Be it an old school friend, a co-worker or even an ex, everyone has friendships outside of their romantic relationships.
But at some point, these friendships can cross the line from strictly platonic to emotional affairs, which can be a fatal blow to the primary relationship.
An “emotional affair” describes when the depth of emotional intimacy between two people has grown so deep that it is akin to a romantic relationship but, as the name suggests, without any physical intimacy.
“In many cases it starts out completely harmless, as a friendship, but grows into something more,” British relationship expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie told FEMAIL.
“In an emotional affair, the boundaries are lower and less clear, so that a friendship can inadvertently grow into a deeper emotional attachment at first.”
An “emotional affair” describes when the depth of emotional intimacy between two people has grown so deep that it is akin to a romantic relationship but, as the name suggests, without any physical intimacy. stock image
While there is no sex involved, emotional matters still have the power to ruin relationships. Indeed, they can be seen as a greater betrayal because there is more thought and intimacy behind an emotional affair than, say, a drunken one night stand.
Neil continued: ‘It’s easy to pretend – to yourself and your partner, if you get caught – that you haven’t crossed a line because you haven’t had sex with someone else. But an emotional affair can be more painful for your partner and further erode the trust between the two of you because of the deep emotional bond and feelings you have formed for someone who is not them.
“Having an emotional affair is a risk, which will likely lead to you losing both your partner and the other. This can lead to an enormous amount of pain and unhappiness for everyone involved, including you.’
Here, Neil, creator of online relationship therapy program, The Relationship Paradigm (www.relationshipparadigm.com), shares his expert advice with FEMAIL…
Why do people have emotional affairs?
Relationship expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie, pictured, shared his advice
Matters, whether emotional or physical, rarely come out of a clear blue sky. There are often unmet needs in the relationship, including intimacy, communication, and connection. This could very well be a sign that something needs to change in your relationship or that you have drifted apart.
The pandemic has exacerbated this – with financial worries, homeschooling, working from home and health fears putting enormous pressure on many relationships.
Many people are stuck in the original fight, flight or freeze mode with little chance of escaping to work, friends and fun. This has led people to look for new, virtual ways to escape.
Emotional matters are increasing
Combined with lockdown cabin fever, social media and dating sites are making it easier than ever to connect with potential love interests or exes.
The opportunities for a physical affair have dwindled during the pandemic as our worlds have shrunk and we’ve had fewer opportunities to meet people in real life — with everything from the office to the bar closed.
Instead, research shows that we have turned to emotional matters instead. For example, a survey of married people found that 13 percent had contacted their ex in lockdown.
Combined with lockdown cabin fever, social media and dating sites are making it easier than ever to connect with potential love interests or exes. stock image
Do you think YOU could be having an emotional affair? Take the quiz to find out if you’ve crossed the line… or if you’re just good friends
1. Would you feel comfortable if your partner listens to everything you say to them or reads everything you write to them?
A. Yes, I don’t feel like I have anything to hide
B. No, the thought of my partner reading our messages is terrifying
2. Do you share things about your intimate thoughts and feelings with the other person that you do not share with your partner or discuss problems in your relationship with them?
A. No, I would always go to my partner to talk about these things
B. Yes, I’ve started to tell them things I would never tell my partner and I want to tell them first when something exciting happens
3. Have you felt less connected to your partner since you befriended the other person?
A. No, my relationship with my partner is just as strong as before
B. Yes, I am starting to feel closer to the other person than to my partner
4. Do you ever fantasize or dream about what it would be like to kiss or have sex with the other person?
A. Uh – no!
B. I can’t admit it, but part of me is really excited at the thought of this
5. Do you find yourself comparing the other person to your partner?
A. No – I love my partner and no one can compare to them!
B. Yes, lately I find myself getting more annoyed with my partner and seeing him in an increasingly negative light
Usually if: Sounds like you’re not crossing any boundaries here. You are 100% loyal to your partner and everyone is allowed to have friends! Carry on as you are – no need to worry.
Usually B’s: Sounds like you’re in dangerous territory here. There is a line between friendship and something more and you could cross it. The good news is that this doesn’t mean the end of your relationship if you don’t want to, it just means you need to make some changes.
Revealed: How do you come back when you’ve crossed the line?
Emotional affairs usually happen because a connection has been broken between you and your partner. But you can fix it. The first step is to end the relationship you had with the other person. Instead of just ghosting them, tell the other person that you want to end things and that you will end them. Explain that you feel like you’ve crossed a line and need to focus on your relationship again.
The next bit may sound painful, but to really start over, you need to tell your partner what happened. This draws a line in the sand and allows you to move forward honestly and without feeling guilty or consumed with regret. If you don’t tell them, you risk not only the guilt that affects your relationship, but also that they find out on their own. This would deal a much bigger blow to your relationship than if you were honest with them.
Then it’s time to work on building a happy, fulfilling, loving relationship with your partner. Give your partner full access to your phone to show that you have nothing to hide to restore trust. Business often arises as a result of a breakdown in communication, intimacy or connection. Here are a few ways you can rebuild it.
Talking to each other, being able to express your feelings and being heard is key in any relationship. Think about what is positive in your relationship and what could be improved. Share appreciation for 5 positive things your partner does and then pick an issue in your relationship that could be better. Explain why this is important to you and what you would like.
During the lockdown, many couples got into a bit of a rut of not having sex. Sex is a very important form of connection. Discuss with your partner what you like and find out what their needs and desires are. Just imagine if you could have a risk-free conversation exploring this, knowing that there can only be benefits.
Reserve time and a place where you can get in touch as a couple. Create those moments of intimacy where it’s like the world stops and nothing else matters. This can be a look, a touch, a word. You can also get really creative with this and take turns surprising your partner once a week with something you think they would enjoy. Let your imagination run wild and see what joy you can bring.
Neil Wilkie is a relationship expert, psychotherapist, author of the Relationship Paradigm Series of Books and creator of the online relationship therapy program The Relationship Paradigm®. Take the Relationship Health Check to find out how to build an even better relationship.