An emotional affair does not always indicate there was a problem in the marriage. Most emotional affairs start innocently enough: two tennis players connect through a Meetup for tennis aficionados, an old high school friend looks you up on Classmates.com or a former love interest googles you, just out of curiosity. However, as innocently as these connections begin, the slippery slope to romance beckons quickly.

Betty was an executive with no children. She and her spouse traveled extensively for business but separately and were in totally unrelated fields. A business associate who was going through divorce began to confide in her when they traveled together. Their connection began to build and while not sexual, both agreed her husband would not understand the “friendship”. They agree to open another cell phone account solely for their own use. They reasoned this secrecy was to “protect” her husband.  Of course, when her husband discovered the phone, he was so hurt by the secrecy that he could not get beyond it. He filed for divorce. She was devastated.

Jenna’s husband hooked up with an old friend on Facebook who was breaking up with her partner. Since the woman lived in Massachusetts and was gay, Jenna wasn’t threatened, and although she became increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of time he spent talking with her on Facebook, Jenna felt no reason not to trust him. Fast forward three years, Jenna’s husband moved to Massachusetts and as soon as their divorce is final, he is planning to marry his “gay friend”.

Then there is Mark-he was furious! Although his wife insisted the friendship via the internet was just based on old history (they were college friends), Mark insisted there was more. When he found the secret cell phone, repeatedly cleared internet histories and finally records of hotel bills, he hit the roof. She steadfastly maintains their relationship was not sexual. Mark filed for divorce.

 Ariel, now in her 30’s, found the attention of a high school boyfriend who “friended her” on Facebook to be very flattering. Sitting in her kitchen, exhausted with a colicky infant and still struggling with losing the baby weight, Ariel felt isolated and unattractive. Her husband worked long hours. She had only recently stopped working to stay home with the baby. She was aware that this connection brought her back to a younger, thinner, unencumbered self and how thrilling it felt! She knew he was imagining her 18 year old self and when he wrote to her, she was aware she felt 18 again! She began to check her computer hourly and feel let down when he didn’t reply promptly. She also dreaded weekends when they had no contact and found she couldn’t wait for her husband to get out of the house on Monday mornings, so she could check the computer. She also hadn’t said to her husband “Guess who I heard from?” While she has lots of friends, both male and female on Facebook, she admitted this felt “different.” She recognized this innocent connection was becoming a problem and was wise enough to see the risk and end the communication. She then used her energy to focus on what she needed to feel better about herself and her life.

While not all relationships between men and women turn into emotional affairs, the possibility is always there. Setting good boundaries and practicing complete disclosure can help manage and contain these friendships.  If you feel yourself headed down that road of “wanting more”, pay attention before the relationship turns problematic. Rather than focusing on the connection and why it feels so exhilarating, try refocusing your attention on yourself and you may find a more accurate answer. Ask yourself, “What is going on with me that I am willing to risk everything I have for this “friendship”? Chances are you may be dealing with one of the following issues.

  1. Vulnerability- a change of life circumstance, a death of a parent, recent divorce, retirement, children going off to college, or a job change, can all leave us a little vulnerable as we deal with loss and change. Without realizing it we become begin t to look for something to help us feel better.
  2. Nostalgia-connecting with an old friend takes you back to a younger, more carefree time and offer you a mini-vacation from the present stress in your life. It gives you something to dream about. It offers escape. We are especially vulnerable to this around big birthdays, when we are feeling old and revaluating the meaning of our life.
  3. Boredom-many of us search the internet out of boredom, not unlike channel surfing. However, unlike channel surfing, the internet offers a reciprocal experience.
  4. Low self esteem- if you are feeling badly about yourself- professionally, relationally or physically, an emotional affair( especially on the internet) affords you the opportunity to create the “you” you want to be and the response can be exhilarating.
  5.  Common History- the reasons we connect with past loves are varied and complicated, but they share our history. A friend from high school will know things about you; even have shared experiences with you that your present friends or spouse may not even know about. As we get older and lose people from our past, a renewed friendship from our youth provides a way to hold on to the “good old days”. We feel close to those people we can reminisce with us. New friends like listening to your stories but an old friend is part of them. This creates an instant sense of familiarity, intimacy and connection.
  6. Lack of connection with your spouse-without even knowing it, couples get caught up in the everyday business of living their lives and sometimes in that whirlwind, we become invisible to each other. An emotional affair makes you feel valued, appreciated and important. It puts you are the center of the universe and that “heady” feeling is both seductive and misleading.

 Recognizing that you aren’t falling for the person as much as you are falling for the way that person makes you feel about yourself can help keep your perspective and discourage you from making impulsive choices.  It is easy to assign this new exhilarating and obsessive feeling to the person, but forged by secrecy, you have created a private world that is far more exciting than real life could ever be. Consider this carefully before you throw away what you have for what your imagination creates.



Next week- Part Three- Emotional Affairs: What to do if you discover your partner is emotionally involved with someone else?



  1. CJ Golden on the 12. Sep, 2011 remarked #

    “…you are falling for the way that person makes you feel about yourself”

    This statement is the crux of the emotional affair in my mind. If we have a spouse/friend/significant other who makes us feel good about ourselves we will want to hang in for the long-term.

    However, this begs a serious look within to find out why we need someone else to make us feel good about ourselves.

    Another topic – but related – and so very necessary for us each to address

  2. Diane on the 25. Mar, 2012 remarked #

    Do you think an emotional affair has less negative impact on a marriage if there is no secrecy?

    I recently moved to a new city for my job. My husband is still working in the previous city, but is looking for a job so he can join me here. At this point, we’ve been apart for a few months.

    A couple of weeks ago I met a guy who works near me, and we’ve had lunch together several times. I’m increasingly finding that I enjoy his company, and have started to feel kind of close to him. At first I didn’t find him attractive at all, but the more I am around him the more I find him charming.

    This seems to be an obvious result of my current lack of real-life companionship. I talk to my husband every day on the phone, and in the summary of my day tell him everything about this guy. In fact, I am so concerned about being open with my husband I sometimes feel like I am talking too much about this guy – and I hope I don’t make him jealous by doing that. On the other hand, I guess being transparent gives my husband the opportunity to tell me in case he doesn’t feel comfortable about the relationship. So far, he acts responsive to my relaying of the happenings in my friend’s life, and says he’d like to meet him since he seems like an interesting person.

    I feel guilty because I think there at least a little mutual attraction between this guy and me… (by the way he’s also married, and his wife also lives in another city). On one hand, maybe I should stop talking to him completely. But.. on the other hand, I really value his friendship, and I feel much more comfortable in this new environment having someone I can talk to and confide in considering I don’t have a support structure here.

    I am hoping my husband finds a job here soon, he and this guy become friends, I lose any feelings of a crush that I might have, and we all live happily ever after. Is that unrealistic?

    • Donna Ferber on the 25. Mar, 2012 remarked #

      It does seem unrealistic. You are betting that things with this new guy won’t heat up, your husband will move soon and your crush will go away. That’s a BIG bet to make and the stakes are high. I can’t help but wonder how you would feel if the shoe were on the other foot and your husband had the crush…My suggestion is that you stop seeing this guy. If you can’t/won’t do that then keep the meetings to a minimum and only in public places. Even then I think you are playing with fire. Good luck!

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