Is it an emotional affair?

Julia Faulks / 04 August 2015

An affair doesn’t necessarily have to be physical, but when is a close friendship at risk of becoming something more damaging to your relationship? Here we look at the signs you may have crossed the line.



An emotional affair is a bit of a grey area – while there hasn’t actually been a physical infidelity, you may still be guilty in the sense that you are relying more heavily on someone else other than your partner.

In fact, most relationship counsellors and psychiatrists will agree that an emotional affair still counts as cheating. You are also more at risk of taking the relationship forward in the future and having a physical affair, so understanding when a friendship may be developing into something else is crucial.

“Sometimes an emotional affair happens when there isn’t enough of an emotional connection in the relationship. It could be when there has been a major life change, such as a bereavement, or a huge lifestyle change like retirement or redundancy, which means that one part of the couple may not know how to discuss it with the other person,” says Dr Sherylin Thompson, Counselling Psychologist.

How can you tell when you have crossed the line?

It may be that you cross the line of friendship, often quite innocently at first, and it may also be that you don’t even see it coming. For example, you may need to ask yourself if you are doing the following:

  • Feeling unable to tell your partner that you have met up with someone
  • Hiding the amount of communication you’ve had, whether it’s calls, texts or instant messages
  • Holding back from divulging any information about the person
  • Wanting to look good or dressing up for that person
  • Sharing more intimacies with them than with your own partner
  • Relying more and more on that person for an emotional connection
  • Being open with the person in question that you have feelings for them
  • Feeling guilty that there is more to the relationship than just friendship.

“It is possible to have a platonic relationship; however, when you start to feel that you are relying on that person and that is the only person that you are sharing those intimacies with instead of discussing them with your partner, I think that is when someone may be crossing the line,” says Denise, a counsellor with Relate.

Putting a stop to an emotional affair

Having an emotional affair can be an indication that there are things wrong in your relationship that you may need to address. At the same time, you may feel that there isn’t anything wrong at all – you are simply enjoying the attention from someone else.

But once a distance builds and communication isn’t as good as it used to be this can be when you find yourself looking for someone who is able to meet certain needs.

If you feel you are at risk of taking things too far then it’s a good idea to take a step back and reconnect with your partner, while remembering that a marriage needs nurturing over time. You may also find it helpful to speak to a relationship counsellor or coach for more support and impartial advice.

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