9 Signs You're Having an Emotional Affair — And What to Do About It
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Picture this: That the guy in the corner office at work looks like Kit Harington. Even better: Your Jon Snow fantasies could potentially come to fruition, because he seems as emotionally invested in you as your therapist, and that is alluring as hell. So much so that you go out of your way to be around him. You join coworkers at happy hour and plot ways to sit next to him. You take daily coffee breaks together. You divulge lots of info to him that you wouldn't even tell your closest girlfriend. Basically, it feels like you two would be a match made in heaven — except, you're in a relationship and have a promising future with your significant other.
You tell yourself it's totally cool because not a single penis has entered a single vagina at any time during your interactions with this office warrior hunk — so it's not an affair, right? But hold on a second: There's a chance that you might be involved in an emotional affair, and although there are exceptions to all relationship rules, many experts (and perhaps even your partner) agree that it's cheating with a capital C.
If you're not sure whether your special "friend" could threaten your relationship, these signs may tip you off.
1. You're Talking Badly About Your Significant Other
"One of the biggest red flags is that you're spending a lot of time talking to your crush about your primary relationship or marriage in a way your mate would find worrisome," says Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill-Cornell Medical College and a psychoanalyst with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. It's one thing to complain about how your partner always leaves towels on the bathroom floor to your best friend, it's another to confide in a crush about how unhappy you've been in your relationship or about how your partner isn't giving you the emotional connection or satisfying sex you crave. If you're revealing feelings about your partner to your crush that you haven't even told your partner, this is a sure sign you're growing too emotionally attached to another person.
2.You're Trying to Be Alone With That Person
Saltz says that if "you're putting yourself in high-risk situations like getting a drink or being alone with that person," then that could be a sign of trouble, too.
And, of course, social media has made it even easier to connect with people, including past flames, thereby potentially fostering a sense of intimacy. Sure, a social networking site can't technically harm a marriage (Mark Zuckerberg isn't physically forcing you to send that message), but it still makes it dead easy for careless, impulsive people to sink their own marriages, says Dr. Wendy M. O'Connor, a licensed marriage, family therapist, relationship coach, and author ofLove Addiction: How to Overcome Toxic Relationships & Find Love.
"Technology has allowed people who might never risk having any kind of affair, to flirt online, and more," O'Connor says. "This does create a situation of 'temptation,' and not everything that takes place online stays online. People are bolder when hiding behind a screen, and often click on send without thinking first. This might be a recipe for disaster, and it takes just a little common sense to realize that healthy ground rules should be acceptable for both partners."
3. You're Trying to Hide What You're Doing
Meeting a male friend for a drink is one thing — but if you're going out of your way to cover up everything you do, then it doesn't really take a rocket scientist to figure out that you feel at least a little guilty about what you're doing. Why else would you feel the need to hide so much?
If you're erasing his messages, neglecting to tell your partner about one-on-one meet-ups, and feeling guilty about your feelings, then there's a fair chance you're having an emotional affair, says Erika Boissiere, marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco. Remember: Splitting the occasional pizza with a buddy shouldn't make you feel like a thief about to commit the ultimate heist.
4. You're Straight-Up Obsessed
A bad sign? "The person completely fills your mind's mental space (you think about him/her constantly or obsessively)," Walfish says. "You find yourself modifying your routine/schedule to see the person more frequently, the quantity and frequency of contact with him/her increases, and your feelings for the other person deepen and intensify." Also, pay attention to the butterflies that may be buzzing around your tummy when he texts and don't ignore these emotional changes. It's like those innocent crushes you had in middle school — only there's way more at stake here.
And it would be remiss not to bring up sex. It's one thing to use the occasional thought of your crush as a way to rev up your libido — as long as the goal of this fantasy is to pleasure your partner and yourself. But, Boissiere says if you find your sex life unsatisfying because you secretly wish you could be sleeping with your crush instead of your actual partner, Houston, you have a problem.
5. You Long to Feel Desirable and Powerful In a Relationship
Many long-term relationships and marriages become "comfortable" after a few years and some partners may find themselves longing for a time when their spouse was electrified just by the sight of them. Instead of working together to bring back some of that passion and intensity, it's often easier to seek thrills outside of the relationship.
