What Is An Emotional Affair?

by Stephen Waldo

What is an Emotional Affair
What is an Emotional Affair

What is an emotional affair?

To put it simply, an affair of the heart.

An emotional affair is mental affection without physical affection. It’s when your wife enjoys talking to someone else, being around someone else and flirting with someone else more than she does with you.

It’s when she feels closer to another man, and therefore gives him more attention, than she does you.

What about him? The other man is almost always happy to pursue the relationship because emotional affairs almost always evolve into physical affairs.

Did you know? Emotional cheaters rarely feel guilty for their extramarital relationship.

You’ll often hear excuses like, “I wasn’t cheating; we never even touched each other!” But as you now know, that’s the very definition of an emotional affair. And the word “affair” is used to describe this type of relationship for a reason… It breaks the boundary 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. You can scroll down if you’re in a hurry. Otherwise, just know that an emotional affair is devastating because it divides your wife’s attention and it forces her to lie. She’s only got so much love-juice to go around; if she’s giving sips to another man, there’s less left for you.

Many times it goes even further… An emotionally unfaithful wife may complain about you to the other man. In her heart, she’ll blame you for making her seek emotional affection outside of the marriage. And you can bet that he’ll be right there encouraging her.

In fact, let’s talk more about how your wife is thinking right now.

The Psychology Behind an Emotional Affair

Psychologists use the term Limerance to describe what’s going on in your wife’s mind right now.

Limerance is defined as an involuntary state of mind in which your wife feels 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… More commonly known as “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 as long as the relationship remains unfulfilled… In other words, until they have sex.

Limerance explains why emotional affairs lead to physical affairs at least 50% of the time… The other 50% of the time being when the person gets caught!

It also explains why your wife won’t want to give up her relationship with the other man. She’ll 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

It’s probably no surprise that most emotional cheaters believe that their relationship is harmless.

Did you know? Psychologists, marriage counselors and other experts in the industry consider that an emotional affair is actually more damaging to a marriage than a casual sexual encounter or one-night stand.

However, emotional affairs are less damaging than full-blown physical affairs because those typically involve all of the worst elements of emotional infidelity anyways.

The reason that emotional affairs are more damaging than a casual physical affair is because the hardest part of surviving an affair is the rebuilding of trust. In other words, most folks recover from the shock of extramarital sex before they recover from the deception involved.

Look at it like this… Can you more easily empathize with scenario 1 or 2:

  1. Being unable to fight off a temporary moment of weakness in the face of physical temptation.
  2. Falling in love with someone else and slowly desiring them more than your spouse, meanwhile lying to your spouse about your feelings.

Most men would say #1.

I’ve seen this same trend myself in the men that email me and in the men I interact with on popular marriage forums.

So, what is an emotional affair? It’s heart breaking… That’s for sure.

How Friendship Turns Into Emotional Infidelity

According to our emotional affair definition, they almost always start as an innocent, platonic friendship. Then, over time the emotional bonds grow stronger and stronger while the cheater continues to deny the romantic nature of the relationship.

In general, an innocent friendship turns into an emotional affair the moment that your wife shares information with her friend that she wouldn’t share with you.

This is how an emotional affair usually develops:

Step 1: The Introduction

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’s no room for intimate private friendships with the opposite gender, no matter what our liberal, divorce-friendly society might say otherwise.

~~~~~ Past here is the seed of an emotional affair ~~~~~

Step 2: The Piqued Interest

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 extent of this relationship from you. Even if she doesn’t feel guilty, even if she doesn’t feel like she’s cheating, she does 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 a platonic friendship.

~~~~~ Need an emotional affair definition? Read past this line ~~~~~

Step 3: The Full-Blown Attraction

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. She shares intimate details of her life with him, including her hopes, dreams and challenges.

This is also where she’ll start sharing her marriage problems with him instead of bringing them to you, making it more difficult for your relationship to recover.

Step 4: The Last Straw

In her mind, she has become completely dissatisfied with her marriage and acknowledges – both to him and to herself – that she wants him more than you. She’ll start actively complaining about you to him and he’ll offer emotional support. She’ll complain about the sexual inadequacies in your marriage, or she’ll share her sexual fantasies with him.

