Relationship Help: The Allure of an Emotional Affair


As a marriage and couples counselor, I often witness the devastating fall out of infidelity—an affair rips apart our core assumptions about trust, love and the person we thought we knew better than anyone else. Frequently, an affair follows a particular pattern that Getting your basic emotional needs met (for validation, acceptance, praise, understanding, emotional sharing) from someone outside your marriage/relationship can turn into an emotional affair, especially when these needs are not met in your marriage.

Many of the couples I work with don’t realize how vulnerable they are to entering this type of emotional infidelity.

Relationship Help Tip: The first step in protecting your marriage/relationship from an affair is to acknowledge that everyone (including yourself) is vulnerable to an emotional and physical affair and therefore we must all be aware of the conditions that make us most susceptible to an affair (click Emotional Affair to learn about the 10 warning signs of emotional infidelity). 

Denying and minimizing the early warning signs of infidelity are common and need to be guarded against. People who have emotional affairs initially convince themselves that the relationship is purely platonic (“we’re just good friends”). But these “friendships” often do not have the clear boundaries that define other friendships.

How a Dedicated Husband Fell Prey to an Emotional Affair

John maintained a few female acquaintances through his job. His only contact with them was around work-related events, such as a group of colleagues going to lunch together. So it was unusual when he began to develop a close friendship with Kristin, a new coworker. Before he knew it, John was confiding in Kristin and they began having lunch alone together. Eight months into their friendship, John was overcome by the feeling of being in love with Kristin. John described these feelings as “unexpected” and “surprising” since he loved and was committed to his wife and family. His romantic longing for Kristin understandably devastated his wife, who was pregnant with their second child.

Unfortunately, John’s story is more common than you think. It was only after John became emotionally involved with Kristin that he started to convince himself that it was fine for him to have friends of the opposite sex. But if he had been honest about his history of friendships, he would have realized that the uniqueness of his new friendship had the potential for disaster.

Some people are comfortable making or maintaining platonic friendships with the opposite sex. They integrate these friendships effectively into their lives and the support received from these friendships does not jeopardize their marriage or romantic relationship. You know if you’re one of these people. However, if you’re someone who has rarely had a close relationship with someone of the opposite sex, or if you have the tendency to sexualize or idealize these relationships, then you should be extremely cautious about starting up such a relationship while in a committed, romantic relationship.

Check and double-check your motivation for starting a new friendship or deepening the emotional connection with an established friend. 

Care for Your Relationship Before and After Problems Arise

If there is a lack of intimacy with your partner, discuss this with him/her—not with the compassionate and attentive coworker who makes you feel special (like your spouse/partner “used to”). If you feel like your needs are going unmet in your marriage/relationship, voice your concerns to your partner.

Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to get him/her to listen even if s/he’s totally preoccupied with the children or anxious about making next month’s mortgage payment. Remember, your mate was once the only confidant you wanted or needed. Finding ways for your partner to be that sole confidant once again is the challenge we all face when in a long-term committed relationship.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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