An Emotional Affair: Definition, Signs, and What To Do Next


Your partner isn’t even leaving the house, but you’re suspicious something’s up… COVID19 isolation may help you uncover an emotional affair.

They have been distant lately, constantly talking to a new friend, or bringing up someone’s name way too often. They message, hangout, and sometimes make you feel like a third wheel in your own relationship.

Is this an emotional affair? Or just a platonic friendship?

What Is An Emotional Affair?

An emotional affair is a personal, intimate connection with another individual who isn’t your partner. Some describe it as an affair of the heart, rather than a physical affair. Your partner starts becoming more invested in this new person than in you, and the imbalance can eat away at your relationship.

There is nothing wrong with developing new friendships when you’re in a relationship. In fact, it’s perfectly healthy to have activities and parts of your life separate from your partner’s. However, emotional affairs become apparent once a deep friendship (or more) starts to take priority over a significant other.

How Is An Emotional Affair Different Than A Physical One?

While a physical affair is what’s most commonly seen in movies or shows, an emotional affair can be much harder to notice. Secret texts, sharing of personal information, and an underlying sexual attraction are harder to notice than finding your partner in bed with someone else.

Emotional affairs, or affairs of the heart, can drain away at the strength and trust in a relationship over time. Little things you notice make you doubt yourself and your partner. But without any hard “evidence” to grasp onto, you might feel like you’re being paranoid, but can’t shake the feeling something’s up.. Sometimes, emotional affairs are a slippery slope to a full blown physical affair. 

Signs of An Emotional Affair

Now that we know what emotional affairs are, how do we spot them? Do you think you might be in an emotional affair? Is your partner? Here are some common signs of an emotional affair:

Signs You’re Having An Emotional Affair With Your “Friend”

  1. You like to give your ‘friend’ frequent presents
  2. You feel distance between your partner and you
  3. You prefer to spend time with your friend over your partner 
  4. You share your problems with your friend instead of your partner
  5. You can see yourself attracted to your friend, even if it’s only a thought
  6. You get defensive when confronted by your partner
  7. You think more of your friend than your partner
  8. You constantly use the phrase “we’re just friends”
  9. You hide messages or hangouts with your friend from your partner
  10. You feel guilty spending time with your friend over your partner

Signs You’re Partner Is Having An Emotional Affair

  1. You’re partner is keeping secrets
  2. Your partner is spending more time away, with less and less believable excuses
  3. Your partner withdraws from you
  4. Your partner becomes more critical of you
  5. Your partner mentions this friend, a lot
  6. Your partner makes excuses to spend time with this friend
  7. Your partner gets defensive when you ask about it
  8. Your partner starts to blame or gaslight you when you try to bring your concerns up
  9. Your partner suddenly puts more effort into their appearance
  10. Your partner’s sex drive changes for no reason

Emotional Affairs and Gaslighting

When you start to question your partner about the friendship, they may brush you off as being too nosy or insecure. Your partner may be defensive about this new friendship, and start to blame you for being paranoid instead. This kind of emotional abuse is called gaslighting, and it’s a clear attempt to cover up their emotional affair.

With continued gaslighting during your partner’s emotional affair, you may start to believe that you’re the issue. That the growing distance in the relationship is your fault, or that you’re not attentive enough. They may even call you crazy for being suspicious. 

So remember to trust your gut, and read about gaslighting to see if that’s what’s going on! Emotional affairs can be tricky to notice, but aren’t your fault.

If you feel that you’re a victim of gaslighting, consider talking to peers at Supportiv and gain the support and validation you need.

Things You Can Do If Your Partner Is Having An Emotional Affair

Nip It In the Bud

When you start to see some common signs, approach your partner early! Try to get ahead of the issue and talk to your partner about what’s going on. Your partner may be unaware of what they are doing at this stage. By talking about it earlier, you can prevent it from getting worse.

Set Boundaries

Let your partner know what you’re comfortable with when making new friendships. It’s important to know that setting boundaries is NOT the same as restricting your partner. This is an open conversation about things you feel and don’t feel comfortable with your partner doing. One example may be that you’re fine with your partner getting lunch with a friend, but maybe not hanging out at a bar alone with the friend.

Increase Communication

Communication is important in every relationship. When you and your partner are going through a tough time, put more emphasis on communication! This can be anything from simply messaging more, to having more significant talks together.

Start Asking Why

Is there a reason your partner is seeking an emotional affair? Are they worried you’ve hit a slump in the relationship? Do you need to rekindle the spark? Asking why your partner is seeking an emotional affair over your own relationship is important. This doesn’t mean it’s right, but every relationship issue should be tackled as a team.

Let Go

When your partner chooses to gaslight you instead of working on the issue, considering taking a step back from the relationship. Emotional affairs, like physical ones, can be extremely destructive. If working on the relationship is not an option, it’s okay to recognize that the relationship doesn’t fit either of your needs anymore.

Get Help

Watching your partner have an emotional affair can be emotionally draining. You can start to lose self confidence and trust. As you work through an emotional affair, reach out to peers or trusted friends for emotional support.

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