Emotional Affairs: When Friendships Cross the Line

Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale helps us learn how to keep emotional and sexual infidelities at arm’s length.

It’s difficult to get reliable statistics on infidelity for a variety of reasons. Much of our current data is based on the famous Kinsey reports from the 40’s and 50’s as well as a consensus among professionals and experts in the field of infidelity. It is believed that about 60% of men (and now women) have an affair at SOME point in SOME marriage. Since not all men and women having affairs are married to each other, according to author and infidelity expert, Peggy Vaughn, infidelity may affect an estimated 80% of marriages in the U.S. Eighty percent! As you think
of your own marriage, as well as nine other couples you know, this means that eight of you as couples have either dealt with or are facing a partner’s affair; be that emotional or sexual infidelity.

Emotional affairs either end or they escalate. Regardless if someone believes an emotional relationship is dangerous to marriage, it is! Most emotional affairs are just affairs that have not YET become sexual.

The good news is there are things you can do to protect your marriage against infidelity’ but a simple promise to stay faithful is not enough.

Most people who cross the line of infidelity, had no premeditation, no intention whatsoever, of having an affair, either emotional or sexual. I have yet to meet anyone who woke up one morning saying, “Today is the day I start my affair!” Usually what I hear in the aftermath is, “I never thought this would happen to me. I always looked down on other people who cheated. How did I ever get myself into this?” We are all vulnerable. I worry most about those couples or individuals who say, “that will never happen to us!”

Recognize All Relationships are Vulnerable to Infidelity

Emotional affairs begin in innocence. It is nothing more than a conversation that leaves us with a good impression of the person we shared it with. It is when we have not maintained the proper boundaries on outside relationships that the trouble begins.

Avoid Secrecy & Deception

What constitutes an “emotional affair?” Secrecy is the main ingredient. Secrecy is a critical component of a strong emotional attachment with someone other than your partner. Whether an affair is emotional or sexual, it is DECEPTION that creates the most long-term damage to the trust and future of the marriage.

If there is an ongoing interaction with someone with whom you have been very honest in sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings, this can generate a feeling of closeness that stimulates even more sharing. An emotional attachment quickly develops, causing serious damage to a marriage – regardless or not if it ever becomes “sexual.”

Be Careful in Conversation

We often joke that conversation is a “woman’s need.” But conversations are what start us off on this slippery slope, for both women and men It’s impossible to overestimate the role conversation plays in the drama. I don’t mean the regular daily conversations about the status of a project or the new sales report or organizing church or community activities together. I mean the intimate conversations about the things in our lives that we hold dear. Be aware of the topics that grab your attention and spike your energy: your children, spiritual paths, political passions, world views; frustrations at work and home. It is within intimate conversation that seeds are planted for creating lust and passion. It is within conversation that we show our respect and admiration for others. It is within the context of conversation that almost all flirting occurs and sexual innuendos are struck. It is within conversation that we explore each other as unique individuals. And it is within conversation that we make our plans to take that exploration further. It is with words that we express our feelings for another person. Words have power; and power creates passion. Conversation is an aphrodisiac; it is a form of foreplay.

Conditions of an emotional affair:

• Keeping private details of the relationship from spouse.
• Saying and doing things that wouldn’t be done in presence of spouse.
• Sharing thoughts and feelings with someone other than spouse
• Making efforts to spend time alone with this other person.

Affairs begin with time and attentiveness. For women who have felt neglected in their marriages, it can be as simple as a look that says, “I find you interesting.” They take root and grow through continued conversation and sharing that deepens intimacy and connection. The slide from friendship to affair can be imperceptible until it’s too late.

Monitor Time & Proximity

Most affairs occur between friends (either in the neighborhood or at church) and co-workers. We spend more time with our coworkers than families. Sometimes, it even seems we spend more time with our children’s sport coach than we do with spouse. It is in time spent together that relationships take root and grow. It begins with a conversation, laughter, and shared experiences.

Beware of the lure of the Internet. Emotional affairs develop quickly behind the safety of the computer screen. You can be drawn to an affair like a drug! Feeling shave no brain cells; come of my clients have lost their minds; literally! It is only when they’ve recovered from the hypnotic embrace of the affair that they look back and say, “What was I thinking?” Emotional affairs dumb us down!

Recognize that work can be a danger zone. I have a colleague who believes that every worksite should be marked with a large banner that reads: “WARNING: Men & Women Working Together!” Another motto: “Stay Alert; Don’t Flirt!” Do not lunch with or take coffee breaks alone with another person. Meet your spouse for lunch if possible or take the time to hit the pavement for a walk to clear your stress of the day.

Commit to Honesty

There is one trump card for preventing affairs…and it’s not a commitment to monogamy.
Make a commitment to sharing your deepest thoughts, feelings, fears, and triumphs with your partner. Reveal as much of yourself to one another as possible.

We are mistaken when we believe that our religions or our covenants protect us; or the fact that we have children or work together; or because we love each other or have a good marriage. We lower our guard because we believe we are the exception. We all need to exert the caution and effort necessary to create boundaries that make marriage safe and the most satisfying intimate relationship possible.

Affairs can occur in even happy marriages. But they are most likely to happen when partners have grown apart, lead individual lives, or when the marriage has been neglected in favor of other pursuits. It is in the gap left by that neglect that attention of a friend or coworker has the potential to turn a relationship into more than an association.


“The Monogamy Myth,” by Peggy Vaughn.

“Not Just Friends, by Dr, Shirley Glass.


Quiz: Has Your Friendship Become an Emotional Affair?

Click http://stage.bonnint.net/slc.php?path=2,54&story=8707576,109,shead,0,&act=activateHERE to take the quiz.

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