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How to Save Your Marriage From an Emotional “Affair of the Heart”

Emotional affairs are difficult to define, but they aren’t innocent friendships – and they can destroy your marriage. Here’s how an emotional affair can ruin your relationship and how to save your marriage from the destruction of emotional infidelity. These signs of “cheating in your heart” are from Dr Phil McGraw.

emotional cheatingIf you think emotional cheating is a problem in your marriage (ie, your spouse has a close friend of the opposite sex), read The Emotional Affair: How to Recognize Emotional Infidelity and What to Do About It by Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron. You’ll discover what it means to have an emotional affair, and learn steps to discovering the roots of the problem, making changes in your relationship, discussing the issue with your partner, and recovering from the breach of trust and intimacy.

For every sign of infidelity, there may be more signs that you’re missing. 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,” says Dr Phil. If you’re dealing with the rats of emotional affairs in your marriage, read How to Deal With Your Husband’s Past Secrets.


I was inspired to write this article by a reader who made the following comment…

“We have been married 15 years, and my husband got a part time job about a year ago,” says Nina on 6 Signs Your Marriage is Over – and How to Cope With the Future. “He always talked about a group of friends and then suddenly I noticed only one female coworker’s name continuously coming up. I asked about this person. She is half our age with two small children. My husband had been talking/texting this person nearly 24 hours a day, and I think this is emotionally cheating not an innocent friendship. Anytime I was asleep or out of his presence, they talked. I was later told he initially attempted to have sex with her and she said no because he was married. They then pursued this friendship. He has run errands for her, done things with her kids, etc. It is very reminiscent of how we got together. She’s a single mom, hard working, with small kids. My husband says if there is no sex, there is no affair. He doesn’t believe in emotional affairs. She said if she wanted him she could have had him. Help!”

Here’s what Dr Phil says about affairs of the heart…

What is an Emotional Affair?

On this show, Dr Phil featured Amanda and Randy. During their 11 years of marriage, Amanda had five emotional affairs (including an involvement with a psychiatric patient when she was a nurse. She lost her job over that one).

Here are the basics of emotional affairs, including what they are, why people commit emotional infidelity, and how to recover from 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

Reasons people have emotional affairs:

  • Infatuation addiction – they like the “tingly feeling”
  • 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)

For more reasons behind infidelity, read Why People Cheat in Relationships.

Emotional Affairs save your marriage

How to Save Your Relationship From the Destruction of an Emotional Affair

The good news, Dr Phil says, is that an “affair of the heart” doesn’t have anything to do with the spouse. The bad news is ALSO, he says, that the affair of the heart doesn’t have anything to do with the spouse!

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 the emotional cheating.

Are you scared and depressed, reading about emotional affairs? Know that when handled the right way, the aftermath of cheating can actually strengthen your marriage and bring you closer than ever before. It does take time and effort, though – and at the end of this article I share a fantastic resources for dealing with the aftermath of emotional affairs in marriage. You can turn it around and fall in love with your husband again.

How emotional affairs harm relationships

Although emotional affairs often do not include physical intimacy or sex, they can take away from your marriage. Emotional infidelity encourages  one partner to get his emotional needs met elsewhere, in another person. This brings secrecy and deception into your marriage, which damages trust just as surely as if your husband had slept with the other person.


In fact, some people say that an emotional affair is “worse” than physical infidelity because it involves the heart. An emotional connection is more powerful than a sexual one! Physical intimacy goes away; friendship is a stronger, more lasting and important bond.

3 components of emotional cheating:

  • Emotional intimacy. Husbands who are having an emotional affair shares more of his inner self, frustrations and triumphs with her than with his wife. This is a slippery slope, especially if he starts to share his dissatisfaction with his marriage with the woman he’s emotionally cheating with.
  • Secrecy and deception. If it’s an emotional affair, your husband will neglect to say, We meet every morning for coffee. Once the lying starts, the intimacy shifts farther away from the marriage.
  • Sexual chemistry. Even though your husband and the woman he’s emotionally involved with may not act on the chemistry, there is likely an unacknowledged sexual attraction.

