Do you have an emotional relationship outside your marriage? Something that began as a platonic friendship but now has you emotionally invested? Well, you’re not the only one going through the 7 stages of emotional affairs.
Here are some emotional cheating vs physical cheating findings: 15% of married women and 25% of married men confessed they indulged in extramarital sex. But when it comes to emotional infidelity in marriage, the numbers skyrocket. About 35% of women and 45% of men reported indulging in emotional adultery at least once in their marriage. Let’s find out more on what this means.
What is Emotional Infidelity?
On emotional affairs and divorce, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy wrote, “A new crisis of infidelity is emerging in which people who never intended to be unfaithful are unwittingly crossing the line from platonic friendships into romantic relationships.” If you’re wondering, “Am I having an emotional affair?”, the answer is “YES” if you are:
- Sexting with someone/getting aroused from the conversation
- Hiding your new friendship with your partner
- Confiding in an emotional partner (who isn’t your spouse) for your personal problems
- Non-sexual physical touch (e.g. cuddling, hugging, massaging, holding hands)
- Hanging out alone with someone that you know has a crush on you
- Going out (one-on-one) with someone you find attractive that’s not your partner
On emotional affairs and texting, a Reddit user wrote, “If you delete or hide messages/calls from someone, that’s a huge red flag.” But is an emotional affair adultery? Yes! Even if you’re not physically involved with someone, you’re channeling so much emotional energy into this new relationship. You’re neglecting your SO’s emotional/physical needs and even lying to them.
Related Reading: Therapist’s Tips On How To Deal With Emotional Infidelity
How Do Emotional Affairs Start? 5 Top Reasons
A Reddit user wrote, “Emotional cheating starts in the head. It’s about who comes first. As the one who is cheating, ask yourself who has the first spot in your thoughts everyday. If it’s not your SO, but someone else, it might be cheating.” But why is someone else so irresistible all of a sudden? Here are some possible reasons:
1. Dissatisfaction with the primary relationship
In a survey, 48% of men rated emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason they cheated. So, one of you is an emotionally distant spouse. Or you both have started taking each other for granted and the relationship has gotten boring. Here’s why platonic affairs start:
- ‘Something’ is missing in your relationship but you don’t know what exactly is missing
- You know what is missing but are never able to express it in an open, honest, and transparent manner
- You have expressed your unmet needs multiple times but the attempts to fix them proved to be unsuccessful
2. Seeking emotional validation elsewhere
The American singer Jessica Simpson confessed in her memoir Open Book that she had an emotional affair with co-star Johnny Knoxville, during her marriage to Nick Lachey. She wrote, “I could share my deepest authentic thoughts with him and he didn’t roll his eyes at me. He actually liked that I was smart and embraced my vulnerabilities.
“First off, we were both married, so this wasn’t going to get physical. But to me, an emotional affair was worse than a physical one. It’s funny, I know, because I had placed such an emphasis on sex by not having it before marriage. After I actually had sex, I understood that the emotional part was what mattered…Johnny and I had that, which seemed far more of a betrayal to my marriage than sex.”
Related Reading: 12 Ways To Build Intellectual Intimacy In A Relationship
3. Childhood trauma
It’s time for some self-reflection. Your attachment style and self-esteem has everything to do with how you navigate relationships. You’re more likely to indulge in emotional adultery if:
- Your parents cheated on each other and normalized betrayal for you
- You have deep fear of abandonment and hence find ways to avoid intimacy with your SO
- Your fantasy world of ‘eternal youth’ helps you escape real life responsibilities
4. Belief that texting is harmless
If you’re an emotional cheater, you divide the world into black and white to justify emotional infidelity in marriage. You view sexual physical affairs as ‘immoral’ and ‘harmless flirting‘ as appropriate. So, you don’t feel guilty and gaslight your partner for being paranoid or jealous. You’re in denial of your shadow side.
5. Need for newness/variety
Psychotherapist Esther Perel emphasizes in her TED talk, “At the heart of an affair lies a longing and yearning for human connection, novelty, freedom, autonomy, sexual intimacy, a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves and an attempt to bring back vitality in the face of loss and tragedy.” So, there could be several reasons behind emotional affairs turning intimate:
- You crave for novelty/excitement that’s not possible to get at home
- Keeping secrets gives you a false sense of power
- You’re tired of being the ‘good’ person; you want to act badly without being bad
The 7 Stages Of An Emotional Affair
Now that we’ve talked about how do emotional affairs start, it’s time to move on to what comes after. The 7 stages of emotional affairs are very subtle. They start innocently and creep into your life. And before realize, they end up creating turmoil in your long-term relationship. Let’s understand these stages of infidelity in greater detail.
