When it comes to marriage, what are the limits for friendship with a member of the opposite sex?
There can be a very fine line between a friendship and an emotional affair. While everyone needs someone to confide in and vent their emotional frustrations to, at what point does this friendship cross that line?
While emotional affairs do not involve physical contact, they can be damaging to a relationship.
If you are examining your own friendship with someone of the opposite sex or scrutinizing the friendships your partner has, it’s important to understand the distinction in order to maintain trust and security in your relationship.
What is an Emotional Affair?
Everyone has friendships, especially close ones. We tend to share a lot with close friends, including intimate and personal details.
Some may argue that doing so with a member of the opposite sex constitutes an emotional affair. However, it’s not as simple as that. Everyone should have the right to choose who they confide in – it’s how they portray this friendship and establish boundaries that make a difference.
For instance, if you have a close friendship with a coworker of the opposite sex, but fail to disclose it to this partner, this is an emotional affair. Hiding your emotional bond to someone else creates a situation of distrust.
Also, having a deep emotional friendship with someone of the opposite sex is a slippery slope to attraction and sexual chemistry. Without proper boundaries in place, this friendship could pull you away from your partnership.
Emotional affairs can wreak havoc on relationships – not only because of the distrust they cause but because you may be expelling more “emotional energy” on this friend and not enough on your partner or family.
Most emotional affairs, and physical affairs as well, start as innocent friendships. Most of the time there is no intention for things to progress to anything – but they easily can.
If you’re looking to check yourself, or are concerned about your partner’s close friendships, here are some signs you should watch out for:
Signs of an Emotional Affair
I’ve already mentioned secrecy as being a huge defining factor of an emotional affair, but there are many other signs to look out for as well.
- Frequent Contact: Frequent communication when not together and at questionable hours. A lot of time devoted to texting, emailing, and calling.
- Frequent Sharing: The friend is the first person to know of any “news” or bad days.
- Constant Thoughts: The person takes over thoughts and makes it difficult to concentrate. This may also include romantic or sexual fantasies.
- Feeling Understood: The belief that the friend “gets” the partner and understands them better than their spouse does. Shared interests and a lot of common create the perception of a unique connection.
- Inappropriate Sharing: Discussion of personal topics, including issues in the current relationship.
- Unfair Comparisons: Frequent comparison of the friend to the partner. Anger toward the partner for not behaving like the friend as well as an increase in criticism of the partner.
- Spending More Time Together: Finding excuses and creating reasons to spend time with them as well as excuses to avoid spending time with the partner.
While these are very covert signs (you can’t read your partner’s mind, after all), there are some red flags in there that can be recognizable if your partner is having an emotional affair.
Otherwise, if you find yourself doing any of these things, it’s time to reevaluate your friendship and your relationship.
Do Emotional Affairs Destroy Relationships?
An emotional affair can definitely hurt a marriage if you or your partner feel that mutual trust was violated. Salvaging the relationship depends entirely on rebuilding that trust and allowing the other partner time to heal.
This involves ending the friendship to gain back trust.
However, if the emotional affair leads to a physical one, there is more to unpack and address. This may simply take time or even a visit to a couples therapist.
Overall, many relationships survive affairs when both partners are committed to saving the partnership and changing the dynamics that led to the emotional or physical affair. Surveys have actually shown that almost 80% of people who divorced their partner because of an affair regretted the decision.
Why Do People Have Emotional Affairs?
It’s safe to say that very few emotional affairs begin by choice. As mentioned above, emotional affairs typically stem from innocent friendships.
However, there could be an underlying motivation for beginning the friendship such as physical attraction. This tends to suggest that the possibility of an affair was not off the table.
Whatever the reason, affairs generally occur because of stress in the relationship with one partner reaching out for a quick fix instead of addressing the issue.
Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Affairs
Emotional affairs are not a cut-and-dry occurrence with a rule book. Here are some questions you may still have about emotional affairs:
Does texting count?
It does and makes having an emotional affair easier than it was before. Texting can start off as harmless and easily become something deeper.
The same goes for social media.
I think my partner is having an emotional affair. How do I bring this up?
While you definitely need to raise your concerns to your partner, you want to do it in a way that doesn’t cause them to become defensive. Compassionate communication is a conversation style that avoids blaming or attacking the other person.
I had an emotional affair. How do I tell my partner?
Admitting to having an emotional affair can be terrifying. While you want to be honest, you don’t want to lose the relationship. However, being open is the only way forward.
Start the conversation by prioritizing honesty and accountability. Take responsibility for what you did and don’t blame your partner for your choices.
Does this mean I can’t have friends of the opposite sex?
Not at all but you have to be aware that doing so directly affects the dynamic of your relationship.
The important thing to remember when having friends of the opposite sex is to establish clear boundaries and be honest with your partner about your friendship.
I’m not sure if my partner is having an emotional affair and I don’t want to wrongly accuse them. How can I find out if they are?
As I said, some signs of emotional affairs are hard to spot because they happen internally. However, pay attention to see if your partner is more distracted (especially on his or her phone) as well as whether or not they guard their phone and/or computer.
You may also notice your partner talking about a new friend a lot and even start comparing you to them.
Dealing With an Emotional Affair
Emotional affairs can be just as damaging as physical ones but can be more easily avoided.
If you find yourself becoming friends with someone of the opposite sex, make sure to establish not only boundaries but your true intentions as well.
Always be open and honest with your partner to maintain a strong and healthy relationship.