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It is commonly accepted that, when it comes to extramarital affairs, there are two main kinds of cheating: physical cheating and emotional cheating. The word “cheating” makes most people assume that sexual relations occurred, but emotional cheating can be even more damaging to a marriage than sex. It’s common for people who have fallen into an emotional affair to have difficulty recognizing their infidelity, or to use the lack of a physical relationship to excuse their actions.


In this article, we will discuss why women and men have emotional affairs, the stages of emotional affairs, and what makes them so damaging. We hope that this information will help you and your spouse avoid unnecessary heartache.

Defining an Emotional Affair

Before we discuss how it all begins, we first need to establish what an emotional affair is. Emotional affairs are characterized by a strong emotional bond between two people who hide their relationship for fear of hurting their spouse or partner. While emotional affairs don’t begin with a physical aspect, they can certainly become physical over time. 

Emotional affairs are very intimate in nature. They involve a great deal of trust, companionship, intimacy, and support from someone who is not your partner, which is why these affairs can be much harder for your spouse to forgive than a physical affair. But do emotional affairs ever stop? The reality is that those who choose not to nurture their marriage will not likely be able to sustain a long-term relationship with their affair partner, either, and that relationship will also meet its demise. 

Today, emotional affairs are much more common than they once were, due to the wide availability of social media and the rise in wireless communications. This is why marital partners must be all the more vigilant in protecting their bond.

Read on to find out how marriages can go downhill due to emotional affairs.

Stage 1 — You realize something is missing between you and your spouse.

The majority of emotional affairs begin when one spouse feels underappreciated or inadequate, whether it’s because the two of you are arguing more frequently, spending less time together, or simply not providing each other with enough validation. Whatever the case, this makes the other person feel the need to gain this validation elsewhere. 

If you or your spouse has a friend at work or at the gym, the emotional affair might begin when you start talking to them more regularly and begin confiding in this person about your marital relationship. It may seem innocent enough at first, but eventually, you may notice yourself getting butterflies when that friend makes flattering comments or wants to start talking more regularly over text or social media. This leads into stage two.

Stage 2 — You become dependent on your extramarital friendship and hide it from your spouse.

By this point, you rely on your new friendship to get through the day. You look forward to your encounters and text conversations with this person and start placing this friendship above your marriage. It’s now more important to you to maintain this friendship than it does to work on your marriage, and so you start to hide it. You start justifying it to yourself with lines like, “We’re just talking. We aren’t doing anything wrong.”  But once you’ve started to deceive your spouse and change your priorities, your emotional affair has begun, whether you accept it as such or not.

Stage 3 — You feel guilty and start to realize you’re doing something wrong.

At stage three, your desire to keep your emotional affair alive is met with equal desire not to hurt your partner. You start feeling guilty, which causes the emotional affair to feel threatened by the prospect of you returning to your marriage. They start making desperate attempts to keep you from going back to your spouse, whether it’s a proposal of sex or attempting to establish a relationship with your husband or wife. 

At this point, you either break down and come clean to your partner and reconcile, or you give into the emotional affair, which then becomes a full-blown affair. If you’ve chosen the latter, the emotional partner is now so attached and invested in your relationship that they probably won’t be satisfied with being your secret anymore. They will then pressure you to divorce your partner in order to be with them.

What to Do If You’re Considering Divorce

This is a delicate time that will determine the course of your future, so it’s critical to deeply reflect on what’s important to you, and what your role was in the disintegration of your relationship. 

By now, it’s likely been a long time since you’ve taken the time to talk openly and honestly with your partner about your feelings and what has gone wrong. Did you make an adequate effort to find out why your spouse was less interested in intimacy? Was there perhaps an emotional need that you were not filling that caused this disconnect? 

Even if the dissolution of your marriage wasn’t your fault, it’s worth putting in the effort to reconcile with the person for whom you took vows. The solution to your marital problems could be quite simple, so consider seeking counseling and avoid ultimatums with your spouse. 

What to Do If You Cannot Reconcile

Unfortunately, some people are simply not meant to be together with their whole lives — and that’s okay. It’s often better for you to be apart when this is the case. Whether you’re separating because your spouse cannot forgive the affair, or because of irreconcilable differences, you need the services of a skilled divorce lawyer. An attorney can remove the emotional burden from the situation so you can heal and move on with life.

Collins Family Law Group has years of experience handling painful divorce situations. We know what it takes to reach a peaceful resolution and minimize the heartache for everyone involved. Contact us today for a consultation to find out how we can help you proceed with your divorce swiftly and with as little anguish as possible.