The levels of emotional affairs start with an ‘innocent’ or ‘harmless’ friendship. Emotional affairs and texting go hand-in-hand. During the involvement stage, the conversations are centered around everyday tasks/hobbies. There may be cursory loving talk on social media but it is at a superficial level, with no real sentiment behind it. Here’s how it goes:
Related Reading: Attracted To Coworker And Don’t Know What To Do About It
- A coworker or a dear old friend becomes your confidante
- Your text messaging and Facebook interactions may intensify
- You feel lucky to have a person who truly ‘gets’ you
- You look forward to making them feel special/important
2.The more-than-just-friends stage
On the second stage of cheating, a Reddit user wrote, “Communication: there is excitement, future Affair Partner is described as cocky/bubbly/funny/anything noteworthy, maybe there is the confession of a slight crush, an acceptance that future AP is attractive…”
You share more with this person than with your partner. You are not sleeping together or anything but there’s an underlying sexual tension. Slowly, you start enjoying the faint flirtation. Inappropriate friendships when married was the last thing on your list. But, the line between emotional cheating vs friendship gets thinner and thinner. If you’re wondering, “Am I emotionally cheating?”, think:
- Do you often think of your friend?
- Do you wait for spending time together?
- Do you try to keep your ‘friendship’ a secret?
3. How to tell if it’s an emotional affair? See if you have crossed the cribbing stage
After blurring the lines between emotional cheating vs friendship, staying in constant contact and cribbing becomes the norm in stage 3. Here are the major emotional cheating signs that are not realized by most people involved. You may:
- Complain about your partner’s inadequecies
- Tell your friend what you want your life to be like
- Share secrets and make them the third wheel in your relationship
4. Sexual stage is one of the 7 stages of emotional affairs
The emotional attachment gets deeper. You start noticing personality traits in your ‘friend’ that are missing in your official partner. You feel like being physically intimate in your long-distance emotional affair:
- While having sex with your significant other, you fantasize about doing the same with your emotional companion
- He/she flirts more and lures with sexual insinuations
- You start wearing fragrances and getting gifts for your emotional interest
5. The deciding-for-each-other stage
You skip a social gathering because you and your ’emotional partner’ are an inseparable team now. This level of emotional affair becomes exasperating for your romantic partner because they fail to understand why you are behaving so weirdly and excluding them, like a relationship bully.
How to tell if it’s an emotional affair? Ponder upon some questions:
- Do they decide which outfit suits you?
- Do you consult them for advice on switching your job?
- Do you trust them even more than your gut instincts?
6. Being indifferent to your home life
The emotional involvement has become so profound that you hate your own home now. Your family members disgust you and you feel like escaping your current life. This is the stage when you go through the worst turmoil because you finally acknowledge the lack of emotional connection in your marriage.
You tend to find a home in your extramarital affair. This person is comforting and soothing for your emotional needs and fulfills those just the way you want. You don’t want it to be a lifelong extramarital affair anymore; you want it to be something more. You know that relationships that begin as affairs are too complex but at this point, you don’t really care.
7. The final decision – do emotional affairs turn into love?
This is why emotional affairs and divorce are related. Out of the 7 stages of emotional affairs, this is the stage wherein the desire to leave takes over. You start seeing signs your relationship is beyond repair. It’s very difficult to overcome this without couples counseling.
So, emotional affairs turning intimate could lead to a breakdown of a marriage. A classic example of that is what was shown in the film Lunch Box. The two characters had not even seen each other but they connected so strongly through letters hidden in a lunchbox that the woman wanted to leave home and start a new life with this man who was way older than her. So, do emotional affairs turn into love? Yes, they can.
Sometimes emotional affairs can also fizzle out. There is no guarantee that your emotional affair is going to be the love of your life. But unlike sexual relationships, emotional affairs are stronger and hence last much longer and have more serious consequences. Also, affairs never end well and hence rebuilding trust is not easy…
Related Reading: I Can’t Forget My Husband’s Affair And I Feel Tormented
How To Repair A Relationship After An Emotional Affair
Is getting over an emotional affair possible? Psychologist Nandita Rambhia answers, “Yes. However, fixing the damage done by 7 stages of emotional affairs takes its time. Healing and forgiving require a lot of effort from both partners. It can only happen if both feel a strong need to rebuild love from scratch. If this need is strong, sincere, and honest, the chances of moving ahead are high.”
