person may sound too obvious. But when it comes to emotional affairs (when you usually are already in contact with your person of interest) things can get confusing. How do you know if you are thinking about someone as a lover instead of a friend?
Also, being in a relationship makes you doubt yourself and your feelings. This is actually something common that, as a marriage counseling practitioner, I have noticed: When it comes to affairs, people start by mistrusting their emotions.
If waking up means checking their Facebook profiles or looking when they last logged in on WhatsApp, romantic feelings are evolving.
Your Partner Knows Nothing About It
When you make new friends that excite you, you always go to your partner to tell them about this new, cool person that you’ve met. However, in an emotional affair, things don’t go that way.
You hide the relationship from your partner either because you believe they will feel jealous or because you can’t explain its nature. In any case, protecting your “friend” from the person of your life means that you are hiding them for some reason.
This reason is usually called guilt or hope for something more to happen between you two. Also, when you and your partner talk about your “friend,” you get anxious and act like he or she is not important to you. And we both know this is not true, don’t we?
It’s Your Partners vs. The Other Person
Seriously? Do you still believe that this relationship is innocent? Well, it is not. If you keep comparing your partner to the other person that you’ve met, then you are thinking about getting into a relationship with them. Somehow you have turned them into a replacement to your primal relationship or a potential significant other.
In other words, you want him or her as your partner. And, additionally, you can’t stop wondering how life would be like if you had met them earlier.
He or she becomes the first person you want to call with any “news.”
You have some exciting news to share or you have had a bad day, and this is the person whom you call. You may not be sharing much at all with your spouse anymore.
You Feel Changed
The first thing you want to look at is yourself. How is your behavior or your vibe when you meet that other person? Have you started doing yoga, taking care of your diet, or your appearance? That’s great for you, but it’s time to ask yourself: Who are you doing all these for?
If you feel like you have become more attractive, funnier, hotter or a better version of yourself, in general, you are, most likely, doing this for your emotional affair. You want to get that other person’s attention, impress them, make them like you and want to spend time with you.
Who are you trying to impress the most? Your partner or your “friend”? I am sure you know the answer to this question. You wouldn’t be reading this article if you didn’t.
You Make Sacrifices
Remember that time when your boyfriend or girlfriend asked you to go for a drink, but you were too busy working? Now, what happens when the person you are in an emotional affair with asks for the same thing? You probably leave the office earlier.
When you sacrifice your responsibilities or your personal life for someone else, that means that your feelings are not that innocent. You want to spend time with them and have fun. When the time you spend together increases, it means you are officially playing with fire.
Communication Gets Deeper, Yet Mysterious
You don’t talk with that other person about your primary relationship and, when you do, you are sharing your frustrations about your partner. On the other hand, they don’t tell you whether they are dating someone or not and there is a mystery lingering in the air.
For your information, this happens because both of you want to let that door open. You both understand each other, and your communication feels great. You talk about your lives, your secrets, your hopes, and fears. You even text late at night or early in the morning just to say hi. But you still don’t talk about your love lives because you feel like it would make things uncomfortable. It’s like you are in a relationship without being in one. It’s like an affair.
You Finally Want To Get Physical With Him/Her
Oh, don’t be surprised. You did see that coming even though, in the beginning, it was out of the question.
It is true that most emotional affairs don’t turn into an actual sexual relationship, but your mind loves playing games. When you are having sex with your real partner, and you fantasize about the other person, your feelings for them have reached another level.
But of course, you knew that.
Signs Your partner might Be Having an Emotional Affair
Here are some warning signs that your spouse might be having an emotional affair:
- Your partner starts retreating from you or being overly critical of your behaviors.
- Your is being all James Bond about his phone and computer screens and seeming nervous when you sneak up on him texting or on the computer
- Your partner suddenly taking interest in something that seems out of character for him and needing to be “out” to do it often.
