Emotional Affair: The Warning Signs

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 This is a true story about a couple where one of the partners had an emotional affair. John (not his real name) was married to Jill for approximately 30 years; the two of them were very much in love with each other.  

The affair started innocently when John opened a Facebook account on the encouragement of his children so they could send him pictures and share them on Facebook. 

Initially, he didn’t have many friends but gradually he started receiving friend requests from a number of people; it was exciting.  After a few months, he reconnected with some of his old friends from high school. He learned there was a high school reunion of his graduating class, but he was unable to attend because of work. That was when he started receiving requests from some of his old classmates, including a girl he once had a crush on. We’ll call her Jennifer.    

John and Jennifer were from two different crowds; she used to hang out with the jocks and he was a “band geek” and hung out with the creative kids. They barely interacted except for a couple of shared classes or at the football games. She was a cheerleader and he played sax in the marching band. The last he had heard from Jennifer she had gotten pregnant and was married to the captain of the football team.  He never had the courage to talk with her, let alone ask her out on a date. When he received the friend request and saw her name, all of the feelings and memories of her came flooding back. He felt like that high schooler with an adolescent crush once again.  

John always thought that Jennifer could have done better than her boyfriend.   He accepted the friend request on Facebook and sent her a friendly personal message never expecting her to reply. Jennifer responded rather quickly and John learned she was now divorced, had two children, and was going back to school to get her teaching degree.    

John was working as an accountant in one of the major accounting firms in San Francisco.  He and Jill had tried to have children with no success and their sex life was struggling due to all the infertility issues.  Sex had turned into a chore where the only goal was to get pregnant.  John felt pretty lonely in his marriage, wondering where the fun had gone. 

Reconnecting with Jennifer was a breath of fresh air. They began to reminisce about school, work, and each other’s families.  They had a good conversation without anything intimate. He began to have regular chats with her on his lunch breaks. They talked about her dating life. He even helped her pick potential dates from the list on match.com; it was all quite innocent and fun. 

John did not see anything wrong what his contact with Jennifer.  He and Jennifer were developing a friendship rather quickly. He started to look forward to their interactions and wondered whether he should tell Jill about Jennifer. He made the choice not to because he felt she would make a big deal out of it.  There wasn’t anything wrong with their friendship. John was feeling a lot more positive about things in his life since he started talking with her.  It would just make Jill insecure if he told her about their connection. He didn’t see that it was necessary, nothing inappropriate was going on. 

When a crisis hit his family and Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer he was scared out of his mind. He reached out to his friend Jennifer. He began to share his fears about this; she was so understanding, warm and caring.  Once the floodgates were open, John shared everything that he felt about his wife, their sex life, and the frustrations about their relationship with Jennifer.

Their communication changed from Facebook to FaceTime to Skype. Seeing her again live and in person began to impact him and he realized he was falling in love with her. He was now having an emotional affair with Jennifer.  He was still keeping their relationship a secret from his wife. Dialogues that once lasted minutes now became hours.

 John told Jennifer that he was falling in love with her. He began to look for opportunities to reach out to her, texting her, Face Timing her etc., and couldn’t imagine a day going by without speaking with her.  He was betraying his wife and his marriage with this emotional affair. This was not his intention; it swept upon him. 

What is an emotional affair?

An emotional affair is defined as when a partner invests emotional energy into another person other than the person they are committed to. Often people misunderstand this kind of infidelity and look at cheating more from a sexual perspective.

In an emotional affair, it is often much more difficult to resolve because people often say they have fallen in love with the other person. We all go through difficult periods with our partners. There are times that we feel more connected than others. The key here is whether or not we reach for partners in an effort to improve the emotional disconnection when we’re not feeling close to each other. 

 If you find yourself being secretive in talking with other people, particularly if it’s the opposite sex, those are some of the danger signs. The question I like to ask is if we video or audio taped your conversation with that person, would your partner feel comfortable with the content that was being shared? If not, you shouldn’t be having this conversation. An emotional affair is a betrayal. 

Most people will tell you if they had to choose between their partner having a one night stand or an emotional affair the emotional affair is far more devastating.

What are the ways to recover from an emotional affair?

1.    You must terminate all contact from the emotional affair. This becomes complicated if this is someone at work. This may require leaving your job.

2.    You must inform the person that you may no longer interact with them in order to salvage your current relationship. There should be no contact. None.

3.    You must inform your partner about the affair and let them know this has been going on and for how long.  Be vulnerable and authentic with them telling them this something that has occurred, and why you feel it happened. This is critical! You must take full responsibility for the affair.

4.    Work on creating a new relationship with your partner that is more authentic and vulnerable. This will require professional help. Most couples cannot do this alone.

5.    Develop a deeper friendship and start sharing your thoughts and feelings in order to establish a secure relationship. Repair and heal from the betrayal.

6.    Repairing this injury will take a tremendous amount of work and you cannot set any limit on how long it might take. Have a joint commitment that you will work together to establish a secure trusting relationship by talking about the emotional needs that have been lacking in the relationship. You must commit to working on this however long it takes. It doesn’t matter how long because you are spending a lifetime together 

Watch for the danger signs in your relationship and if you feel like you are drawn to a close friendship with another person outside your relationship put on the brakes. Instead, turn to your partner to fix what might be lacking in yourself and your relationship before you make the mistake that John made and ruin a loving relationship. 


About the Author:

Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships. As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel and by subscription in Stuart's Daily Notes. Stuart is happily married and a devoted father of 2 daughters. His office practice serves the greater Phoenix, Arizona area including the cities of Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.