By now there may be some physical affection, but no sexual activity. That being said, you could probably pluck the sexual tension in this relationship at this point. If she’s made it this far, it’s only a matter of time until…

~~~~~ The last line between emotional and physical cheating ~~~~~

Step 5: Bow-Chica-Wow-Wow

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 sex, 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.

If this is you, I’m very, very sorry.

Keep in mind that this is a fairly basic progression from friendship to emotional affair to physical affair, so your mileage may vary, as they say.

One thing is very important to note about this though:

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

Everything past Step 1 could be considered borderline emotional cheating, although the earlier steps are naturally easier for your marriage to come back from than the later steps.

I guess in the end, if I had to choose one word to answer the question, “What is an emotional affair,” it would be…


This article is the introductory part of the Emotional Affair Recovery 101 guide, because it answers the most basic question of what is an emotional affair.

Whatever you do from here, thank you so much for reading and I wish you the best of luck.

With much manly love,
– Stephen

Stephen Waldo

Hi! My name is Stephen. I’m the guy behind Husband Help Haven. My mission here is to help as many men as possible become the best husbands they can be, and save as many marriages as possible along the way. Even though I’m not a marriage counselor, I want to encourage men everywhere to become better husbands, fathers and leaders. Full author bio


  • Dear Sir.
    Thanks for your help. I didnt realize what i had been doing to my wife with my own emotional affair….only after breaking up with my now sexy as hell best friend did my wife tell me how much pain she felt. She saw my addiction to a once only “platonic” female friend. You were so right. I broke things up and guess what? The once platonic friend at break up did cry out that she had fallen for mw from the start and hated my wife….jeez. Thanks your article helped my marriage.

  • Veronica

    I found this website by searching on ways to forgive an emotional affair and see it is directed towards men, however this information fits everything I am feeling as the wife who was betrayed. Since my husband doesn’t think it was an affair because it wasn’t physical he thinks I should let it go. I want this marriage and so does he. I want to give him these articles so he understands what I am feeling, but I don’t know if it will upset him or give him another reason to think it wasn’t an emotional affair. The affair began four months before our wedding until I discovered it eight months after our wedding. Also, I started going to the gym and have met other people and he absolutely hates it (especially if I say a man’s name.). Is it a good thing that he is feeling this way? My thought is that he is comparing it to his friendship with this woman. Any help would be welcome.

  • Mona, PHD

    First off Stephen I want to say the advice that you are giving to men is over the top insane. I went to see one of my patients at the hospital last week because the advice that you gave her husband brought out the worst part of him. There she sat in a hospital bed with the loss of her right eye, 9 broken ribs, swelling on the brain, and a punctured lung. This was due to the advice that you had given him on how to “End an emotional-affair”. Your advice turned this man into a monster. He invaded every aspect of her personal life, stalked her, and eventually attempted to kill her. There was never extramarital affair going on, this woman had left her husband after 13 years of abuse. Yet you ignited a fire in him that could not be controlled. You give out information to needy husbands and pretend to you have clinical science and a PHD behind your name. When you are urging men to treat their wives as they do in the middle east. I would love to have a debate with you regarding the science and case studies that you founded your beliefs one.


    (Author’s note: this commenter submitted her story with links back to her website and practice, those are now removed for anonymity and just in case this is a fake story shared here to get people to visit her website)

    • A

      First, I’m so deeply sorry to hear that this happened to your patient. I earnestly hope that your patient has the speediest of recoveries, that her kids are safe if she has any, and that her “husband” goes to jail for a long time for what he did (I put that in quotes because I would never classify that kind of man as a husband).

      To address your points, I have never and would never encourage or suggest a man to abuse a woman physically, emotionally or any other way. That’s not the type of leadership I want men to take away from the Haven. The leadership I want men to seek to build in themselves is the kind that leads through servant-hood, sacrifice, humility, confidence… Things that make a husband GOOD. Not aggression, violence or entitlement; men with those traits lack manhood, not represent it.

