Imagine you’re asleep next to your partner. But in the middle of the night, you wake up. You notice they’re facing away from you in bed, staring at their phone and smiling. A five-line response comes back. It’s from their ex. That’s right: they’ve been texting their ex all night.
If you’re anything like me (and I’m a jealous, possessive Scorpio, to be fair), you wouldn’t be happy. You might consider this cheating, even though it’s not physical. The text exchange could be harmless, but depending on what they're chatting about, or how this chat is making them (or you) feel, you might consider it an emotional affair.
Psychology Today defines an emotional affair as “a relationship where the level of emotional intimacy is excessive and where the level of emotion invested in someone outside of the marriage infringes upon the intimacy between spouses or committed partners." Importantly, it affects your relationship: "This extramarital emotional involvement replaces a couples’ intimacy and obviously, may drive a wedge between partners. This in turn, may very well create distance and a feeling of separation, alienation, and loneliness.”
Emotional affairs can be just as devastating as physical affairs. "In fact, these can be very intense relationships that can have a lot more damaging effects on the primary relationship than a sexual affair could," Jean Fitzpatrick, LP, a premarital and marital therapist in NYC, previously told Refinery29.
Every relationship has different boundaries. Some people consider flirting cheating. Some people in open relationships are fine with their partners having sex with others, as long as they’re not emotionally involved. And some people in polyamorous relationships are fine with their partners dating and falling for others, but want to be kept informed. While it will vary depending on your specific situation, here are some common warning signs of an emotional affair.
You’re keeping information from your partner
If you instinctively keep information about interactions with a friend or crush from your partner, that’s a warning sign. "It's not that you necessarily need to be telling your partner everything, like that you ran into an old friend on the street," Fitzpatrick said. "But when you're making the active decision to keep something from them, because you think they might have a negative reaction, then that points to a problem."
You don’t mention your partner to your crush
Similarly, if you never mention your partner to your crush, that’s not a great sign, either. Basically, if you’re keeping secrets, something is up — even if you might not have realized it yet.
You’re not prioritizing your relationship
If you’re putting more energy into your relationship with your crush than your relationship with your partner, it’s time to reassess. And if your partner seems like they're putting more energy into a new friendship, you might want to talk to them about it.
You’re texting or messaging the other person… all the time
The rise of social media and dating apps have made emotional affairs much easier. It’s simpler than ever to friend an old flame on Facebook, and you can text someone all day (and all night) without your partner knowing.
You know it’s different from a friendship
You probably text your best friend often, maybe even more than your partner. That doesn’t mean you’re having an emotional affair with your BFF. When it’s an emotional affair, something just feels different, even if you can't describe exactly what it is.
Something just feels “off”
According to Psychology Today, when an emotional affair is going on, “it’s no surprise that a person who has shared a certain degree of connection and intimacy with their spouse suddenly realizes that something just doesn’t feel right any longer. They may literally feel their partner pulling away from them, feel a partner’s preoccupation with something (someone) else, and may find it hard or impossible to connect intimately in the same way they once did.” Listen to your gut reaction and consider if you need to set some boundaries with your crush — or even come clean to your partner.