- Your partner is spending substantially more time at work than usual or is going out of town more often than usual
- Your partner develops this weird obsession with a new friend, and they talk about them and about their opinions or attributes all the time
- You feel like your partner is distant and cold and you can’t seem to figure out why
How to protect your relationship from emotional infidelity
A British proverb stipulates that prevention is better than cure. That is to say that it is better and easier to stop a problem, illness, etc., from happening than to stop or correct it after it has started (Meriam Webster).
Our clinical experience suggests this proverb is very much on point for a plethora of problems that bring people to counseling, and most definitely for the challenge of emotional affairs.
Once an emotional affair has actually started, it becomes exponentially more difficult to reverse the course of destruction of trust that will almost enviably ensue with every passing day.
Nipping the underlying causes of relationship dissatisfaction in the bud -before an affair starts- is a superior course of action that leads to better relationships that leave no room for an affair to develop.
As a counseling practice, we get an immense amount of data about the reasons why people engage in affairs. Analyzing these findings, we compiled a quick list below for things you and your partner can do to minimize the chance you will ever have to deal with an emotional affair.
Spend quality time together:
Sitting silently on a couch watching game of thrones together does not count. Quality time is a time where your focus is your partner.
Plan your quality time together as you plan any other important appointment:
Put it on the calendar. Put it on repeat. Set reminders. Treat it like a meeting with someone important.
Quality time does not have to be every day. You can set a few hours every week or on the weekend to spend time together, but when you do, be focused and present with your partner.
Spend time apart!
Yes. Spending time apart doing things that you like as an individual is equally as important as spending quality time with your partner. Being together is great, and so is having some alone time to do your own thing. Do BOTH!
Fight hard but fight fair!
There is nothing on God’s green earth that will stop you from fighting with your partner or that will allow you to have harmony all the time. As relationship therapists, we would be concerned if you “never fight”. It simply is not natural. When you do fight though fight fairly. That means fighting about what you are fighting about, not about EVERYTHING at once. It also means no hurting your partner because they “hurt you”. If you want to say something, say it because you want to say it, not because you know it will hurt!
Express your grievances as they happen,
not days, weeks, or months later!
Prioritize being kind over being right:
Yes, sometimes you are right, and your partner is being a hard headed asshole. What is more important, your relationship or being right about what year, the empire state building was completed (or whatever the hell it is you are arguing about?)
Respect trumps love every time:
Let’s face it, your love for your partner fluctuates. That IS OK! You can not love your partner at the same level all the time. That is not your choice. It is affected by how they treat you and how life is going. Being respectful however IS YOUR CHOICE and has nothing to do with how anyone treats you or what life is throwing at you. You can have a good relationship without “puppy love” until that fuzzy feeling comes back. You can NOT have a good relationship if you and your partner stop respecting each other.
Apologize when you are wrong and forgive when you have been hurt!
In a long-term relationship, you will fuck something up here and there. There is no avoiding that! When you do, a genuine I m sorry will go a long way in making things better (we find that mostly men struggle more with that one). Also, in a long-term relationship, your partner is bound to do something that hurts you without meaning to. Forgive the small indiscretions and move on (we find that mostly women struggle with that one)
Difference between a friend and an Emotional affair
The overwhelming majority of the clinical data we have compiled at Naya Clinics about emotional affairs points to one main fact.
Most emotional affairs start as friendships.
A seemingly innocent friendly connection can transform into an emotional affair when the new friend becomes a confidant about troubles and grievances in your intimate relationship with your partner. They confide in you with their grievances with their relationship and intimate partner in return, and Voila, a perfect storm of emotional cheating is brewing, and you are in the eye of the storm.
Two ways you can check yourself to assess whether what you have is a friendship or an emotional affair are
- Are you keeping your friendship or parts of it a secret?
- Do you feel physically attracted to your friend?
If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, you are at best on a slippery slope heading towards an emotional affair, or you are already in one and you have no realized it yet!
The prevalence of affairs: What are the numbers?
The available research and clinical data we have suggests that 1 in 4 couples are confronted with some type of sexual indiscretion or physical affair during their relationships.
