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What Is An Emotional Affair And What To Do About It

Research shows that heterosexual men are much less likely to get upset about emotional affairs than they are about affairs where physical/sexual contact has occurred. Women are more likely to be upset about emotional affairs.

What are emotional affairs? How are they different from regular affairs?

An emotional affair happens when two people develop powerful feelings for each other and develop an intimate relationship. However, the relationship isn’t consummated sexually. It is considered an “affair” because one or both parties are married or otherwise committed.

Edith and John

Edith and John are both married to other people and they are neighbors. They became enamored of each other when their spouses and they became good friends. They spent a lot of time socializing as couples.

Over time, Edith and John’s affection grew into something much deeper than friendship. They felt electricity in the room when they were together. They would make longing eye contact with each other at parties. All they could think about was each other.

Edith couldn’t sleep because she was absolutely obsessed with John. John had trouble concentrating at work. He found reasons to go to Edith’s, for example, to borrow the lawnmower or the weed eater. He walked the dog in front of Edith’s house twice a day just to have an excuse to talk to her.

Finally, Edith and John started meeting for lunch and secretly emailing each other. They talked about their deep feelings for each other and even bought each other gifts. This “affair” was not sexually consummated because they both decided they didn’t want to break up their families and suffer the humiliation of an extramarital affair in their community.

John and Edith eventually said “good-bye.” They were heartbroken for years afterward, even though their affair never became physical.

Why do emotional affairs happen?

Sometimes, emotional affairs happen on trains during commuting time. Or, even at work where there can be repeated interactions. Research shows that the internet is increasingly becoming a way for affairs to start.

Usually, both parties have some powerful lack of fulfillment in their lives that allows these feelings to take root. Perhaps it is an unhappy marriage, a miserable life stage, severe stress, or something that is propelling them forward into what seems to be a scintillating and exciting distraction.

In addition, I believe a person can meet someone and be powerfully attracted to them. Monogamy has been questioned many times, even in science, as to whether or not it is a “natural” state of being. After all, we are given powerful sexual feelings and a deep need to connect intimately with others. Do you think it is possible to meet others that fit our personal needs more perfectly than someone we are with?

What to do if you are having or considering having an emotional affair … 

  1. Think carefully about this. What might seem like a fun and harmless “adventure” could turn into something that ends up hurting you and the people you love. If you are an impulsive person, this is particularly important.
  2. Realize that you may be falling for fantasy. It is easy to fall for someone when you don’t actually live with that person and deal with his or her dark sides. Long-term relationships can be hard. There are bills to pay, decisions to negotiate, moods to navigate. Know you may be caught up in a fantasy of what you think the other person is like.
  3. Use these feelings toward another person as a motivator to look at your “stuff.” Find out what is going on in your marriage or your life that is leading you into this situation. If it were okay to have a physical relationship, you probably already would have. What do you need to address in your life that isn’t being addressed?
  4. Get support if you are in an emotional affair and there are others involved who may get hurt. Talking to a therapist could be very useful.
  5. If you are spiritual or religious, this is a time to go to your Higher Power for direction, guidance and support. These situations can be quite painful and overwhelming.
  6. Know going into one of these affairs that they can be just as painful as a physical affair.
What Is An Emotional Affair And What To Do About It

Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW

Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. Winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award in the Women's Issues category - Stop Giving It Away.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). What Is An Emotional Affair And What To Do About It. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jan 2018
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