Relationship and Psychology
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The Tao of Relationships: Facing the inevitable
Emotional affairs: another form of cheating?
Bronwyn Beckett asks whether an emotional affair is also cheating?

When one hears the words “affair” or "cheating”, images of someone walking into their bedroom finding their partner in bed with someone else springs to mind instantly - the two guilty parties hurriedly tugging at twisted bedding to cover their modesty.

The general consensus is that sexual intercourse with someone other than one's partner is the key ingredient that damages the relationship, followed by betrayal and deceit.

How about emotional affairs where sex is not involved? Is having an emotional affair also cheating?
What is an emotional affair?

An emotional affair occurs when someone has as an innocent friendship with a person other than their spouse or partner, which grows into a deeper relationship, as intimate thoughts and feelings are shared.

Over time the two people, who already have an existing, but unacknowledged sexual attraction between them, develop an intense emotional connection.

The friendship is nourished at the expense of the romantic relationship. Left unchecked, it can quickly escalate into a sexual affair.

While sexual intercourse may not have taken place, it is still cheating. By engaging in an emotional affair, one is literally cheating one’s partner out of the affection and emotional intimacy meant for them, and giving it to someone else.

The deceit and betrayal are as painful as if a sexual affair had taken place.
How do emotional affairs start?

Most emotional affairs are not actively sought, but begin as friendships. At a weak moment, a man may confide in a female colleague about problems he is experiencing in his relationship. With time, the two colleagues open up more to one another and an emotional connection is forged.

In many cases, there is dissatisfaction with the romantic relationship. There may be pressures at home, or the person feels unheard, and in need of company and attention.

Technology like the internet, cellular phones and social networks make it possible within seconds to connect with people all over the world. Socialising, dating and even marriage proposals happen over the internet. Such high levels of access make it easy to start emotional affairs online.
Here are some of the indications an emotional affair is taking place:


The friendship is kept secret from the partner or spouse, and quietly nurtured in intimate meetings and discussions. All traces of the affair are kept secret. For instance, cellular phones will be well-guarded and phone calls may be taken privately.

If the affair is online, your partner may be spending excessive time on the internet, perhaps getting up earlier in the morning or staying up late at night to go online, and not letting you see what they are doing.


Lies are told about the amount of time they are spending with the friend, or they may pretend to be somewhere else when they are really with that person.

The deception shows that they know they are doing something they believe is wrong, or they would have nothing to hide. Sharing intimate details - often private details of their relationship - are discussed with the friend, such as problems being experienced with their partner, or flaws and faults the partner has.

Quietly to herself, a woman involved in an emotional affair may idealise the friend, perhaps measuring her partner up to her friend, seeing where her partner falls short.

Emotional distancing in romantic relationship

While she is completely open in her friendship about her feelings, her romantic relationship suffers as she has less and less meaningful conversations with her partner.

There is a decline in emotional and sexual intimacy with her partner, and she may even be critical of him, resulting in increased arguments. Conversations are short and defensive with little or no details, while affectionate behaviours such as cuddling and holding hands lessen, or stop altogether.


The person involved in an emotional affair will laugh it off when confronted by a suspicious partner and say it is only a friendship. It is not a sexual relationship, which makes them feel they are innocent of any wrongdoing. With secrecy and deception they announce implicitly, however, that they are guilty.

Sexual attraction

The friendship is flirtatious and there is an unacknowledged sexual attraction between the friends, increased through the thrill of sneaking around. The interactions between the two bring excitement and pleasurable feelings that are addictive. Each looks forward to the next meeting, text or telephone conversation.

Looking good

More effort and time than usual is spent on grooming themselves, as if going out on a date. They may dress up more, start working out, wear a different perfume or buy new lingerie.

Many of those who succumb to emotional affairs are unhappy with the state of their relationships and find it difficult to communicate with their partners. It is much easier to seek comfort and pleasure outside of one’s relationship, than to knuckle down and work through problems with one’s partner.

Emotional affairs are illusions, and as with every new romantic infatuation, there is the initial excitement which eventually fades. Is the bond you and your partner worked for years to create worth risking for something that is not real?

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