In the not too distant past, an affair had a very specific meaning: extramarital sex. In order for someone to be accused of “having an affair” it meant they had a physical, usually sexual, relationship with a person other than their spouse. In recent years, however, that concept has evolved to include other types of infidelity, namely: emotional affairs.
So what exactly is an emotional affair? This is a common question, especially for people who previously understood an affair to be a physical violation of one’s marital vows. Well, let’s take a look at what an emotional affair is, and whether or not it can be considered “cheating.”
According to webmd.com (and just about every other media source we checked) an emotional affair is the development of a strong emotional connection with someone other than your spouse. In essence – falling in love with someone else. Having long conversations of an intimate nature, especially ones that include the sharing of personal secrets, or sustained flirting and desires or longings for more than just dialogue, would be classic signs.
Still confused? After all, if they’re not having sex, how intimate can it really be? Also, could it really be a threat to a marriage, or is it just a passing fad or temporary friendship that doesn’t mean anything in the long run? Well, that depends. According to Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell School of Medicine, if your spouse is involved in an emotional affair you should be concerned. And she’s not the only one.
Many experts believe that emotional affairs are just as damaging as physical ones!
According to Dr Athena Staik, Ph D, a licensed marriage counselor and author on the subject of relationships, in order to understand how intense an emotional affair is it helps to see the dynamics of an emotional affair as an addiction. In her psychcentral.com article on emotional affairs, Staik says “It’s not about ‘how’ special the person is, or how they make you feel, it’s about the neurochemicals that get activated when you think and behave a certain way that keeps you stuck in the damaging pattern. It isn’t a coincidence, for example, that persons with alcohol and other addictions are more likely to get into toxic relationships.”
When you look at it in those terms, it does make sense. The thrill of an illicit conversation, the quick-fix ego boost that comes with sharing a flirty text with someone. These little rushes can be very addictive, and for someone whose daily life feels lacking in emotional intensity of any kind, these can be very appealing. “An addiction to an activity, person or substance puts a person’s brain and body in an intoxicating trance that, on the one hand, does not allow them to think clearly and make informed choices, and on the other hand, ‘rewards’ them for the toxic behavior with the release of certain chemicals that provide quick-fixes of pleasure in the body.” explains Dr. Staik.
Another reason she provides for why this is appealing is that the pleasure derived from sustaining these relationships helps to dull the pain of a failing marriage and the guilt accompanied by cheating on your spouse. In that light, it would be hard to consider an emotional affair as anything other than a very real form of cheating which can have a disastrous effect on a marriage. Few things can break someone’s heart faster than knowing your partner would rather spend time with someone else – someone who offers them thrills and excitement that they don’t seem able to find in their own marriage.
So if you have an intense connection with someone who you claim is “just your friend” but you wouldn’t want your spouse to know what the two of you talk and text about, then it is very likely that you are having an emotional affair. Conversely, if your spouse has a friend that they spent a lot of time talking to or texting, but are disinclined to share that dialogue with you, you may have cause for concern.