Emotional affairs are very real things. In fact, over half of all emotional affairs start out innocently as online friendships. More than 70 percent of those friendships or flirtations will end up as real time affairs.
So how do you know if you are having an emotional affair? It typically starts out as a friendship, so it can be confusing to discern when things become inappropriate or unacceptable. The important thing is to determine where your friendship crosses the line. It's a slippery slope from friend to emotional affair and then to secretive sexual relationship. If you are married or in a committed partnership and believe you might be walking that thin line, you may want to take a good look at your intentions, actions and feelings. You can stop your emotional affair now before it's too late.
Many emotional affairs start at work. Having a friend or a "cube mate" can be a lifesaver if you are working long hours in a less-than-perfect environment. It feels great to have found someone special to talk to, someone who makes you laugh and with whom you can share your day-to-day frustrations -- even your hopes and dreams.
But if you find that this person is someone you are also attracted to, even a little bit, you may end up taking things too far. Here are some things to watch for:
- You are sharing frustrations about your marriage or relationship. If you are telling your work friend all about your problems at home, you are asking for trouble. You're creating a unique intimacy with this person and cutting out your partner at home, essentially creating a bond with your new friend to the exclusion of your partner. Once you have established that you can talk negatively about your partner with this person, you are setting up a close and emotional relationship, as well as an opening where this person can move in to fill the needs that your partner isn't. This is a difficult question, but one you should ask yourself: are you sharing your unmet needs to subconsciously see if this person will meet them?
- You begin testing the waters. You are watching to see how far you can take the sexy banter. Sure, it's fun to tell dirty jokes occasionally. And yes, it might be okay to send them that sexy YouTube music video — depending on context. But think about why you are doing it. And be honest with yourself: are you testing them to gauge their reaction? Perhaps they are telling you the things you want to hear, and as such, you are now pushing the envelope to see how far things will really go. Riding the edge can be exciting, but it can also be dangerous and disrespectful to your partner.
- You contact them outside of "friendship hours." If they start calling you in the evening, you are crossing the line. If you are texting on the weekends, you are no longer just work friends. If you find yourself waiting for those texts and those phone calls, anxiously checking your phone and responding immediately, you should refocus your attention and look honestly at the situation. You may be more emotionally involved with them at this point than with your spouse. Ask yourself: is there more to this friendship than I want to admit to my partner? Am I being honest with them and with myself?
If these three warning signs — contacting them outside of work hours, pushing the friendship edge and inappropriate sharing — are true for you, you may be having an emotional affair. To prevent an emotional affair, you shouldn't expect to give up all of your friends and refuse to meet new people. That's not realistic, nor is it healthy. Cutting out friends of the opposite sex doesn't work, nor does restricting time on the internet.
Preventing emotional infidelity may be as simple as (and this is actually harder than it sounds) telling the truth. In order to avoid an affair, you and your partner have to accept that it is natural and normal to be emotionally and physically attracted to other people. And if you find yourself fantasizing about this other person, tell on yourself before it goes any further.
It is easier to talk about now than it will be later, after the emotional affair has developed into something more complicated. A word of advice: telling your partner means being honest about your feelings. It doesn't mean using specific details. Be open and honest about your concerns and let your partner know that you want to be clear about your feelings before they turn into something more.
It is normal to be attracted to someone with whom you have developed an emotional connection. But moving that relationship into something sexual is the next step, and it is potentially dangerous for your relationship. If you are in a relationship and afraid you might cheat, talk to your partner today and be honest about your feelings.