(Part 3 of 3)

(Continued from Part 2)

Emotional Affairs

In my first post, I talked about the reason for this series. In my second, I touched on healthy platonic friendships between the sexes (or, what emotional affairs aren’t). Finally, I’d like to talk about what emotional affairs are. My definition of an emotional affair is as follows:

Any type of recurring non-romantic contact with a member of the opposite sex [1] that is excessive, lacks boundaries, and/or makes the faithful spouse uncomfortable or upset when s/he finds out about it

Working from that definition, let’s break down those pieces for clarity:

  • Recurring ~ Emotional affairs are not one-offs. Going out for coffee with a friend of the opposite sex one time might make the other spouse uncomfortable (depending on the spouse), and that’s certainly something the couple should talk about and address, but it isn’t an emotional affair. EA behavior is something that keeps happening and happening often, like e-mails, texts, Web chats, talking on the phone, going out to lunch or otherwise spending time together several times a week or on a very routine schedule, etc.
  • Non-Romantic~ I sometimes hear people call their partner’s affair “emotional affairs” because there was technically no sex. For example, this person who wrote into ChumpLady says her husband and the Other Woman were kissing and sexting, but not having sex, and she calls that an emotional affair. I would say that’s the regular kind of affair, not an emotional one. Body parts do not have to interlock before it’s adultery. If you’re getting romantic towards someone other than your spouse without your spouse’s consent, it’s adultery.
  • Excessive ~ Emotional affairs usually involve activity that isn’t just recurring, but excessive. You text the other person a lot. You spend a lot of time with them. You go out with them a lot. You talk about them a lot, and at bizarre and inappropriate times when there is just no reason to bring the other person up. [2]
  • Lacks Boundaries ~ People who are not having emotional affairs and don’t want anyone to think there’s anything inappropriate going on set boundaries on their relationships with the opposite sex. You have a nurse in the room when you’re being examined by your doctor. You don’t have your professor over at your place for lunch to discuss your thesis when you live alone. Sure, you’ll go to a movie with your friend Lisa, but you’ll be home by about midnight. You don’t spend the entire conference together. In contrast, people who are having emotional affairs don’t set boundaries, and they buck their spouse’s attempts to set them for them.
  • Makes the Faithful Spouse Uncomfortable / Upset ~ One of the real smell tests for the emotional affair vs. the friendship that’s just a little out of bounds. How do you react once you realize your spouse is uncomfortable with the “friendship”? People who are having emotional affairs get defensive and blameshift or gaslight. “You never let me have any friends!” “I never get to get out!” “You’re so paranoid, you’re such a buzzkill!” “That’s stupid.” Or, they make excuses for why the “friendship” must continue unchanged. People who are not having emotional affairs will show concern. They’ll change their behavior, set some boundaries on the friendship, or even end it altogether.

I cannot stress that last point enough: there is no surer sign that this isn’t a “just friends” relationship than that you refuse to end it when it’s damaging your marriage! If a “friendship” is more important to you than your marriage, then there’s either something wrong with this “friendship,” or there is something terminally wrong with your marriage!

This wasn’t a part of my definition, but another good smell test for an emotional affair is that the cheater spends time with the EA partner instead of spending time with the spouse when the spouse is both willing and able to spend time with him/her. I’m not saying that we never need a break from our spouses, but if you’re having lunch with Bob every day, even though your husband is willing to come meet you for lunch, that’s a problem.


As I said in an earlier post, those months I spent dealing with my husband’s emotional affair were some of the most confusing months of my life. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I objected to the “friendship” so much. After all, they weren’t having sex, right? So what was the problem?

I know now what the problem was: he was still being unfaithful, and I had every right to be upset about this woman’s intrusion into our marriage–especially since I was pregnant and badly needed the extra compassion and attention that he was showering on her. The Bible gives “adultery” as one of the few reasons for divorce to be acceptable in God’s eyes. I personally believe that emotional affairs are an extension of adultery and it’s acceptable for a Christian to divorce a spouse over an unrepentant emotional affair, and will defend that position in a future post.

In the meantime, I hope this series of posts can help shed a little light on situations that other couples might be dealing with.

Part 1
Part 2


[1] See what I said in my first post about LGBT-friendly language.

[2] For example, I mentioned in another post how I got lost in the city of Chicago while looking for work and had to call my then-spouse to ask him to help me with directions. We had just had a fight about his emotional affair partner that morning. And he said in the most nonchalant voice, “You know, if you really want to understand how to get around Chicago, you should talk to [Emotional Affair Partner]. She knows the public transportation there really well!” I had just told him a few hours earlier that I was leaving him over his friendship-not-friendship with this woman, and he thought I wanted to call her up and have a chat about CTA?! It was truly bizarre, but unhealthy obsessions make people do weird things like that.

2 Comments on The Emotional Affair: What It Is, and Isn’t

  1. I just have to say, thanks for writing this. I dealt with this not too long ago, and it was just terrible. One of the worst things to EVER happen to me. Thankfully, we’re still together and have worked/are working through it – but it is still incredibly difficult at times, and I’m still working through trust issues. I appreciate you delving into this, shedding light, and sharing your opnions. You’re a strong woman, and I admire you for that.

  2. Thanks, Squee.

    I hope you and your spouse/partner are able to make a full recovery and wish you all the best.

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