What Is an Emotional Affair and Do They Really Exist?

Jessica Lynn

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He’s having an affair. Not a sexual one. It’s just an emotional affair. At first. He arranges for the first time to take his daughter to school, fighting the LA traffic. When he didn’t before. Before, he told his wife he couldn’t manage the drive because he had to start work straight away in the morning from his home office. She didn’t work, so she should take the kid to school. It is her job, after all.

Then, a young, cute mother of three children — the three, attended the same school — started paying attention and making googly-eyes at married, busy dad who was previously unable to fight rush hour traffic. You know, all that work. Only when he got some attention from a woman other than his wife, he found a way to drive the child to school, telling the stay-at-home wife a different tune. His excuse, he wanted to give her some extra zzz’s, let her sleep in a few days a week. After all, she was exhausted from staying at home with a child most of the day.

The two — after dropping off their respective children at pre-school — went to coffee shops and on hikes and bonded over their interest in Kundalini yoga and guided meditations.

This was the beginning of an emotional affair that lead to a sexual one and the end of his marriage.

If cheating spouses brought the time, ingenuity, mystery, planning, excitement, thoughtfulness, energy, sexual play and anticipation they bring to their affairs to their spouses, married people wouldn’t stop having sex, and the divorce rate would plummet.

But we often bring the best of ourselves to others.

We bring the leftovers to those we claim are the most important to us; those we made vows to cherish and protect. So many of us bring the best of ourselves to the stranger — the tired mother at playground whose husband is emotionally absent, or the hot 30-year-old barista who makes our morning espresso and flirts with us, even when we aren’t wearing a stitch of makeup, or to our client we only see once a week who displays so much enthusiasm when hearing about our hobbies, like our running routine.

The newness of strangers makes us feel alive.

Domesticity and erotism rarely go hand in hand. And there’s the rub. We want safety in our day to day lives and unpredictability in the bedroom. We want to cuddle but we also long to be fucked by our husbands like when we first met (remember those glorious first six months) we want the mortgage paid on time and the kids safely snug in their beds and to be whisked off for the weekend for the sole purpose of raunchy sex with our mate.

Can erotism live in marriage? Can it breathe in such close quarters, can we be erotic with the familiar?

Emotional cheating often leads to the traditional kind of affair — sexual

Women report having a harder time with the emotional part of an affair, “did you talk about me…” Men, in general, have more difficulty imagining their spouse having sex with another man. I, displaying traits like my male peers, more often than I care to admit, had a harder time with the sexual part when I found out my husband cheated on me.

So often, emotional affairs lead to sex.

Rarely does a person meet someone on a train, follow them off and fuck them in the alley. No, it usually starts with the emotional part, someone from work, someone you talk to at your child’s soccer game, or the man who is a friend of a friend you met at a party and remain connected to through the number of ways people connect these days. Through the phone.

In our connected world, the possibilities for a tryst are endless.

You no longer even need to leave your home to stray. You can actually have an affair while lying next to your partner. — The State of Affairs, Esther Perel

The definition of a traditional affair has expanded and changed in recent years

The definition of cheating has expanded in recent years due to social media and the smartphone. There are simply more ways to get in touch with people; exes, friends at work, people you meet on the “outside.”

Julie Spira, the founder of Cyber-Dating Expert, says,

“some of the key signs that someone might be having an emotional affair usually starts with their mobile phone.”

Whether it is sexual or not, often those who stray, even if only emotionally, do so when they aren’t feeling good about themselves, so they look to others and allow others too much space and time to fulfill them emotionally in a way they can’t fill.

They feel empty themselves, or in their current relationship (most likely both), so they look outside for someone to give them meaning.

People who stray roam not just for more or better sex, but for connection, intensity, and aliveness. The human condition is that we want to feel connection to other humans. And if we aren’t getting it where we lay our heads each night, many of us will go searching for it elsewhere.

Trying to find it with another person while ignoring and giving less to your partner won’t help anything, and it will hurt your spouse.

Emotional cheating

It becomes an “emotional affair” when the relationship is pulsing with sexual tension, regardless of genitals touching. When you give more of your time, attention, and energy to your “friend” — attention you should be feeding your partner — it can cause a rift.

You answer their texts right away and are excited when you see a message from them. A notification from your “friend” floods you with anticipation, more so, than when you receive a message from your spouse. You share bits of your life with them constantly, sending them pictures, or poems about love and sex, book recommendations, you complain about your spouse to your “friend,” lean on them for emotional support to fill your loneliness because you’re not getting your emotional needs met at home.

According to author Bobby Box, “suggestive language and sexual innuendo have no place in a healthy opposite-sex friendship.”

This kind of relationship frequently leads to a physical affair. Not always, but it’s more likely to if there is any kind of attraction.

We have all fallen in love with someone we get to know, not when we first meet but over time. Someone may have started out as a friend, who didn’t fit our “type,” at first, but we fall in love with their personality, who they are, how they treat us, how we feel when they walk into a room, their being. You become sexually attracted to them. Not always. But it can happen to the best of us.

I’m not suggesting we go with the Mike Pence prescription, and not allow our SO to hang with the opposite sex alone. That is absurd.

We all need autonomy. It’s autonomy and self-respect that make us want to have a sex life, to feel sexual. Desire is intimately connected to self-worth and imagination.

I have male friends I don’t want to have sex with, nor am I attracted to.

If I did find myself giving too much emotionally at the expense of my partner, and sexual tension started to creep in, I would make sure our interactions had platonic written all over them.

I would keep it platonic and talk about my partner positively. I’d make sure he knows I’m taken. My friend would have to respect that, or we couldn’t hang out.

Or, I’d talk to my partner about it, and do what is best for our relationship, because my relationship is important to me, and because it is important to me, I make choices that will not jeopardize it.

That is what grown-ups do. Their actions and values are aligned.

If your partner is not honest about their relationship with a “friend” they see often or text daily, it is a breach of trust. And something is wrong in your relationship that you would be wise to address before the two of you become more disconnected.

We need friends. We can have friends of the opposite sex in our lives.

In healthy relationships, it’s important to create a space between us and our primary relationship. Fire needs air. Relationships work when both individuals are nourished from outside the relationship from friends, work, activities, interests, and experiences.

We bring that joy back with us into our primary relationship to feed the togetherness we have with our partners. But when there is one specific person who interferes with that closeness, it is a problem. And needs to be looked at, or at least acknowledged.

When one person in the relationship is keeping something from the other — one person is unilaterally deciding something at the expense of the other person they claim is important to them and acting out secretly in a way that doesn’t reflect their words — then, “Houston, we have a problem.”

It is unfair to the partner who is in the dark.

The partner in the dark is living in a false reality. She doesn’t have the whole picture, and the person who is having an emotional affair is unilaterally deciding that he can have something that she cannot.

It is especially damaging when one partner doesn’t know the extent to which the other is sharing their life with this “friend,” and it is cowardly to keep it a secret at the expense of your spouse.

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Writing on all things California and Texas. It unfolds here. Your daily dose of local news. From politics to food, from celebrity culture to current events. Follow me for the latest updates. Twitter: @girl_thriving

Los Angeles, CA
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