Here is the challenge with these numbers. Much like the prevalence of sexual abuse, so many people who are polled flat out lie.
To put this into perspective from a similar but different statistic, the “official” numbers suggest that one out four females’ reports having been sexually harassed or abused. Our clinical experience however suggests that these numbers are grossly inaccurate, and that the prevalence in actuality is much higher.
That is because many survivors of sexual assault and abuse prefer not to report it or acknowledge it when polled about it.
At Naya Clinics, we believe the same to be true about the prevalence of affairs.
To further complicate matters, what an emotional affair is, is not something most people agree on. As we suggested earlier, many of our clients did not even realize they were in an emotional affair while they were in one!
When we take into account emotional affairs and emotional cheating, including those conducted purely online – when people never even meet – we estimate the prevalence of some type of affair and cheating in relationships to be higher than 50%, although it is impossible to provide accurate numbers.
Why do people have emotional affairs?
The short answer to this question is that all of us do everything that we do to get our needs met!
Some of us use functional coping mechanisms like go to counseling, exercise, or travel to clear our mind. Others use dysfunctional coping mechanisms like resorting to drugs, alcohol, or affairs.
The long answer is far more complex to discuss in full here (it might require a master’s degree in clinical mental health, but luckily, all our therapists already have one, so you don’t have to! 🙂
To try and summarize a very long laundry list of reasons, we went back to the hundreds of clinical notes we have for clients who saw us for emotional infidelity and emotional affairs and compiled a list of the most prominent reasons that repeated themselves in our work with couples.
This list is in no way exhaustive, neither is it in any particular order of importance. It is however a good starting point to start answering with some depth the question “why do people have emotional affairs or engage in emotional infidelity?”
Dissatisfaction with their relationship.
Past the honey moon phase, relationships are rife with reasons for dissatisfaction.
You pair up with someone who is fun and exciting, a couple of years in, their care free attitude starts feeling irresponsible and even dangerous.
The reverse can also be true. You pair up with someone who help you get organized and makes you feel taken care of. When the novelty wears out, their caring behavior starts feeling claustrophobic and controlling.
That is the nature of relationships and is something we see every day in our couples counseling sessions.
With that in mind, not everyone knows how to navigate these very mercy waters. Some find themselves so helpless and stuck in their situation, that the only way they perceive they can get their needs met is someone else “on the side” that helps them capture the original feelings they had when they fell for their intimate partner.
In the same vein, relationships change, and they change often. You marry someone who is athletic and takes good care of themselves. A few years in under the pressures of life, they stop being as good looking as they once did, and you feel cheated out of something that is important to you.
Or may be your partner was very patient with you, and after having a child together, or after they get a promotion to a more stressful job, they are snappy and can’t give you the patience they once did. You feel fooled into a relationship with someone other than what you had bargained for.
So, what do you do?
Unfortunately, getting your needs met can sometimes look like seeking the experience you want with someone else, while you do not have the courage or inclination to confront your intimate partner with your needs and concerns.
Poor communication skills with their partner.
One of the biggest challenges that we see when counseling couples is effective communication.
Personally, if I had a penny for every time I asked a partner in a relationship counseling session if they shared their concerns with their partner, and then checked with their partner to see if that is actually true only to get a resounding “ This is the first time I heard this”, I would be playing golf with Bill Gates and Elon Musk instead of writing this blog!
So here is the bare knuckles fact of the matter from inside the counseling room. It is one thing to “believe” you have shared your concerns with your partner, and a totally different thing to ACCURATELY and EFFICIENTLY communicate your concerns.
In other words, you may think that you said something, but you have only truly said it if your partner understood it, and that is where most of the couples we see come very dangerously short.
The sad truth is, most couples believe they shared their concerns with their partner, and that their partner is deliberately ignoring them.
So, what do you do if you believe you have been disappointed and let down by your intimate partner?
For some people, the answer is to find someone else who will meet your needs and respond to your concerns, and voila, emotional infidelity and emotional affairs ensue.
They crave physical affirmation.
