Emotional affairs can be just as destructive to a relationship as physical cheating, and even murkier, making them difficult to resolve.
Often they’re harder to pinpoint and define than a sexual affair. “It starts out as a friendship, so it can be confusing,” says sex and relationship expert Dr. Tammy Nelson, author of “The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity.” “The important thing is to determine where a friendship crosses the line. It is a slippery slope from friend to emotional affair to a sexual relationship.” While the person involved may not feel sexual chemistry, he or she might still feel an intense sense of intimacy deep enough to make his or her partner feel it’s a form of infidelity.
The lack of defining acts or words makes this situation even more ambiguous. However, there are some clear signs that something’s amiss — and that your partner is forming an emotional bond with someone other than you. Here’s what to watch for.
1 SUDDEN SECRETIVENESS
If your partner is trying to hide something from you, you’re probably going to notice, especially if you live together. According to relationship expert Abby Rodman (abbyrodman.com), author of “Without This Ring: A Woman’s Guide to Successfully Living Through and Beyond Midlife Divorce,” your partner might start taking his or her cell phone into the bathroom or will stop texting the moment when you walk into the room. A less obvious sign is when your partner takes steps toward privacy that weren’t in place before. When you log onto a shared computer or happen to use his or phone, “you might notice all of the history has been deleted,” Rodman says. “Or you used to know his passwords, but now they’ve inexplicably been changed, leaving you wondering why.”
2 NEW INTEREST IN TECHNOLOGY
On a related note, your partner’s overall use of her smartphone may suddenly increase. Perhaps she was never really into social media or only checked her feeds every so often. Once an emotional affair is in place, however, these digital platforms may be the primary way she communicates with the person she’s become involved with, since they make the relationship easier to hide. “Social-media sites are perfect havens for emotional cheaters,” says Rodman. “Snapchat is an obvious favorite, and LinkedIn gives involved coworkers an acceptable platform for connecting.”
3 MENTIONING THE OTHER PERSON REPEATEDLY
“When someone gets emotionally involved with another person, those feelings have a tendency to spill out into the other realms of life,” Rodman says. So you may find your partner continually quoting the person he or she is having the affair with or inserting that person’s name into conversation. For instance, you might mention wanting to go to the farmers market this weekend and your partner responds by telling you about that questionable “friend’s” opinion about why organic food isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Another related sign to look for, according to cognitive behavioral therapist Alex Hedger (DynamicYou.org), is if your partner seems to be extremely aware of more personal details about another person than you think is reasonable.
4 DISCONNECTING FROM YOU
When your partner is getting attention and emotional reinforcement from someone else, he or she may start detaching from you, Hedger says. Your partner might stop discussing problems or bad days with you, but “he won’t show any outward signs of stress,” he explains. “This is due to him still getting his needs met outside of the relationship.” Physical detachment might happen as well, says licensed psychologist Dr. Kimber Shelton (kls-counseling.com), who treats patients in various relationship stages, from dating to divorce. “People become connected to the fantasy of another person,” she says. “Included in this fantasy could be an imagined sexual relationship, in which intimacy with you feels like an emotional betrayal to the other person.”
5 BECOMING CRITICAL OF YOU
In addition to pulling away emotionally or physically, your partner might also put you down. One reason, according to marriage counselor and infidelity specialist Lisa Ryan, LPC (advocacycircle.com), is also due to your partner comparing you to the fantasy of the other person. However, he or she may also start putting you down out of guilt. On a related note, your partner may lash out at you if you happen to criticize the object of her affection. One of the more common signs is if he or she gets extremely defensive if anything even slightly negative is said about the person he or she may be having an emotional affair with, according to Michelle Katz, LPN, MSN (about.me/michellekatz).
6 FAILING THE GUT CHECK
Other signs might be your partner changing the way he or she dresses, suddenly becoming more lighthearted or behaving immaturely in a way that is out of character, Ryan says. However, “emotional cheating needn’t disrupt daily routine in order for it to be going on,” Rodman warns. “Your gut is a pretty good indicator when something’s not right in your relationship. Don’t ignore it.” You might consider confronting your partner, suggests licensed marriage and family therapist Marni Feurman, LCSW, LMFT, (TheTalkingSolution.com) by saying something like, “I don’t feel as close to you lately, and it’s starting to scare me.” It may initiate a difficult conversation that can help you get you some clarity.
ARE YOU HAVING AN EMOTIONAL AFFAIR?
You may be confused about whether you’re getting too close to someone outside of your relationship. “The first sign is what you’re sharing with him or her. If this person knows more about what’s going on in your life than your partner does, you’ve already entered dangerous territory,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Anita A. Chlipala, M.A., M.Ed., LMFT, (relationshipreality312.com). “Second, if you’re hiding interactions with this person from your partner, it’s probably no longer just a friendship.” Also beware of your friend’s words or actions that border on overly intimate or inappropriate. Without firmly letting this person know he or she has stepped over the line, it may seem like you’re condoning and even encouraging the behavior. The bottom line? Try to practice empathy and look at the situation through your partner’s eyes. If you don’t want your mate to see or hear your interactions, then you are probably violating the trust in the relationship.