Emotional Infidelity – Is It Really Cheating?


What is emotional infidelity and is it really a big deal?  When you think of a cheating spouse, do you think of a husband or wife sneaking off to a hotel for a secret rendezvous?   For many, the definition of infidelity is limited to a physical affair.

In fact, many spouses will defend close relationships with someone of the opposite sex as being harmless because “nothing is happening.”   And that may be true, at least so far.  However, for a stable and strong marriage, spouses must be fully committed to each other.  When a husband or wife is devoting time and energy to another person that should be devoted to their spouse, emotional infidelity may be to blame.


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How to Tell the Difference Between Emotional Infidelity and Friendship…

Of course, no one wants to be the jealous spouse that goes off the deep end every time their loved one strikes up a conversation with someone of the opposite sex.   But you also owe it to yourself and your marriage relationship to recognize the warning signs of an emotional affair.

Below are some of the signs that a supposedly platonic relationship may not be all the innocent.  These indicators are also good to keep in mind if you have a close friendship with someone other that your spouse.  Very rarely does a cheating spouse set out to have an affair.  Often it is the result of failure to guard against emotional intimacy with others and protect their marriage relationship.

A close friendship may in fact be an emotional affair if…

  • An effort is made to conceal the relationship.
  • Flirting or sexual tension is a part of the friendship.
  • The spouse seems preoccupied with their friend.
  • Family commitments are ignored in favor of spending time with the friend.
  • Thoughts and feelings normally shared with a spouse are now being shared with the friend.
  • The marriage relationship appears to lose emotional or sexual intimacy.

Can a Close Friendship Really Hurt a Marriage Relationship?

For many involved in a close relationship with the opposite sex, there is a tendency to try to justify the friendship.  Rather than seeing themselves as a cheating spouse, individuals will tell themselves that there is no harm to the marriage relationship because a physical affair is not occurring.  Unfortunately, these spouses are deceiving themselves.

Approximately 20% of spouses engaged in emotional affairs will go on to have physical affairs.  For those that don’t, there is a loss of intimacy and stability within their marriage relationship.  Their spouse will undoubtedly feel the distance in their marriage and may be more likely to commit an affair themselves.

More importantly, emotional infidelity erodes the base of a loving marriage.  It decreases marital satisfaction, can affect children and may eventually lead to an emotional distance that can cause divorce.  Experts agree that an intimate friendship with your spouse is the best insurance against divorce and for increased happiness and even an increased life span.

Emotional infidelity calls into question everything about the marriage relationship.  A spouse can’t help but wonder if their spouse is not only emotionally involved but also having a physical relationship. Openness and compassion give way to suspicion and anger.  Children in the home can sense the tension which can cause grades to drop or for them to engage in their own risky behavior.  In short, no one wins when emotional betrayal takes place in a marriage relationship.

5 Ways to Avoid Emotional Affairs

So how can you protect yourself from emotional infidelity?  The following tips can help you guard against the loss of intimacy in your marriage relationship…

  1. Avoid sharing personal details about your marriage with others.
  2. Keep business relationships professional – cut short personal conversations.
  3. Meet in a group, if possible. Limit one-on-one interactions with others of the opposite sex.
  4. Don’t drink in mixed company.
  5. Honestly evaluate yourself. Take a hard look at your current friendships.  If you have a friend that you may be using as an emotional substitute for your spouse, put some distance between you and that person.

If you think your spouse is already committing an emotional affair, find a quiet time to discuss your concerns.  Preferably, hire a sitter for the kids and spend an evening out with your spouse.  Don’t accuse him or her of being a cheating spouse.  However, do share your concern that a friendship is becoming too intimate and detracting from your marriage.  If your spouse becomes defensive and continues put distance in the marriage relationship, it may be time to enlist a professional marriage therapist.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that emotional infidelity is no big deal.

To learn more about emotional infidelity and how to divorce-proof your marriage, click here.


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