It usually starts pretty innocently: a text exchange, a reconnection via Facebook, a regular coffee date to catch up, but before you know it, you're sharing more personal information with this other person than your spouse or significant other.
While everyone should be entitled to have a private life outside of their core intimate relationship, how do you know if you've entered the world of emotional affairs? Here are a few tell-tale signs:
- Are you sharing personal information about your core intimate relationship/spouse/partner with this other person in a way that you would never share with your spouse/partner?
On the surface, answering yes to this question by itself certainly does not mean that you're having an emotional affair. Modern intimate relationships have this unspoken expectation that our partner/spouse has the be our best friend, lover, confidant, business partner, etc. All these attributions can take a major toll on a marriage when there's an absence of intentional work given to the relationship. So it can make it less safe to talk to a partner about some insecurity or fear that you have in order to not rock the boat. Especially when things are not going well between you, it's understandable that you might want to turn to someone else for support and guidance. However, let's say your partner is welcoming and open to conversation, if you still would rather turn to this other person instead, then you may be heading toward an emotional affair.
- Would you be ok having your partner read/listen on the exchanges you are having with this person?
This anchors back to the first question: assuming that everything was in fact innocent and completely platonic, would you be ok with your spouse/partner to read or hear your conversations with this other person? If not, then it's important to ask yourself why that is. Is it because you can't be open/vulnerable with your spouse or is it because you know deep down you are crossing a boundary within your marriage that would create a sense of betrayal? If you're erasing your text exchanges or going out of your way to find an intimate spot to meet so that you don't run into anyone you know who could overhear, then you've (possibly) crossed an important line.
- Are you spending more time thinking or planning the next time you'll be in contact (physically or virtually) with this other person than you do with your spouse/partner?
Now this is a question where there are clearer indications that you may be having an emotional affair. There's a finite amount of energy we can expend on intimacy and emotional bonding, so if you're spending more time thinking, planning, anticipating the next time you'll be in touch with this other person, then it's a definite red flag.
- Are you comparing this other person with your partner/spouse that's ultimately casting your significant other in a negative light?
We all make comparisons, it's part of how we make decisions or judgment-calls about things that matter (well, even things that don't matter!). However, what can often happen when you're engaged in an emotional affair is the type of comparison that is not going through the lens of objectivity, but rather through the lens of "isn't this person just AMAZING?!". Even things you didn't know you liked/disliked suddenly become points of comparison. If you are starting to nit-pic at everything your partner/spouse does or says just because this other person does or says things differently, you're probably in an emotional affair. This type of mental gymnastics is indicative of an emotional distancing that is counterintuitive to closeness and connection with your spouse/partner.
When it comes to infidelity (physical or emotional), Esther Perel talks about affairs as living in the intersection of three important elements: a secretive relationship, an emotional connection (of some sort), and sexual alchemy. While sexual affairs are often easier to clearly know when a line has been crossed, emotional affairs are not always so clear cut. Every relationship has its own set of rules/boundaries/guidelines that will in the end put you in the realm of affairs and infidelity.
**** If you are having an emotional affair or have found out that your partner has been having an affair, I invite you to schedule a free phone consultation to determine how I can help you process the fall-out from this realization or discovery.****