When an innocent friendship causes problems in a marriage or love relationship, it is emotional cheating. The “betrayer” may not even be aware that he or she is having an emotional affair – especially if it’s an innocent work or community-based relationship. But the heart has reasons, plans and paths that reason cannot know.
Here’s a brief description of how an innocent friendship that starts at work, church or in any organization can develop into an affair of the heart. I also included tips from psychologists and marriage counselors, and thoughts on whether women are more likely to have emotional affairs or attachments. In Innocent Friendship or Emotional Affair? 4 Ways to Know I describe in more detail how to recognize and prevent emotional cheating.
An emotional affair can be difficult to wrap your mind around. It’s not a physical affair; it’s a meeting of the mind and heart (and thus called an “affair of the heart”). An emotional affair is an intimate friendship with someone who is not your partner. Can you have an “emotional affair” with someone of the same sex? Yes! It’s called best friends, kindred spirits, even spiritual soulmates.
What’s the difference between being good friends with someone of the same sex and an emotional affair? Physical attraction is part of it…but more important is how much you share with your friend. If you are telling your friend things you can’t or won’t share with your husband or life partner, then you are having an affair of the heart.
If you’re curious about physical infidelity, read Why Your Boyfriend Cheated: A Relationship Style That Leads to Affairs. There are differences between emotional and physical cheating, but the reasons for straying are the same. Emotional infidelity doesn’t seem to break wedding or verbal vows, create unwanted pregnancies, or spread disease. And yet it contains a depth of intimacy and connection that crosses boundaries and even breaks hearts.
Intimate friendships cause serious problems in love relationships, and can be as devastating to a marriage or partnership as physical unfaithfulness — if not more so. Knowing the difference between innocent flirting in friendship and emotional cheating (an affair of the heart) is important. It’s a difference that can make or break your relationship or marriage.
How Innocent Friendships Become Emotional “Affairs of the Heart”
Most people don’t plan to be emotionally unfaithful. Emotional cheating starts by casually chatting with coworkers or people they see regularly – and it grows into more than “friends.” They go for lunches, take business trips, or make special efforts to see the person’ to whom they’re getting attached. They think about their “friend” more and more, until it becomes a definite emotional bond. Those are signs of emotional cheating, and they definitely don’t help you achieve your marriage goals!
Internet, online and digital relationships aren’t just popular, they’re necessary in today’s culture and climate. Innocent friendships can start online and public, and quickly develop into an emotional connection that seems better off private.
You know you’re having an emotional affair if you can’t tell your partner about your conversations. If your friendship is a secret, it’s not innocent. And that’s how a friendship becomes an emotional affair: it is kept secret, and it grows bigger than anyone thought it would.
Innocent Friendships Can Start in Person or Online
The internet offers privacy and space for friendships to develop without anyone knowing. Friends may never meet in person. If a friendship does start in person (at work, church, the gym or in the community), meetings are open and innocent. Relationships can flourish in public places like the office or even in more private places, like homes or hotels.
Anonymity is a huge problem with online relationships and internet affairs. The privacy increases the chances that you’ll share more intimate secrets and private thoughts (things you may be reluctant to share with your partner or someone in person). Another danger is the temptation to idealize your friend and create the most wonderful, kind, smart, and funny person you’ve ever known! You haven’t met in person – and you certainly haven’t dealt with dirty socks, disciplining kids, or getting lost in a new city together. Your relationship hasn’t been tried or tested. This is the perfect opportunity for an innocent friendship to turn into emotional cheating or an affair of the heart.
Friendships develop into emotional affairs when people discuss matters that aren’t shared with their own partners. Sometimes husbands or wives talk about their marriage with their friends. If they’re talking to a friend of the opposite (or even the same) sex about matters of the heart, they can grow deeply emotionally attached. This emotional connection is the “cheating” aspect of an emotional affair.
If you already know you’re in too deep, read Emotionally Detaching From Someone You Love But Can’t Be With.
Are Women More Likely to Have Emotional Affairs?
Women are usually the ones who push the relationship further. Women are often naturally or instinctively emotional and connectable. They often want relationships to move from friendship to love, and even from online friendship to in person meetings. Women tend to get more emotionally involved and are more emotionally invested than men.
Men, on the other hand, see the online relationships or emotional infidelity as part of their lives – a nice part, but just one part. Generally speaking, women envision soul mates or life partners; men may just be amusing themselves, having fun, and connecting with new people.
6 Signs of Emotional Cheating
An affair of the heart happens when you:
- Discuss your partner and relationships with your friend. You share your fears, hopes, and dreams (this is emotional intimacy).
- Meet your “friend” for dinner or lunch without telling your partner.
- Keep your computer, files, and internet sites password-protected.
- Hide or are secretive about your life, relationships, and activities.
- Keep your partner waiting while you spend time with your “friend.”
- Stay in regular, intimate contact with ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. Emotional affairs of the heart can develop from innocent friendships with past sweethearts.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming or even promising that you will never have an emotional affair. Instead, focus on developing a good, strong relationship with your partner. Initiate open and honest discussions about your relationship. Have fun together! Fall in love in new ways on new days. Don’t forget what brought you together in the first place.
“It’s so easy,” says marriage counselor Gary Neuman, “to forget why we fell in love.”
Have you had an innocent friendship with a member of the opposite sex that caused problems in your relationship? Feel free to share your story below.