What’s the difference between an emotional affair or innocent friendship – and how to you tell? These signs of an “affair of the heart” are from Dr Phil McGraw. Here are the basics of emotional affairs, including what they are, why people commit emotional infidelity, and how to recover from emotional cheating.
According to Dr Phil, every problem in marriage can represent several other problems that you don’t see. “For every rat you see, there are 50 you don’t,” he says. For every sign of infidelity, there may be more signs that you’re missing.
On his episode about emotional cheating, Dr Phil featured a couple called Amanda and Randy. During their 11 years of marriage Amanda had five emotional affairs at work and with various men she met. Dr Phil dissected her reasons for seeking connection emotionally outside her marriage, and described how to protect intimate relationships from being damaged by emotional cheating.
It’s an emotional affair — not just an innocent friendship — when there are:
- Long phone conversations, emails, and online discussions
- Love letters
- Meetings and conversations that are kept secret from the partner
- Connections, confessions, and discussions that are kept secret
“A single moment can change us forever,” writes Shirley Glass in Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. “After you learn that you’ve been betrayed, you think in terms of the time before and the time after. The private calamity of discovering that your partner has become someone you don’t recognize and has lied to you as if you were an enemy blows your secure world to pieces. You no longer trust your eyes to see, your brain to comprehend, or your heart to feel what is true.”
Reasons people have emotional affairs:
- Infatuation addiction – they like the “tingly feeling” of meeting and connecting with someone new
- Fear of intimacy – they don’t want to be vulnerable with their partner
- Desire for new attractions and conquests
- Attraction to power and exhilaration
- Rebellion against the marriage or relationship
- Emotional fixation at a teenage level (emotional immaturity)
To learn more, read Innocent Friendship or Emotional Affair? 4 Ways to Know.
The good news, Dr Phil says, is that an affair of the heart doesn’t have anything to do with the spouse. This is also the bad news, he says. An affair of the heart doesn’t have anything to do with the spouse, which means he or she is left out in the cold.
People who have emotional affairs have their own personal reasons, which have little to do with their partner or spouse. This doesn’t absolve the partner of all responsibility; it means that the partner may have little control over the reasons for seeking emotional connection outside the primary relationship or marriage.
Tips for overcoming “affairs of the heart”:
- Don’t discuss the affair in front of the children, family, or friends
- Recognize that there is a point at which you have to let go of someone you love
- Protect your children from toxic relationships
- Acceptance on the part of the person having the emotional affair that he/she needs help
- Decide what you want and make a commitment to doing it
Sometimes, one partner thinks the friendship is innocent – there’s nothing wrong with having lunch or coffee with his opposite-sex friend. All they do is talk, and neither are attracted to the other. And he may be right: the friendship is totally innocent.
But if the partner is upset or threatened by the friendship, Dr Phil says it has to end. We need to do all we can to help our partners feel supported, loved, and secure – even if that means letting go of innocent friendships.
If you know that you – or your partner – is involved in an affair of the heart, learn why it happened so you can prevent it from happening again. Read How Does an Innocent Friendship Turn Into an Emotional Affair?
Have you or your partner had an emotional affair? How did it affect your relationship? Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below.