"Affairs are a symptom of a relationship gone awry," Bossiere says. "Benefits of an affair can include a chance to have a meaningful relationship repair with your current spouse, falling in love with the person you are having the affair with or a chance to start over with another that may be a better fit for you now. Finally, many people report feeling more 'alive' than ever during the affair. To feel desired and wanted is a very powerful feeling, and some will risk everything (including their marriage) because this feeling is so strong."
Since everybody's different, there's no universal answer to the burning question as to why you've turned to the guy from accounting for intimacy. But there's a chance it has more to do with your needs than it does your crush's perfect body.
6. You're Avoiding Real Intimacy With Your Partner
Never want to talk about real, meaningful things with your spouse? "Some folks use emotional affairs as a mechanism for avoiding true intimacy with their partner/spouse," says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author ofThe Self-Aware Parent. "They withhold communication of their feelings and share them with an outsider to keep a wedge between them and their spouse. Also, people who are attracted to married or committed folks usually feel unworthy and undeserving of a complete loving relationship that includes give and take/reciprocity — both emotionally and physically."
7. You Count On Your Partner Too Much — And They Can't Deliver
If you're the kind of person who puts every egg you have in one relationship basket, you're going to be disappointed when your significant other fails to provide for your every need. Instead of extending yourself to friends and family for things that they can provide way better than your partner can, you may fall into the trap of believing your partner just doesn'tgetyou — and that someone else might.
"Human beings are built for connection — it's wired into the depths of our being," says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed family and marriage therapist and a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists. "It's also complicated and multi-dimensional. This is why we're the healthiest and happiest when we're connected to a group of people rather then depending on a single person for all of our emotional and physical needs"
"Diversifying the sources through which we connect enhances our ability to thrive," he says.
And there are healthy ways to do that, like joining a class, book club, scheduling regular dinner dates with friends each month, or even simply Skyping with family when you're too busy for regular visits. All of these efforts will enrich your life and broaden your social circle so that you don't expect 24/7 attention from your partner.
8. You're Turning to That Other Person for Celebration and Support Instead of Your Spouse
Whenever something big happens in your life, you probably immediately grab your phone and call up one person to tell them the news, whether it's good or bad. But if that person isn't your significant other and is instead the other man you can't stop thinking about, that's a serious issue.
"Research shows that in healthy marriages, couples celebrate each other's successes. If you're turning to this other person first in good times and bad, then you're replacing your husband emotionally and avoiding addressing what isn't working with him," says Dr. Paulette Sherman, psychologist, director of My Dating and Relationship School and author ofDating from the Inside Out. "Pay attention to this and attend to it in real-time so you consciously turn to your husband for support instead. If he doesn't give it back, then have a discussion about how you feel about that."
9. You're Lying to Your Spouse About the Other Person In Your Life
Trying to hide a potential emotional affair from your spouse is bad enough, but lying to them about it is even worse.
"Lying is a step beyond just hiding details — it's deception," Sherman says. "Now you're overtly telling untruths to the person you've pledged to spend your life with. So if you notice the lies are starting, realize that this could be a precursor to more physical infidelity later and stop things while you still can. Talk to your spouse about the feelings you've been having for the other person and work together to improve your marriage and accountability."
So — What Can You Do If You're In Too Deep?
Unless you plan on breaking things off with your S.O. and committing to your crush, the first step to ending an affair (even an emotional one!) is to be honest with yourself and admit this is an affair, Saltz says. It isn't usually feasible to revert back to being just friends, so Saltz says the best course of action may be to cut ties with your crush completely.
Experts are split on whether you should tell your partner that you've been crushing on someone else (assuming you haven't made the leap to physical intimacy, which really does require your honesty and is a whole other issue to deal with), but both Hokemeyer and Walfish agree that doing so could just hurt his feelings and not help matters. One thing is certain: You wouldn't have had such a soul connection with your coworker if there weren't unresolved issues in your primary relationship. And Hokemeyer says it's crucial to address those problems and take steps to enhance the emotional connection in your actual, real relationship. One way to do that is to attend couple's therapy, which can help you both sort out your feelings under the guidance of a trained professional, Saltz says.
There will always be another Kit Harrington lookalike in the adjacent cubicle as long as you're searching for one. If you've been looking, the best thing you can do is admit it to yourself and figure out why you're doing so in the first place.
Video: Nine Signs of an Emotional Affair
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