What is an Emotional Affair?

Sexuality infidelity is pretty cut and dry; one partner steps outside the bounds of the relationship and engages in sexual activity with someone other than their spouse. An emotional affair can be defined as having emotional intimacy, under the guise of friendship, without consummation of a physical relationship. An “Affair of the Heart” is an emotionally charged relationship that makes it impossible for the person to be emotionally engaged with and available to their spouse.

In fact, emotional affairs often occur because one person in the marriage needs emotional space from their spouse. Unfortunately, because the emotional affair affects the dynamics of the marriage and the closeness within it, it has the capacity to be as injurious to the committed relationship as a one-night stand or other sexual acting out behaviors. In fact, some people find emotional affairs to be a greater betrayal than sexual infidelity because such tender, private and intimate feelings have been expressed toward an outside person.

emotional affair

Emotional Conflict, Emotional Distance, and Denial

Emotional affairs often occur when someone is conflicted about their marital attachment; they are not happy inside the relationship, but they do not want to end it. As such, there is a strong need to distance themselves from the primary relationship, while at the same time feeling that they are doing nothing wrong. The defense mechanisms of rationalization and denial are predominant, with the “cheating” partner often feeling that she or he is doing nothing wrong since they are not doing anything sexually.

Despite feeling at a surface conscious level that they have a harmless, innocent relationship with someone else, the “cheating” spouse often hides from their spouse the content of the conversations with their special friend, the frequency of their contact, and lie about meeting up with them. Despite their outward denial, they know, at some level, that they are engaging in inappropriate behavior or they would not go to such lengths to conceal it.

Signs of an Emotional Affair

  • Increased marital fighting over the cheating spouse’s friend.
  • Lying about the intensity or frequency of contact or meetings with this friend.
  • The cheating spouse discussing marital problems with the friend.
  • An inability to admit that this might be an inappropriate relationship. The cheating spouse may refer to the person repeatedly as “only a friend” despite marital tension and conflict.
  • There is an obvious physical attraction between the cheating spouse and the friend.
  • The cheating spouse discusses feelings, issues, and thoughts with their friend instead of their spouse.

However, an emotional affair may be able to be overcome with professional help. If you’re looking for a marriage counselor for this or some other reason, Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW is a marriage and couples counselor in the Irvine, Newport Beach, and Orange County area. She can be contacted at (949) 251-8797 or reach out online to schedule an appointment.

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Chris B.5.0
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Kids are always hard and as a parent it's not always easy to see objectively what is really going on. Jennifer helped me talk through challenges/issues with my oldest son that were running through my head. In the end she provided me a solid perspective to build on and because of that I have been able to manage the situation much better. Easy conversation and very helpful.
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Jennifer is such a wonderful and genuine therapist. She is extremely kind and understanding. She comprehends couple and mental health problems precisely. I would definitely recommend her to anyone that is seeking help.
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Jennifer is such a wonderful and genuine therapist. She is extremely kind and understanding. She comprehends couple and mental health problems precisely. I would definitely recommend her to anyone that is seeking help.
Timothy 5.0
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I have been seeing Jennifer De Francisco for about a year, and she has helped me so much with the unhappiness I thought would never go away. Jennifer’s compassion and empathy made me feel safe enough to open up and talk about the uncomfortable feelings I didn’t even know were causing my sadness. With Jennifer’s help, I am now aware of my negative thoughts. Instead of avoiding them, I can work through them. She has helped change my life.
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It was tough when we first started with Jennifer , but through difficult conversations and understanding some of the causes of how closed off we were to each other, we worked through it and are in a good place. The idea that we could break up is the furthest thing from my mind now, and going in to work on our relationship was the best thing to do. One of the things that really helped was that I felt Jennifer really cared that our relationship worked and that we improved things between us. I think that is rare, and always helped me not give up hope.
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