What’s an emotional affair?

An emotional affair is that grey area where you know you’re more than just platonic friends with someone outside your relationship.

There’s an emotional connection, an intimacy and often an attraction to each other - even if there's no physical or sexual interaction between the two of you.

You’re likely to keep an emotional affair secret from your partner because, deep down, you know they would not be happy about it. When it’s discovered,  you might describe it as just a ‘friendship’.

However, just because there’s no sex, it doesn’t mean this relationship with someone else is not as much - if not more - threatening to your partner than a physical affair.

What does an emotional affair involve?

Some key components of an emotional affair might be that, although you say this person is just a friend, you have way more interactions with them than you would with just a regular friend.

You feel excited about talking to them, often texting and emailing each other all day and night. You might have exchanged personal gifts that show you are close and know each other well. You can share intimate secrets and might tell this person any special news first, before telling your partner.

Worst of all, you might talk to them in depth about any of your marital or relationship problems, creating a bond with them that can make it feel like they understand you better than your partner.

You might not yet have slept with this person, but often there can be an undertone of the possibility in your interactions. There may be a physical attraction there and a flirtatious nature to your conversations.

Or there may be no real physical attraction at all, but may you still enjoy getting that emotional attention and interest from someone else, especially if you're not getting it in your relationship.

It’s become a cliché when you see those films and TV shows where someone finds out their partner's having an affair and the first question they ask is: ‘are you in love with them?’

But the point is, an emotional connection can be way more threatening than a one night stand or meaningless sex because it presents the possibility that your partner could actually leave you for this other person.

Why do emotional affairs happen?

At Relate, we know that strong healthy relationships are fundamentally based on trust and honesty, so emotional affairs can be hugely damaging. However, I believe emotional affairs are often symptomatic of something that's missing or going wrong in the original relationship - and discovering an emotional affair can be an opportunity to look at this.

Perhaps you’ve felt unable to talk to your partner for a long time because they’re too busy. Or maybe they get angry or upset easily if you want to talk about anything difficult. If you're in a relationship where you feel a lack of connection with your partner it can leave you feeling lonely and isolated - so when someone else comes along and shows an interest, it can feel like what you’ve been longing for.

Dealing with emotional affairs in the counselling room

It can be really confusing for the partner of someone having an emotional affair. Often, the person will insist the relationship is purely a friendship and won’t admit to doing anything wrong, which can make their partner feel unable to address the truth of the situation.

In Relationship Counselling, when we talk about and acknowledge what an emotional affair is, it can be a huge relief to clients. Counselling provides the couple with the chance to talk about what was going on in their relationship before the emotional affair started and have a think about how they got to this place. It can take time and is sometimes a difficult process, but communicating about any underlying issues can be the start of reconnecting and recommitting to the relationship.

If you think your partner is having an emotional affair – or that you may be embarking on one yourself – I would recommend giving Relationship Counselling a go.

If you’re not sure about the whole process, you might like to try our free Live Chat service, which allows you to speak to a trained counsellor for free online. It’s a great way of ‘dipping your toe’ into counselling and finding out a bit more about how it works and how it can help.