Most people have at least one friend they’re really close to. Whether you’ve known them for years or things just clicked when you met a few months ago, it’s normal and healthy. Sometimes, those friendships can be a little too close and end up causing trouble in our love lives. Do you know what to do then? Here’s everything you need to know about emotional affairs.

What Is an Emotional Affair?

Emotional affairs are complicated. The short answer is that they’re basically relationships where everything short of intimate physical contact occurs. Specifically, one or both parties involved are already in a romantic relationship that is being damaged by that relationship. 

While emotional affairs may seem like no big deal at first since there isn’t anything physical, they can be highly toxic to your relationship. Being close to someone outside of your relationship isn’t the issue. It’s all the other things that come with emotional affairs. They create distance, decrease intimacy, and drive romantic partners apart emotionally.

I want to be clear that healthy friendships and romantic relationships are not mutually exclusive. You can (and should) have friends outside of your relationship. If your friendship with someone puts a wedge between you and your significant other, it’s probably time to re-examine your priorities. 

The Difference Between Emotional Affairs and Just Friendship

The lines between an emotional affair and a close friendship can be a little blurred at times, especially for people who have supported you through hard times or been in your life for a long time. Sometimes, your significant other may just not get along with your friends for reasons unrelated to emotional affairs. 

What’s important to remember is there are certain things that close friends just don’t do or feel for each other. Even if nothing happens, there’s usually a lot of sexual attraction when an emotional affair is involved. 

Most of the time, emotional affairs stem from genuine friendship. Over time, people grow closer, and their platonic boundaries get blurred. Of course, this doesn’t mean every close friendship will become an emotional affair. 

The key differences between friendship and emotional affairs are:

  • There is a deep level of intimacy you wouldn’t find between friends
  •  The affair is prioritized above romantic relationships
  •  Boundaries are crossed to maintain the affair
  •  Friendships are usually open and supportive
  •  Emotional affairs usually involve high intensity and secrecy
  •  Friendships don’t usually have sexual tension/ attraction
  •  Normal friendships don’t cause tension in relationships

There’s nothing wrong with having close friendships. They can even be healthy for your relationships! The problems start if those close friendships ignore boundaries and start crossing lines. 

It’s Not Like It’s Really Cheating… Right?

Honestly? Sometimes, emotional affairs can be worse than physical cheating. Emotional affairs can feel like the highest form of betrayal because you’re throwing away the most important parts of your relationship.

When your partner is having an emotional affair, it can feel like they only use you to satisfy their physical needs. They don’t want the intimacy that is supposed to come with a relationship – at least not with you, which can sometimes feel more insulting than cheating. It’s almost like they’re saying, “it’s not me, it’s you“. 

Not to mention that emotional affairs can very often lead to “real” cheating. When two people connect on the deepest levels, it’s almost weirder if they don’t develop physical attraction. The decent thing to do is to break things off before it gets there. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to do the decent thing. 

Relationships are tricky

Even if you or your partner is having an emotional affair, they are something you can come back from. Cutting off the other party and focusing on your relationship first is the most important thing to do. Showing your partner that you care about them and their feelings is a great way to show your sincerity and dedication to the relationship.

You can’t force someone to feel one way or the other, and you can’t make a relationship work by yourself. It takes a team effort. If you both feel like you can move forward together, then there’s no reason you can’t. 

That’s about everything you need to know about emotional affairs. If you suspect your partner is having one, the first thing you ought to do is talk to them. Open and honest communication will go a long way to fixing most problems in your relationship (and everywhere else). So long as you and your partner are willing to put in the work, you should grow stronger together, even after a few roadblocks. 

If you need help expressing your feelings, check out our blog on communicating with “I” statements. When trying to bring up a tough topic, it’s best to focus on communicating how you feel rather than blaming your partner. 

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