A key fact that anyone in their right mind would be remise to ignore. As adults, meeting our physical intimacy needs in our relationships is a fundamental component of any successful relationship.
That does include having sex, but that is not the only thing. Being touched, hugged, stroked, rubbed, and even just sitting close to your partner as they pay attention to you are all important physical needs.
For some people, the feeling of rejection, isolation, and being alone that comes with not getting these physical needs met is so deep, so incredibly hurtful, that they simply can not live without getting it from “somewhere”.
If they are not getting these needs met in their intimate relationship, they will step outside it to get at least some of them met.
An emotional affair can start simple because someone sits and looks at you as you are speaking, and actually shows actively to you that they are listening. That is still physical intimacy even if there is not physical contact involved.
Eye contact alone can constitute physical intimacy (depending how you define physical intimacy off course)
Poor impulse control.
Let me be perfectly clear about this. Connecting to another human being is very gratifying. For the brain, it is like getting a hit of a feel good drug.
Now some of us are better than others at fighting the temptations of a cigarette, a hit of weed, or a stack of Orios.
The same is true with feeling listened to and appreciated by others. Some of us are better than others at controlling the impulse to get more of these “hits”.
If you are someone who has poor impulse control, these random compliments or kind gestures can prove as irresistible to you as any addictive material.
That is a problem because when you are in a committed relationship, part of the commitment you make is that your partner is the exclusive provider of these “emotional intimacy hits”.
Feeling an itch or urge to get these hits from someone else then constitutes emotional infidelity and an emotional affair.
Boundaries are a crucial skill to understand to be able to live a good life in general. They are important at work, at school, and in your personal relationships.
For example, what you can say to a colleague is not what you can say to your professor. That is a boundary.
What you can do with your best friend, you can not do with your boss. That is boundary.
By the same token, the emotional intimacy you share with your intimate partner you can not share with someone else, that too is a boundary.
The challenge comes when you have a loose sense of boundaries.
A poorly defined boundary in a friendship can be all it takes to transform that friendship into emotional infidelity or an emotional affair.
If you can not oblige yourself to separate between what is appropriate to share with your intimate partner, and what is appropriate to share with someone else, then you are blurring the lines between the different types of relationships in your life, and it is much easier to find yourself entangled in indiscretions and affairs.
Reenacting childhood trauma(s).
This might come as a surprise to some of the readers. As adults, practically every single one of us seeks to recreate some ancient childhood wound in (unconscious) hopes that they can mend their broken heart about it.
That means that if there was an emotional affair or emotional infidelity between your parents when you were a child, there is a very high likelihood that without appropriate counseling, you will end up reenacting a similar episode in your adult life yourself.
This process is typically entirely unconscious. No one “decides” to cheat on their partner simply because they experienced that in their childhood.
The fact that it is not conscious does not mean however that it is not deliberate. We very deliberately seek out the types of relationships that will inevitably lead us to experience the same childhood wound that we experienced when we were young.
It is not all doom and gloom though. It is not inevitable.
Our research and clinical work show without doubt that if you engage in counseling and therapy, understand your unconscious motivations, and process your childhood feelings, you are much more likely to attract a more balanced relationship to your life, and to manage its disappointments in a more effective manner.
Fear of abandonment
Related to the point above, you might find yourself in the middle of emotional infidelity of an emotional affair if you are afraid of abandonment.
Unconsciously, if you have had many experiences where you felt abandoned by people you depended on emotionally, you would be on edge about that experience being repeated.
To manage this unconscious anxiety, some people resort to having more than one emotional attachment at a time, to feel secure that they have someone they can “fall back on” should the first one leaves them.
This also serves another purpose. If you are dividing your emotional energy between two people, you are less attached to these people than if you were fully depending on only one of them.
Since your fear of abandonment is directly proportional to your level of intimacy, having two less intense relationships feels more comforting than having one relationship where you feel very connected and also very vulnerable.
It all sounds very clever on paper.
