3 Sneaky Reasons Emotional Affairs Are So Appealing To Non-Cheaters

A couples therapist shares the secret justifications people make for emotional affairs, often without realizing it.

Couple arguing, emotional affair Tirachard Kumtanom | Shutterstock

Emotional infidelity occurs when you or your partner become emotionally connected with someone outside of your relationship, either in person or online. An emotional affair is dangerous because it not only takes away time and energy from the marriage but can lead to infidelity and possibly divorce.

Another way of looking at emotional infidelity is that the betrayal is a symptom of the problems that already exist within a marriage. When the primary relationship is not emotionally and physically intimate, each person becomes vulnerable to a form of adultery — either emotional or physical. Rather than blaming the affair for the problems in a marriage, why not address the real, deeper issue?


Why emotional affairs are so appealing, even to non-cheaters

1. You have no shared responsibility with the new person

Emotional affairs are tempting because it's easy to be close with someone with whom you have no shared responsibility — no money issues, no children, no chores. It's easy to share your deepest feelings with someone you have no conflict. It's easy to get positive feelings from someone who doesn't live with you, and who doesn't share responsibilities and disappointments. 

The problem? This feeling never lasts.

If this affair does lead to the break up of your marriage and into a new permanent relationship, chances are you will end up with the same problems. Why waste your time? Why not deal with the problem now?


RELATED: 4 Pieces Of Easy Relationship Advice That Create Great Love

2. The constant communication creates emotional closeness 

The primary problem that leads to emotional infidelity is the emotional distance between partners.

While emotional infidelity is a symptom of emotional distance within the primary relationship, emotional distance is also a symptom of the deeper issues within the relationship. These deeper issues might be:

  • One or both of you try to control through anger, blame, and criticism.
  • One or both of you try to control through caretaking, such as giving yourselves up and taking responsibility for your spouse's feelings.
  • One of you withdraws and resists being controlled by the other.
  • Neither of you takes emotional responsibility for your feelings. You both abandon yourselves ignore each other's feelings and make your spouse responsible for your feelings.

Couple walks and text they both might be in an emotional affair Dragon Images via Shutterstock

The relationship pattern develops when neither partner takes responsibility for their feelings, and when each partner tries to have control in overt or covert ways, grinds down the love until each person feels disconnected from their partner and lonely in the relationship. This is when they are susceptible to emotional infidelity.

RELATED: Why The Major Cause Of Relationship Problems Is You


The problem? These patterns don't disappear just because you move on to another relationship. 

You take your overt and covert forms of control with you into any relationship, as well as your underlying fears of rejection that are behind these forms of control. Generally, these patterns don't show up early in a relationship or an emotional or physical affair, but that doesn't mean they're gone. If your new relationship were to become your committed primary relationship, these patterns would resurface.

@drkathynickerson Emotional affairs are real and hugely painful. Here’s how they most often end. If you need help, please check out The Courage to Stay on Amazon. ❤️ #affairs #affairrecovery #cheating #infidelity #cheater ♬ original sound - Dr Kathy Nickerson

3. An emotional affair may not feel like cheating 

Everyone knows what a physical affair looks like: motel rooms, cars parked in dark alleys, fears of pregnancy, and the scent of the other person's cologne or perfume on your clothes. With an emotional affair, those obvious features aren't present. You can conduct the entire affair from your couch or kitchen while cooking dinner. 


The problem? You're still betraying your promise to be faithful and avoiding the problems in your primary relationship. The distance and resentments won't heal if you simply pretend they are not there. 

Why waste what might turn out to be a wonderful relationship by not dealing with your fears, controlling patterns, and self-abandonment now? Instead of looking for someone else to fill your emptiness and take away loneliness, why not learn to do this for yourself? Imagine the wonderful relationship you and your partner might have if both of you learned to take responsibility for your feelings and ability to love.

RELATED: The One Thing You Shouldn’t Avoid In A Relationship You Want To Last


Margaret Paul, PhD, is a relationship expert, noted public speaker, workshop leader, educator, chaplain, consultant, and artist.