Even research suggests that re-trusting a partner who has caused emotional trauma – be it through infidelity, lying, dishonesty, or manipulation – requires openness, the intention to cooperate, sharing, and mutual support between partners. With this, we arrive at some golden rules to follow:
1. Cut off connection and contact
Getting over an emotional affair starts with cutting off contact, no questions asked. It might hurt to say goodbye to the person who made you feel happy. But to work on your relationship, you must follow the no-contact rule with the affair partner.
According to the Gottman Repair Checklist, here are some phrases you can use when trying to show accountability for the damage that you caused:
- “I really blew that one”
- “I can see my part in all this”
- “How can I make things better?”
- “I’m sorry. Please forgive me”
- “I want to be gentler to you right now and I don’t know how”
2. Fall back on your partner
You have your partner to fall back on for emotional dependency. Prepare your mindset. If any aspect of the relationship is troubling you, your partner is the one who needs to know that. Vent all you want but to your partner. Become best friends with them and try to adjust/accept instead of compromise.
Talking about adjustment (instead of unhealthy compromise), the Gottman Repair Checklist mentions a couple of phrases that can help you heal from the pain of the past:
- “I agree with part of what you’re saying”
- “Let’s find our common ground”
- “I never thought of things that way”
- “What are your concerns?”
- “Let’s agree to include both our views in a solution”
3. Your partner needs to understand
Now is a great time to talk about why you did what you did. If you were dissatisfied with your partner, felt inadequate or unhappy in the relationship, now is the time to talk to your partner about these issues. But your partner needs to know that unnecessary show of anger or resentment toward you won’t help the healing.
It helps to seek guidance from someone more experienced, mature, and non-judgmental. It can be a family member, friend, or professional counselor. If you’re looking for support, our counselors from Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
4. Talk about the gaps in your relationship
You should talk about the person you were having an emotional affair with. As guilty as that would make you feel and as angry as it might make your partner feel, this is crucial. What are the things that drew you to this person for an emotional affair – was it his empathetic nature or the fact that they were a good listener?
Sort them out. Spell them out for your partner. These were the inadequacies or the gaps in your relationship. As painful as it might be to bring them up, it is essential to talk about it and understand where your relationship was lacking.
5. Write gratitude letters
Looking for tips on how to fix emotional detachment in marriage? Research shows that expressing gratitude increases comfort in relationships. So, reignite the spark in your love life by expressing gratitude regularly. Here are some phrases that you can use to appreciate your partner, according to the Gottman Repair Checklist:
- “Thank you for…”
- “I understand”
- “I love you”
- “I am thankful for…”
- “This is not your problem. It’s OUR problem”
This is one of the reasons why a strong friendship and intimate connection in the relationship is one of the best antidotes to an affair. Keep working on the marriage. So, what can you do to make your marriage emotional affair proof? As the first step, you can come together as friends and have a relationship based on trust.
- If two married people cheating with each other was normalized growing up, you’re more likely to cheat
- The 7 stages of emotional affairs start with talking about personal feelings
- If they’re the first person you think about in the morning, it’s not a good sign
- Having more than one partner can eventually take a toll on your mental health
- Taking time and couples therapy can help you rebuild trust
Thus, love, respect, and support each other. Communicate openly and frequently. Share your feelings, plans, and any issues that you have with each other. Have fun and genuinely get over hurts at the earliest. These are wise ways to deal with infidelity and have a strong marriage where you have emotional connection with your spouse and none else. Have a blissful relationship!
Emotional affairs are said to last 6 months to three years usually, as per Denise Bartell, PhD, psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. However, emotional affairs are not defined well in the first place. Is texting someone else cheating? One major red flag is sexting/sending nudes. Or sharing vulnerable feelings you would never tell other friends. Maybe this is why human beings get angry the most at this, out of the 9 forms of infidelity in marriage.
There aren’t many studies on the percentage of emotional affairs that turn physical. But, the chances increase, if you don’t maintain physical boundaries in the 7 stages of emotional affairs. A Reddit user wrote, “With all barriers removed, a consummate knowledge of each others desires, having exchanged nudes and discussed what each other like during sex in detail and being in regular 121 situations all it takes now is a glance or a touch of the leg and it becomes physical.”
One thing you need to know is that affairs start with conversation. So, when a man hides his phone, that’s a hint that he has an emotional affair with ex/co-worker. But men who have long-term affairs cover their tracks well. So, look for signs he is emotionally attached to his ex (like him blatantly stating his deep feelings for his ex again and again).