What is an emotional affair?

To put it simply, it is an affair of the heart.

An emotional affair is emotional affection without physical affection. It is when your wife enjoys talking to someone else, being around someone else and flirting with someone else more than she does with you. She is more emotionally invested in and feels closer to the other man, and her attention is devoted to him, not you.

The other man is generally more than happy to reciprocate, because emotional cheating almost always evolves into physical cheating.

Emotional cheaters usually feel zero guilt for their extramarital relationship. You will often hear, "I wasn't cheating, we never even touched each other!" But that is the very definition of emotional infidelity, and the word "infidelity" is used to describe this type of relationship for a reason... It breaches the bonds of marriage. Even if the body remains monogamous, the heart does not.

We'll talk more about the effects of an emotional affair vs physical affair later in this article. But for now, just know that EAs are devastating because they divide your wife's attention and it usually forces her to lie. There is only so much love-juice to go around, and if she's giving sips to another man, that means there's less left for you.

In fact, many times emotional infidelity will involve your wife putting you down and demonizing you to the other man. In her heart she will blame you for pushing her to seek emotional affection outside of the marriage. The other man will in turn tell her that he wishes his wife were more like her, or that he would never treat her that way.

What Is an Emotional Affair, Really?

Psychologists use the term Limerance to describe the feelings that an emotional affair elicits from your spouse.

Limerance is defined as an involuntary state of mind in which your wife has an overwhelming desire to have her own feelings of attraction reciprocated by the other man. It involves the type of intense joy and passion characteristic of a budding relationship... The "honeymoon phase".

Another word to describe this state of mind might be infatuation. However, infatuation is by definition short-lived, whereas limerance can last indefinitely as long as the relationship is unfulfilled... In other words, until there is sexual fulfillment.

Limerance is why emotional cheating leads to a physical affair at least 50% of the time... The other 50% of the time is when the cheater gets caught!

This also explains why your wife will not want to give up her relationship with the other man. She will give endless excuses why they should be allowed to continue their relationship as "friends", even if she concedes that it's already gone too far.

Emotional Affair VS Physical Affair

Even though most emotional cheaters think their relationship is harmless, it is widely acknowledged among psychologists, counselors and other marriage experts that emotional cheating can do MORE to damage the underlying trust of a marriage than a casual sexual encounter or one night stand.

However, emotional affairs are less damaging than full-blown physical affairs because the latter typically involves all of aspects of former anyways.

But, the reason that emotional unfaithfulness is more damaging than a casual physical encounter is because most people recover from the shock of extramarital sex before they recover from the hurt of being lied to. It's one thing to have a moment of weakness and give into physical temptation. It's much worse to fall in love with someone else, desire them more than your spouse, and then continually lie to your spouse about your feelings.

I have seen this same trend myself in the men that email me and in the men I interact with on popular marriage forums... Emotional affairs are immensely destructive to an otherwise trusting relationship.

What is an emotional affair? It's damaging... Always.

An emotional affair will damage a marriage both before and after it's discovered. As soon as your wife crosses the line into emotional infidelity, there will be increased distance and fighting in your marriage, even if you don't know about the affair. Once you do discover the affair, you will have to deal with the deception and secrecy she embraced to have this relationship, as well as the fact that your wife has fallen in love with another man and enjoys him more than she enjoys you.

The 5 Step Progression From Friendship Into Emotional Infidelity

Emotional affairs almost always start as an innocent, platonic friendship. Then, over time the emotional bonds grow stronger and stronger, generally while the cheater is in denial about the romantic nature of the relationship.

In general, an innocent friendship turns into an EA the moment that your wife shares information with her friend that she would not or does not share with you.

Usually this is how an emotional affair develops:

Step 1. Your wife has a few innocent conversations with the other man. She finds that she likes talking to him because he shares her sense of humor and he "gets" her.

The right thing to do is to back off the friendship at this point. In a marriage, there is no room for intimate private friendships with the opposite gender, no matter what our liberal, divorce-friendly culture might say otherwise.

------- Past this line is the beginnings of an emotional affair ---------

Step 2. Their conversations become more frequent and permeate into her private life. She will start meeting him for lunch, or emailing him regularly, or texting him or contacting him on Facebook... Or all of the above. Flirting ensues. A romantic undertone begins developing in the relationship.

At this point, what they're doing together isn't nearly as bad as the fact that your wife is hiding the depths of this relationship from you. Even if she doesn't feel guilty, even if she doesn't feel like she's cheating, she does knowingly hide their intimacy and wouldn't want you involved in their private conversations. Remember, secrecy is what defines an emotional affair and distinguishes it from platonic friendship.

-------Past this line is an undeniable, full-blown emotional affair ---------

Step 3. She realizes how much she enjoys talking to him and being around him. She doesn't want to end the relationship, even if she starts feeling a twinge of guilt (and she probably doesn't). She shares intimate details of her life with him, including her hopes, dreams and challenges. She will also share her marriage problems with him instead of bringing them to you, making it more difficult for your relationship to recover.

Step 4. In her mind, she has become completely dissatisfied with her marriage and acknowledges that she wants him more than she wants you. She will start actively complaining about you to him and he will readily offer emotional support. She will complain about the sexual inadequacies in your marriage, and she will share her sexual fantasies with him.

By now there may be some physical affection, but no sexual activity. However, sexual tension is the definition of the relationship at this point and so that abstinence will not last forever.

-------This is the line between an emotional affair and a physical affair ---------

Step 5. She finally gives in to the sexual chemistry that she feels between her and this other man. It may be as mild as a kiss or as dramatic as full-blown sexual intercourse, but one thing is for sure... It will be passionate, and she will want more of it.

Her emotional affair has now become a physical affair.

So, if I had to choose one word to answer the question, "what is an emotional affair," it would be...

Keep in mind that this is a fairly rudimentary progression from friendship to emotional infidelity to a full-blown affair, so your mileage may vary, as they say.

One thing is very important to note, however:

There's only one step before a friendship is in danger of becoming an emotional affair.

Everything past Step 1 could be considered emotional cheating, although of course earlier steps are easier for your marriage to come back from than later steps. If your wife continues developing a close, private friendship with another man, she is being unfaithful.

Author's Bio: 

I'm sure that you still have some questions about emotional affairs, even after reading this article. Don't worry, that's normal!

If you suspect that your wife is in love with another man, then you'll want to read more about the most common emotional affair signs.

Alternatively, if you want a full guide to emotional affairs, how to survive them, and how to forgive them, you'll definitely want to check out this powerful resource:

In-Depth Course: Emotional Affair Recovery 101

Whatever you decide to do from here, best of luck!