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What is an emotional affair?

emotional affair
What is an Emotional Affair – How can it impact a marriage or relationship?

It’s been a funny old year for a lot of people. In March we saw a large downturn in the requirement for family law services. And no surprise as many people had to turn their attention to more important matters such as childcare, health, job and business security and what the future might look like. Relationship issues were knocked down the pecking order.

As we returned to a new normal there was talk of a divorce ‘surge’ after the lockdown and the inevitable irritations that can happen when cooped up with the same people for long periods. There were many reports of people taking covert shopping shopping trips for a glimpse or brief encounter with their lover. Professor Neil Ferguson, government scientist, had to resign after it was exposed that he broke the rules and allowed his mistress to visit him during lockdown.

What lockdown didn’t put a stop to was the ‘Emotional Affair’.


Investing more of your emotional self outside the marriage / relationship and in turn seeking emotional support in that newly formed relationship. You will feel closer to that new connection and the physical desire will begin to develop or increase.

Make no mistake that this behaviour will damage a marriage / relationship just as much as a physical affair as the consequences of hurt, deception, breakdown of trust and betrayal are the same.

It must be noted that the emotional affair participants do not always acknowledge the presence of a sexual attraction, but this unspoken tension is part if the thrill. The denial that this exists does not detract from the betrayal.

The party conducting this emotional affair will justify the relationship as platonic however the trademark signs of an emotional affair:

  • Communication is secret
  • Intimate information is shared
  • There is sexual attraction
  • The conversation rarely or never involves the spouse or children of the family – almost denial of their existence

Emotional Affairs are also described as ‘Gateway Affairs’; starting off as something seemingly innocent although experts would say this is cheating without the physical. Research would suggest that emotional affairs lead to full blown physical infidelity.

Warning signs you might be involved in an emotional affair:

  • Constant thoughts of time spent or communication with your ‘friend’
  • Belief that your friend is more understanding than your spouse / partner
  • Giving personal gifts
  • Keeping your friendship and communications secret
  • Lack of interest in time or intimacy with your spouse
  • Over sharing with your friend about personal life or problems
  • Insisting you are ‘just friends’ when challenged
  • Withdrawing from your spouse

What to do?

Some genuine self reflection is required here. Consider:

  • What am I seeking; novelty or something missing in my relationship
  • Am I driving my partner to discover and make the difficult decision for me?
  • If you open honest dialogue with your partner at least that person can make an informed choice

Is my partner having an emotional affair?

  • Increased secrecy – changes passwords or passcodes. Sleeping with mobile telephone under their pillow and taking the mobile into the bathroom. Never a chance for you to snoop
  • Withdrawing from the relationship – disengaged, texting more when at home. Less interest in you or family life than before
  • New interests or hobbies or work commitments which require more time away from home
  • Changes in sex drive- and not just a decline as you might think but an increase too – in an attempt to distract from the emotional affair.

So now you know (or seriously suspect) what do you do?

Marriage Therapist Joree Rose recommends compassionate communication framework:

emotional affair


This is a non-aggressive approach to raising the issues which you have noticed, talking more about what you’ve noticed and how you feel rather than throwing accusations. Of course this will take some courage as the outcome will be uncertain. As with so many complicated situations communication is important.  Best advice is to open the channels and be courageous. Confronting the situation could mean that you prevent infidelity and at the very least enable both or you to navigate the aftermath.

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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