What is Emotional Cheating?

emotional affair

Can you cheat without being physically intimate?

It all started with an innocent friendship, a simple flirty comment and WHAMO! Chemistry takes over and your internal world ignites on fire, you get excited, and your mind races a thousand miles a minute. Emotional affairs don’t include physical intimacy….it is basically all emotion.

Here are a few items that constitute an emotional affair:

  • The Relationship is Hidden: A key factor to understanding the difference between a good friendship and an emotional affair is when the relationship becomes secretive, hidden, and out of your partner’s view.   You tend to step outside to speak on the phone, send a text message when you go into the bathroom, you delete messages/photos/texts, or you keep their phone glued to your hip at all times.
  • Emotional and Mentally Consuming: Emotional affairs can become consuming both mentally and emotionally.   The thoughts and emotions no longer consist of your partner; you tend to be all about this other relationship.  It can feel as if you are “alive” again, looking forward to talking to the other person again.  Thinking.  Wondering. Day Dreaming.
  • Emotional Reaching: When you have exciting news, feeling worried about work, or upset about a family member, you no longer reach to your partner for comfort.  You reach out to this other person for emotional comfort and closeness to share your emotional world with them.   They are the first person you reach to for comfort, and then later down the list you reach to your partner…(or not even at all).
  • The HIGH: Often this new relationship creates an “emotional high,” a euphoric feeling.  People tend to find more energy, willing to stay up later to talk on the phone/text/instant message chat, and can survive on less sleep because of this rush they get from the relationship.  The excitement and flirtation is emotionally and physically arousing.
  • emotional affairFlirtation: It might have started with an innocent friendship flirt, but now flirtation comes out more than it would with anyone else.  Your mind gets consumed with endless flirty comments and humor that you haven’t had for a while. The fun flirty chats are exciting and you can’t wait for the next time you chat with them.
  • Talking about them: Emotional affairs you might catch yourself talking about this person more frequently and they run across your mind more often.  You bring this person up in conversations you have with others and you can’t stop talking about them in a positive light.  Every topic seems to have a relationship with this “friend” of yours.
  • The Held-back Thoughts: You hold back from sharing your thoughts or interactions that you have with this person.  You have so much to say about this person, but you don’t say a thing.  Something inside holds you back on bringing them up in conversation…kinda like your body is sensing something more than a friendship is occurring.
  • Crossing the Line: Having an emotional affair is also when you cross the line with sharing appropriate information.  Crossing the line with information is opening up and sharing intimate things with this person where your partner is often the only one you do this with.  You send intimate photos, sexting, or flirty comments where this would only happen in the past with your partner.  You text message constantly throughout the day.
  • Dreams: You dream more of this person and the dreams have crossed into more intimate dreams where you are getting closer either emotionally, physically…or both.
  • Ditching Responsibility: Emotional affairs can also include ditching work or responsibilities to spend time with this person either in person or over electronics.  This isn’t the case for everyone.  Some people are able to stay on track with daily responsibilities, while other people get distracted where responsibilities are pushed aside and put on the back burner.
  • Internal Justifying: You justify your actions because “at least I am not having sex”…an emotional affair doesn’t include sex or physical intimacy, the one-night stands, or the weekly hookups.  The innocent friendships that start off with a flirt grows into a deep emotional connection…and then you might find that you justify the relationship to make it okay.

Are you and your partner dealing with the aftermath of emotional cheating? Come see me!

Call or text us at Estes Therapy

Call us at 619-558-0001 today to get started on the process. Trying to find out what might be some of the blocks keeping you from finding a partner can make a big difference.

Jennine Estes

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA.

Reader Interactions


  1. Hi Jennine

    Great tips to help us stay aware of where we focus our energy – and what can occur when we slip into unawareness.

    Thank you.
    Xxx Sandy

  2. This is exactly how my current failing relationship started… Now it is a 1 & 1/2 yr. old relationship that is very painful and sad.

    Both of us were in a relationship when we met even though we both were unhappy, we were still in a relationship. I was in mine for 8yrs and Dora my partner was in hers for over 4yrs.

    I am 46 and Dora is 49, and we both can’t seem to make it work without major conflict constantly. Dora has to always be right and say what she feels and then walk away… That pushes my buttons, because I feel like she is turning her back on our relationship and making me feel like I am suppose to just agree and “get over it!” Then I feel like I wasn’t heard and proceed to try and be heard which falls upon deaf ears and ends in hurt and abandonment.

    Always about 2 days later Dora is ready to talk to me again like it never happened… It’s just a vicious cycle that is getting really old and draining. I’ve never felt so much pain and abandonment in a relationship as I have in this one. It is so hard to walk away and yet it is even harder to stay.

    Dora,along with being a struggling entrepreneur in this economy, has made me feel for the first time close to the edge, like I really don’t matter and why keep trying…

  3. This is very interesting material. I, myself, was the object of an emotional affair, once upon a time. I was single, and the woman that I am referring to was with someone. However, we were friends long before she and her partner were together.

    I haven’t been on the other side of the “fence,” so to speak. Reading this does shine some light on what she may have been feeling throughout the “electronic relationship” that we so often shared.

    Great article.

  4. This has happened in my marriage this year and I am trying to help my husband work through this and help him to trust me and forgive me. How do we work past this and move on for our future? We need counseling but dont know where to start, and want to do marriage retreats but haven’t been able to find one that fits our needs. We are a military family with three kids we have been together 9 years and going our separate ways is just not an option for us. neither of us want that. Please help us

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  6. My husband has fallen into this kind of relationship with a co-worker. They email back and forth several times a week even though they have just seen each other. The emails are playful, but are becoming significantly more emotionally charged as they write about how happy they were to see each other and how it made their whole day to be around each other. I am having a really hard time with this because it is a secret relationship that I am only supposed to know as a friendship. He looks away from me if he mentions her name and he goes out of his way to stop by her office and flirt with her. She brings up my name often(perhaps feeling guilt) even though I have never met her. She even laughs about me “putting up with him”. I am just not comfortable with him spending his emotional energy on romancing this woman and I know he looks more forward to it than speaking with me. He is the type that never admits when he has done something wrong, and confronting him will only send him into a tirade with him accusing me of being crazy and that they are only friends. I know this is not the case, but I have followed their relationship secretly and it is eating me up to wait for further “evidence” before I confront. How long do I wait before it completely ruins our marriage, family, and my sanity? I have no proof other than the emails and other women in the office making comments to them about their behavior. What can I do to save our marriage, if anything?

    • Hi Vanessa,

      It seems like things need to change very quickly so your marriage and family doesn’t fall apart. Instead of gathering more evidence secretly, start marriage counseling right away to address what is going on. He needs to hear about how painful it is and that the friendship is threatening. It seems like the approach you are taking isn’t working. Better yet, share with him that you don’t like how you are responding to his friendship and that you need help from a professional on how to talk to him and resolve it together as husband/wife. I suggest couples counseling so you have a third person there to help organize what is happening and helping you two create a sense of security and safety within the relationship. Another thing, come clean with him and let him know you are aware of their relationship. The more you secretly watch, the more he will feel attacked and betrayed as well. It can be a slippery slope. Hang in there. Get support from other friends and family. If it gets too painful and he isn’t open to counseling, then you might need to start counseling on your end for support of what to do, how to handle all the emotions, and steps you need to take individually in the relationship. Don’t give up on your marriage.