We’re Just Good Friends; Am I in an Emotional Affair?

Am I really cheating if I’m not even having sex?

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By Jenny Kanevsky

Relationships have many components, and yes, sex is one of them, but there are others. Friendship, childrearing, joint interests such as traveling, music, cooking . . . for every couple, they are different and each piece of the puzzle has its importance, but together, they make up a whole.

One major piece is emotional intimacy. And for most, not just women as is often assumed, emotional intimacy is critical to making the puzzle whole, and especially to fostering a healthy and mutually fulfilling sexual relationship.

For most of us, the emotional connection comes first. We become friends before we are sexually intimate. We share common interests. If we are in a committed relationship, especially a marriage or long-term partnership, we are likely emotionally intimate (or we want to be).

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What does it mean to cheat emotionally? According to Psychology Today, this is when one partner is emotionally intimate, and in close friendship with someone outside the relationship. They may also be intimating future sexual intimacy. In many cases, these are secret or semi-secret friendships where there is obvious mutual physical attraction. Others simply encourage the friendship to boost their ego or to distract themselves from issues with a current partner.

An emotional affair is when one partner is secretly channeling emotional energy, time, and attention into someone other than their partner. And, although not necessary to make it cheating, says Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth, the affair is particularly damaging when the long-term partner actually begins to notice this and feel neglected.

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Think about this: You’re in contact with someone new or from your past. You like each other and feel good together, you like talking to him or her and exchanging intimate, funny e-mails or texts. You joke, you flirt, and you find yourself dressing nicer when you know you’ll see each other. You meet for coffee or lunch. The problem? You’re not married and your spouse or significant other doesn’t know. Whether you are Facebook friends or coworkers or friends from the gym, is this truly an innocent friendship, or the beginning of the end of your marriage? And if there’s no sex, can you really call it infidelity? Yes, you can. It’s emotional infidelity.

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If there’s no sex, what’s the big deal, you ask? The big deal is the abuse of trust. Sex is not the main issue, it is the lying and deception. Often, people recover from sexual infidelity more readily than when they are deceived. Getting over a sexual fling may take work, but it can be done. Finding out your partner’s been sharing themselves emotionally with someone else, and not with you, raises a big red flag. What else can’t I trust? Emotional cheating is about breaking trust in many areas of your relationship, not about having sex with someone else.

How would you feel if you knew your spouse did this? If you get a sick knot in your stomach, there’s your answer. That’s the big deal. It’s not about sex, and you need to take a look at your relationship. What’s missing? And what can you do to fix it? If that’s what you want. But don’t go elsewhere. It’s a betrayal.

How can you tell if you are in an emotional affair? Ask yourself these questions: What am I doing or talking about with this person? Are they things I don’t do or talk about with my spouse? Am I hiding? Am I rearranging my day and to spend time with this person? If any of these are issues, you are getting yourself into an emotional affair. The question is, why? You are in a committed relationship with someone else. What’s missing there?

As a society, we believe that cheating is sex with someone other than our partner. We also place a disproportionately higher value on the sexual component of relationships than on the emotional. And, that’s why it is so easy to deny emotional affairs. Because there’s no sex. I believe we miss the value of an emotionally intimate, deeply satisfying, personal relationship based on trust and years of growing together, knowing each other’s intimate dreams, hurts, and desires.

These are significant pieces of the relationship puzzle. The trust that comes with emotional vulnerability is unparalleled. Break that trust and you have absolutely been unfaithful to your partner. And, I know for me, it’s not easy to have sexual intimacy without emotional intimacy.

Emotional affairs escalate incrementally, and this is why they can seem innocent until it’s too late. They start with casual chats, then maybe lunch or even a drink after work. Soon, you’re keeping secrets, you are talking with your friend about your marriage, and you are sharing in a deeply personal way. You are emotionally entangled with someone other than your spouse.

An emotional affair doesn’t have to mean the end of your marriage, but it is a red flag. I would imagine there is discord at home if you are looking elsewhere to meet your emotional needs. Do the repair with your partner whether it be therapy, a workshop, reading a self-help book, or even just talking about your feelings. And, do it before things get too far, and cut ties with this other person.

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Maybe your marriage is over, and this is your subconscious’ way of telling you. Or, maybe you and your partner need a chance to reconnect and find each other again. Relationships are dynamic and need work. This may be your wake up call. Pay attention. You may be surprised at what you find, and at how rekindled and wonderful your marriage is after this misstep. Because that’s all it has to be.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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