      I should also point out, I have never ever ever EVER claimed to be a marriage counselor, doctor, lawyer, PHD, or anything other than a guy who has (A) witnessed divorce in my own life and (B) corresponded with a LOT of men going through marriage crisis and (C) wishes to share what I’ve seen work with other men. Also worth noting, the blog post you referenced about how to end an emotional affair (https://husbandhelphaven.com/how-to-end-an-emotional-affair/) is written for a wayward wife who willingly admits she needs help ending an emotional affair. It is not for men who want help forcing their their wife to end her emotional affair; I don’t have a post like that on the site. So I’m not quite sure which post you’re referring to there.

      Most of my advice really boils down to – “You can’t control her, but you CAN control yourself. So be the best husband you can be and trust she will see it.” Personally I don’t think that is chauvinistic or sexist advice to give… Just the opposite. I encourage men in marriage crisis to respect their wife’s CHOICE to leave, because while they can try and give a good incentive to choose the marriage, they ultimately can’t force that choice.

      Your patient’s husband seems to have ignorantly and stupidly done exactly the opposite of the above leadership advice, driven purely by selfishness and pride. He tried to force his wife, through violence, to give him what he wanted, whatever that was, after what sounds like an ongoing and complete mental breakdown built on pre-existing mental health problems and paranoia. Again, I don’t claim to be a doctor of any kind, and I certainly can’t make any diagnosis here, but I have a hard time believing that my leadership advice somehow took a normal guy and single-handedly turned him into an abusive, murderous monster. That just seems unfair to say.

      There is no excuse for what this man did. Your patient was completely innocent, and should have never had to endure this evil man’s emotional abuse for as long as she did, much less the violence that followed. She has my deepest sympathies and prayers for that, and I sincerely hope that a better life awaits on the other side of her recovery. If you have any other questions, please let me know.

  • Brandi Heskin

    Hi there. I’m emailing because I’m deeply concerned for my sisters marriage. It’s been brought to my attention that for the past 3 months, my sister is having an emotional affair with her coworker (she’s a teacher, he’s the vice principal). My sisters husband found out, and got enraged. He pleaded for her to stop, so she said she would. He found out that shes been secretly emailing (then deleting), even on their 10 day family vacation to Disney world with their 3 children this past week. My sisters husband has now reached out to me for help. My sister has always been truthful to me since the emotional affair started saying it was nothing but harmless flirting. I only found out this week, through my sisters husband, that’s she’s been lying to me.I know this because he forwarded me the emails between my sister and her coworker. Devastated she lied to me. Devastated that her husband is giving her every option to help this, yet she refuses the help and lies by continuing to contact the co worker even tho she said she isn’t. Devastated for her 3 kids (according to my sisters husband she’s been coming home late, not making meals or cleaning). I don’t want to get involved, yet I’m the only one that they’ve reached out to for help. Please help. Thank you.


    • A


      Thank you for reaching out here and sharing your concerns for your sister.

      The very first step for your sister must be acknowledging that she is having an emotional affair. She also needs to understand that emotional affairs function in much the same way as addictions… It feels like you can’t live without it, until you actually live without it and realize the damage it has been doing to your life. Love should never feel like an addiction; if it does, it’s not love, it’s dependency, Limerance, infatuation, one of those.

      I would encourage you to share this site with your brother-in-law. Have him email me if he has any questions. For you, I know you probably want to confront your sister. That is your call, but if you do, do it gently. Making her feel like she has no one on “her side” will just drive her deeper into the EA. Find a way to show empathy, and try to help yourself and her both learn what need the EA is meeting, so that then you can try to find a healthier way to meet it without going outside the marriage. That being said, remember again that EAs ARE much like an addiction, and many times addicts simply won’t accept help. Temper your expectations and try to be gentle.

      It sounds to me like your sister may also be going through a mild midlife crisis… I would recommend reading the “Why Is My Wife Having a Midlife Crisis” article on this site.

      Whatever you do, good luck to you and to your brother-in-law.

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