The 7 Stages of Emotional Affairs & How to Save Your Marriage

The 7 Stages of Emotional Affairs & How to Save Your Marriage

Divorce specialist Brette Sember
Brette Sember is a former attorney from New York who specializes in divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates, bankruptcy, credit, and other related fields. She holds a degree in English and a J.D. in law from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

An emotional affair can damage your marriage and relationship and may lead to divorce.

This type of affair is a special bond with someone other than your spouse. You devote time and energy to that relationship instead of to your marriage and your loyalties and attention begin to shift, damaging your marriage. It is different from a physical/sexual affair.

Recognizing the signs and stages of an emotional affair can alert you if you are in one and help you evaluate whether your spouse is having an emotional affair. You can then take steps to repair your marriage and move forward together.

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional affairs involve 35% of women and 45% of men in long-term relationships, undermining trust and potentially leading to divorce.
  • Key indicators include constant communication, deep emotional sharing, secrecy, and feelings of guilt.
  • Emotional affairs progress from friendship to a deep emotional connection that supersedes the spouse, negatively affecting the marriage.
  • Ending the affair, fostering honesty, improving communication, recommitting to the marriage, setting boundaries, addressing root causes, and seeking counseling are vital steps for recovery.

What Is an Emotional Affair?

An emotional affair is a close friendship that is not sexual or physical, but results in emotional infidelity. In an emotional affair, you find yourself pulling away from your spouse and becoming deeply involved with the other person.

Your bond with the other person becomes stronger and deeper until it surpasses the bond and relationship with your spouse in your life.

It’s normal and healthy to have friendships with people outside your marriage. However, when a friend becomes the one person you share your intimate thoughts and deepest feelings with instead of with your spouse, it is an emotional affair.

An emotional affair drains your marriage or connection, leaving it hollow and empty. Instead of bonding with your spouse, you see another person as “your person.” Your spouse is no longer your primary emotional connection.

Instead, you look to the new person as the one you turn to most of the time.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, emotional affairs affect 35% of women and 45% of men in long-term relationships. These affairs challenge trust and emotional connections, underscoring the significance of emotional fidelity in partnerships.

Signs You Are Having an Emotional Affair

Signs you are having emotional affair include:

  • Constant contact. Not only do you spend time together, but you are always texting, emailing, calling, or video calling the person. You know where each other are most of the time and stay in touch even during family dinners, family time, or date nights with your spouse.
  • Deep sharing. Not only is this the person you immediately reach out to when something significant happens in your life, but they are also the person you share your deepest thoughts with. You open up to them and are vulnerable and they do the same in return.
  • Frequent thoughts. You think about this person all the time, thinking about what they said or did or what you want to tell them and how they might react.
  • Soul connection. You believe this person truly understands you on the deepest level and you connect at a soul level. You feel more connected and, in turn, with them than you do with your own spouse.
  • Secrecy. You keep some or all parts of this relationship to yourself, not telling your spouse about it. You might lie about it. You hide messages or calls from the person.
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment. You have a feeling that you are doing something wrong or something your spouse wouldn’t feel comfortable with even though you justify it yourself as “just” a friendship and not “an actual affair.”

Signs Your Spouse Is Having an Emotional Affair

If you are wondering if your spouse might be having an emotional affair, look for these signs:

  • They spend a lot of time with one particular person.
  • They are absent from the home a lot, with various excuses and plans.
  • They keep their phone private.
  • They talk constantly about the person.
  • They compare you to the friend in a critical way.
  • They are less emotionally available to you than they used to be.
  • You feel as though the other person takes precedence in your spouse’s life.

emotional affair

Effect of an Emotional Affair on a Marriage

An emotional affair can reduce trust and connection in a marriage and could eventually lead to divorce. An emotional affair is a betrayal. Even if there is no physical aspect, it breaks the bond between spouses and calls loyalty and trust into question.

Just as a physical affair creates feelings of betrayal and loss of trust, an emotional affair results in the same type of damage.

An emotional affair can lead to divorce or separation because the basic foundation of the marriage no longer remains solid.

The 7 Stages of Emotional Affairs

Emotional affairs usually start off quite innocently but frequently progress through these stages:

  1. Friendship. An emotional affair begins as a simple friendship. It could be a coworker, a new friend, or rekindling an old friendship. It begins as any other friendship does and evolves into a close friendship.
  2. Deeper connection. The friendship becomes deeper and you share deep thoughts and feelings, often things you don’t tell your spouse. You click and feel you are truly connected.
  3. Complaining. You complain to the friend about your spouse, first in little ways, but then about deeper, more meaningful problems. If the friend has a spouse, they do the same. You might tell them things your spouse would not want anyone else to know.
  4. Filling needs. The friend fills the emotional needs that your spouse is not meeting, making them even more important to you. Physical attraction might begin. You feel a desire to be with them as much as possible because you are fulfilled in this relationship in a way that you are not at home.
  5. Greater importance. The friendship becomes more important than other things in your life, including your marriage. You choose the friend over your spouse in many situations.
  6. Unhappiness in the marriage. You don’t feel happy in your marriage and don’t feel connected to your spouse. All you care about is the other person. You start to question if the marriage is healthy and should continue.
  7. Breaking up. You want to get out of the marriage and away from your spouse and you think about or take steps to end the marriage.

Ways to Save Your Marriage

An emotional affair does not have to mean the end of your marriage. Emotional affair recovery is possible. The following can help you heal and move on together:

  • End the emotional affair. The person having the affair must cut off that relationship. It is not possible to repair the marriage if the connection with the outside person continues.
  • Be honest. The spouse who had the emotional affair has to be honest about what happened and own it. The other spouse also needs to be honest about their own feelings. Once honesty is the baseline, trust can be rebuilt.
  • Establish open communication. Work on building healthy communication with each other and reconnect with your spouse. Communication in marriage is key.
  • Recommit. Both spouses must commit themselves to making the marriage work and to rebuilding trust and connection with each other. They must agree they will be each others “person” moving forward.
  • Set boundaries. Create boundaries you will both honor in your marriage that will ensure you remain connected and place each other first. Clear boundaries help in preventing emotional affairs in the future.
  • Create rules. Rules can be helpful in rebuilding trust and creating accountability. For example, you might agree that you can each check each others’ phone and social media direct messages at any time. You might agree that you will allow phone trackers so you can each see where the other person is at all times.
  • Address issues. The emotional affair happened for a reason. Find the problems in your marriage that led one of you to seek connection elsewhere and work to repair those rifts. There is a reason that one of you sought an outside relationship.
  • Seek marriage counseling. A marriage therapist can help you rebuild your relationship and be key in saving your marriage.

Final Thoughts

Emotional affairs can sneak up on you because they begin as platonic friendships. Being able to recognize when you or your spouse is having an emotional affair and identify the stages of an affair can help you put a stop to it and save your marriage.


CATEGORIES: Making the Decision

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