The sad truth is though, if you go down that route, you typically end up loosing both relationships and finding even more reason to fuel your erroneous belief that everybody you love will eventually leave you.
Reaction to death of deep loss.
Another common reason we have found for emotional infidelity is an experience of death of loved ones or a deep and tragic loss.
Death of a loved one (father/mother/sibling) or close connections (friends/cousins/class mates) seems to contribute to emotional affairs in one of two ways
The first is that it awakens your own anxiety of death. If you are afraid to die, our knee jerk reaction is to live like there is no tomorrow. Live hard.
For some people, that realizations send them on a frenzy to experience all they can. If their relationship has stopped exciting them, they seek a relationship that will. If their sex life with their partner had dwindled, they try and find as many sexual partners as they can.
The other contribution death has, is that often it not easy for your partner to understand exactly your pain. That leads you to feel alone and not understood in your relationship, and so some find themselves feeling tender and connected with those who offer more accurate empathy and understanding.
The same is true for significant loss. If for example one receives a serious diagnosis, there is a sense of loss of health. If one loses their job abruptly, they lose a sense of safety etc.
You might find that you would react to these losses much in the way I described above about how we respond to death anxiety.
Do emotional affairs always turn physical?
The short answer is No!
Most people who experience emotional infidelity or an emotional affair were looking for empathy and understanding. It is rarely the case that someone had set out to find someone to only be physical with.
To build on that, many people who find someone other than their partner that they can just share their thoughts and feelings with, spend quality time with, and feel comfortable with, just stop at that and never get physical.
You might read this and sigh a sigh of relief. Yes, I may be experiencing some of the signs of being in an emotional affair, but to me, this is not too serious unless I actually get physical with that person.
If you are thinking that, I will have to invite you to read the article again!
To put it unequivocally, all our research and clinical date suggest without a shadow of a doubt that emotional infidelity and emotional affairs are every bit as damaging – and sometimes more damaging- than having a physical affair.
Emotional affairs at work
Do all emotional affairs start at work? Off course not.
With that in mind, the way most of us live today, we spend more time at work than we do at home.
It is substantially easier to get involved in an emotional affair at work because of the sheer amount of time we spend there.
It does not stop there though. At work, we work closely with people. We see them often, we can schedule meetings, and we can observe their moods closely.
It is also easy to spend time with someone from work. Possibly easier than spending time with your intimate partner. Yes, you have work to do, but also you are right there across the aisle from each other. There are lunch breaks, and coffee breaks and water breaks. There are work functions and work trips.
So, where it is true that not all emotional infidelity happens with someone at work, it is certainly true that the work environment makes for a more suitable breeding ground for emotional affairs to happen than most other places. That is not simply my opinion, it is also the observation from the clinical notes we collect about the hundreds of cases of emotional infidelity we have worked with.
In this article, I have covered some fundamental questions about emotional infidelity and emotional affairs.
I explained the definition of an Emotional Affair and Emotional Infidelity
I then laid out How Emotional affairs start and the four Stages of emotional affairs,
After that I moved on to warn you of some Signs of an emotional affair and emotional infidelity as well as Signs to look for that suggest Your partner might Be Having an Emotional Affair,
From there, I explained How to protect your relationship from an affair and how to know the Difference between a friend and an Emotional affair,
After that I discussed The prevalence of affairs and explained that at least one in four couples experience an emotional or physical affair.
I then Covered Why do people have emotional affair and we discussed if emotional affairs always turn physical
Finally, we explored Emotional affairs at work.
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About the Author
Sam Nabil is a licensed professional counselor , and the founder of Naya Clinics. Sam pioneered Positive Existential Therapy (PET) an innovative and avant garde counseling approach that he developed in his practice to effectively deal with client challenges that were no longer responding to outdated counseling techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy. Sam contends that P.E.T. is reinventing therapy for relevance in the 21st century.
About Naya Clinics
Naya Clinics is a top rated private practice offering avant-garde marriage counseling, therapy, and life coaching services in our locations in Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis , and Denver. Learn More…
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