Most of the time an emotional affair happens without anyone realizing that it has happened. In fact, emotional affairs are often the product of good intentions and what are considered to be polite or kind habits, such as not wanting to burden your partner. By not recognizing the signs, many men and women are unaware of the negative effects an emotional affair can have on the marriage.
Here are some common habits that can quickly turn into an emotional affair:
1. Comparisons. Developing a habit to compare your partner with someone else can make it easy to begin an emotional affair. For example, if you feel your partner does not notice you or is not as affectionate as you would like but you have not addressed this with him or her, you may start to feel invisible or resentful. You may then begin to notice that your co-worker gives you a hug every day or compliments your new shirt, which could lead you to think how much more attentive your co-worker is than your spouse. Such negative comparisons can set up a bad habit of recognizing everything your partner is missing and looking for it in other people.
2. Avoiding burden. There is a fine line between being careful not to over-burden your spouse for good reason and using it as an excuse to turn away. If your partner is having a particularly difficult time at work or is ill, that may not be the best time to bring up your concerns about the relationship. However, if you find yourself regularly using this as the reason to divulge your thoughts to someone else, that can be the breeding ground for an emotional affair.
3. Filling needs. It is common knowledge that no one relationship, marriage or otherwise, can meet every single need an individual has. Therefore, having friends to engage in common activities that your partner may not enjoy is very healthy for a relationship. However, if you start noticing that you are filling multiple needs by turning away from your partner and toward someone else, that can be a sign that your relationship with that person is more than just a benign friendship.
4. Avoiding conflict. Couples who are stuck in a negative communication style often find themselves avoiding conflict because they can recite exactly how the conversation will go. This can leave one or both partners feeling unsafe to talk to each other and in turn may look to someone else to help them feel validated and supported.
5. Lost that loving feeling. Couples who have stopped nurturing their intimacy are at risk for looking to emotional affairs. They may thrive on compliments or deep conversations with someone else because their partner is no longer providing them. Couples who also have started living parallel lives are also at this same risk. These are not necessarily couples who have fallen out of love with each other but are either too busy, too stressed or too distracted by work, family, or other responsibilities to prioritize the romance in their relationship and have instead become roommates.
6. Life becomes a chore. When conversations are filled with to-do lists instead of conversations about each others’ day, couples can lose the fun in their marriage. Life situations like moving, a new job, or having children can change the dynamic of the marriage and slowly partners may relate to each other in a very task-oriented way instead of relating to each other by having fun together.
Emotional affairs often begin with innocuously and don’t necessarily turn into sexual affairs. Most of the time the individual is not looking to start an affair or to hurt their partner. But they are lonely, feel invisible, stressed or resentful and a relationship that has started out as a friendship starts to take on more meaning. It is a slow process and most people don’t realize they are in an emotional affair until it has progressed significantly.
The litmus test to identify if your friendship with someone is truly a friendship is to ask yourself, “How would my partner feel if they were here right now?” If the answer is that he or she would be uncomfortable on any level, then it is not a friendship.
The best way to avoid an emotional affair is to communicate to your partner if you are feeling lonely or sad or to bring it up yourself if you notice your partner feeling down. Find a time that is convenient for each other and talk about what is going on for each of you. The longer the problem is avoided the more the relationship will erode and it will be difficult to fix.
If you are worried that your partner may be on the path to having an emotional affair, raise your concerns with your partner. Share that you feel uncomfortable with your partner spending time with someone else and be upfront that you are missing that kind of closeness in your relationship.