“Often, people whose partners have emotional affairs either don’t feel like they have a right to put an end to it (after all, the other person is just a friend and not a lover), or they have to contend with the cheating person’s evasions and justifications (we work together, we’re not having an affair), and accusations that the jealousy or insecurity is not justified,” write Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron in The Emotional Affair: How to Recognize Emotional Infidelity and What to Do About It. “It can be difficult to think of an emotional affair as a problem, even if it’s causing the partner worry, jealousy, insecurity, and the loss of emotional connection to the cheating partner.”

Emotional cheating may be a warning sign of a bad relationship.

Quick 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

If you’re struggling to overcome an emotional affair and want to be closer to your partner, read When You Feel Alone in Your Marriage – Emotional Disconnection.

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 his partner is upset or threatened by the friendship, then it needs to end. I think 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.

Relationship Help for Emotional Affairs

Read Chatting or Cheating by Sheri Meyers, especially if you suspect you’re dealing with an emotional affair in your relationship.

In this book, you’ll learn how to…

Emotional Affairs Versus Innocent Friendships

  • Become “emotional affair aware,” and stop denying what’s really going on.
  • Identify the most common infidelity warning signs, breeding grounds, and relationship vulnerabilities.
  • Gather the proper evidence and recognize the often subtle clues that your partner is cheating, so you can confront them in the right way and get to the truth as quickly as possible.
  • Confess the truth without breaking your partner’s heart (if you’re the one having the emotional affair).
  • End the emotional affair, break the addiction, and stop the obsessing.
  • Learn specific, proven tips and strategies for eliminating unwanted thoughts, moving on, forgiving yourself and embarking on reconciliation with your primary partner.
  • Survive the betrayal, heal your heart, and restore the trust, no matter how betrayed and angry you feel, or how impossible it may seem right now.
  • Repair your relationship, revitalize your romance, create genuine intimacy, and safely love again.

Have you or your partner had an emotional affair? How did it affect your relationship? Comments welcome below. I can’t offer advice on emotional affairs versus innocent friendships, but it may help you to share your experience.

Faith isn’t about everything turning out okay. Faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out. 


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44 thoughts on “How to Save Your Marriage From an Emotional “Affair of the Heart””

  1. My partner( we have been together for 18 years but not married), is having an emotional affair with a co-worker. They talk on the phone several times a day, she is married, so she texts him all the time. I have seen texts at 6 am when I am sleeping and possibly her husband is sleeping as well. She is a saleswoman, my partner is management and sometimes they work together. They find the way. He texts her in front if me she sends messages to him that are are cute, even videos if songs she like. he even lent her money once. Of course he denies everything. I called her once and she denied everything as well. According to her, “he is very nice and helpful “. I don’t trust him any more. They were texting at the dr’s office when he came eith me because I am havings surferies due to chronic kidney disease.
    He travels constantly and I don’t know if they see each other. Don’t know hiw to confront him because he gets very angry. I am just giving up. My heart is broken. He had betrayed myme eith a married woman.

  2. I read and read stuff about emotional affairs but never post anything it happened to me long story 3 years on I still don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Please be assured you are far from a joke and they are the ones who need pitying for their lack of integrity respect for you.. I’m hoping because it’s a while since you posted that the pain they caused is lessening. One day he’ll look back and realize the grass wasn’t greener and he let a good woman slip away. You will have the last laugh as she will move on when bored or finds someone else’s life to mess up and he’ll be alone. You might be alone but I’d rather be alone with my self respect morals and integrity in tact keep smiling

  3. CSP,

    I feel your pain..

    THis is the storey of my life at the moment.. My partner is female, but cant stop messaging a guy who started facebooking her.. She started to delete the messages, but i clocked one, and pulled her up on it. Alls this did was force her closerr to him, and she spend 3 days solid sending him messages. ( but deleting every one ) I told him to back off, but this just made things worse..

    What i find interesting is the narcissistic comment. I am convinced my partner has vunerable NPD. We tried councilling, but it is no use as whatever boundaries we got set, she broke them. Ironically i had a private chat with the counciller who mentioned that she shows traits of cluster B disorder..

    If i bring anything up, i am the bad guy – it always gets turned back on me.. She will never admit any responsibilty.. And i know what you mean about believing you – She has told anybody and everybody that i am some kind of nut case who just keep checking up on her, and am a controll freak becuase i keep trying to tell her who not to talk to.. She doesnt get that sending hundreds of messages to a guy, but deleting them ( and denying it ) isnt something that happens in a healthy relationship – so i feel for you !

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