With technology making it increasingly easy to connect and communicate with others discreetly, emotional affairs are on the rise in the United States. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy reports that 35% of women and 45% of men admit to having had an emotional affair before. In our fast-paced world where it’s easy to overlook what’s most important, neglected spouses turn to people outside of their marriage to fulfill unmet emotional needs.
If you’re concerned that you or your spouse has become entangled in an emotional affair, use the information below to understand what’s going on and what you can do to save your marriage from divorce. Our compassionate attorneys at Collins Family & Elder Law Group can offer reliable legal advice and answer any questions you may have about complicated marital situations such as these.
What Is an Emotional Affair?
Many couples have different ideas about what constitutes an affair. Emotional affairs are a little easier to define, however, because they always involve a close, secret friendship outside of the marriage and the exchange of sensitive information. These elements are the distinguishing factors between an emotional affair and a platonic friendship. Once an individual starts giving and receiving more emotional support from a friend than from his or her spouse, that’s when it becomes an emotional affair.
Emotional affairs aren’t inherently sexual in nature, but they can create romantic feelings that weren’t there before. These relationships usually start out innocently as a friendship, but the growing emotional intimacy can diminish the intimacy of the marriage and lead to physical infidelity, which happens more often than not — especially when a mutual attraction is also a factor in the friendship.
Warning Signs of an Emotional Affair
Emotional affairs can leave many heartbroken spouses feeling blindsided, but if you know what to look for in your spouse and in yourself, you can confront the problem earlier on, take steps to fix your relationship, and possibly avoid further heartache.
Signs That You Are Having an Emotional Affair
Sometimes, people end up in emotional affairs without even realizing it. You may be, too, if you meet two or more of the following criteria:
- You believe that your friend knows you better than your spouse
- Your friendship is a secret
- You look forward to talking to them
- You’re starting to spend less and less time with your spouse
- You’re losing interest in intimacy with your partner
- You daydream about them
- You share your feelings with your friend more than with your spouse
- You get defensive about the friendship when asked about it
- You’ve given your friend gifts
- You’re withdrawing entirely from your husband/wife
Signs That Your Spouse May Be Having an Emotional Affair
Perhaps your spouse is the one you’re worried about being in an emotional affair. Don’t ignore these suspicions if your spouse:
- Is more critical of you than usual
- Tries to hide their phone or computer around you
- Seems to be working longer hours than normal
- Mentions their friend frequently
- Starts to adopt the hobbies or opinions of the friend
- Is withdrawing from you
- Gets defensive or gaslights you when you confront them
Why Men and Women Have Emotional Affairs
Finding out about an emotional affair is devastating, but identifying the reason that it happened could potentially help you and your spouse to reverse the damage before your marriage is irreparable. Here are some of the reasons that people seek emotional affairs.
- One spouse felt undervalued, overlooked, or not good enough for the other
A husband or wife could start to feel unappreciated for many reasons. Perhaps their spouse chooses work or other hobbies over spending time together. Maybe one spouse stops expressing appreciation for everything the other one does. Whatever the reason, humans have an innate need to be validated and listened to. If they aren’t getting that from their marriage, they may gravitate toward coworkers, neighbors, social media friends, or other people who are more freely giving of their attention.
- One spouse feels sexually rejected by the other
Marriage therapists believe that physical intimacy goes hand-in-hand with emotional intimacy when it comes to healthy relationships. Once one spouse starts turning down sex, the other may feel deprived and/or rejected and begin to look in other places to fulfill the desire. The messages that were once innocent and friendly with the emotional affair may turn flirtatious and alluring, getting another step closer to a physical affair.
- The spouse in the emotional affair becomes bored with the marriage
Boredom in marriage happens due to emotional detachment, which can happen when one spouse is emotionally unavailable — whether busy with the kids, housework, other commitments, or mental health challenges — while the emotional affair is always there as a shoulder to cry on.
How to Protect Your Marriage
Of course, every marriage is different, but all require open communication, trust, and honesty to work. Protect your marriage by doing a health check on your relationship regularly. What’s going well? What needs improvement? Do both spouses feel loved and appreciated and if not, why? How can the problem be solved? With regards to the “how,” many couples benefit from couple’s therapy.
M. Gary Neuman, a licensed family counselor, wrote a book entitled Emotional Infidelity: How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and 10 Other Secrets to a Great Relationship. In it, he suggests that married men and women avoid befriending individuals of the opposite sex. This could work in your marriage if it’s something to which you both agree, but many couples find this isolating. If this is the case for you and your partner, work extra hard on strengthening your own relationship.
In addition to marriage counseling, make time for a date night at least twice a month to keep your relationship alive. Engage in activities that you both love, to foster discussion, laughter, and joy — and don’t leave out the romance at the end of the night. Find time to talk daily and learn, if you haven’t already, how to best deal with marital conflict. Whatever the case may be for your marriage, do what feels good and right for the both of you.
When Divorce Is the Only Option
Sadly, some people become so deeply involved in their emotional affairs that they no longer have a desire to fix the marriage. If you feel that divorce is your only option, take it slowly and avoid rushing into a big decision that you might both regret later on. Talk out your feelings together and discuss whether anything can be done to salvage the marriage.
If nothing can be done, Collins Family & Elder Law Group is here to help you work through the divorce process as quickly and painlessly as possible. Call us today for a consultation.