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8 Real Reasons Emotional Affairs Happen in A Relationship

Updated on May 19, 2020
Lauren Richards profile image

I help couples in troubled relationships to fix their relationships and get on the road to a new life together.

Couple feeling intimate
Couple feeling intimate | Source

What on earth make people to have an emotional affair? In my work and research, I have identified eight reasons that lead people to emotionally cheat, have an emotional affair or commit emotional infidelity.

In a moment, I will tell you all about these eight different reasons. Before I do that though, I want to touch upon the cardinal rule in all human behavior. Why does anybody do what they do? The answer is surprisingly simple and very complicated at the same time.

We do everything we do, good, bad, right, wrong, so that we get our needs met. To be clear, in no way, shape, or form is this list exhaustive. Also, I am not listing them in any order of importance.

They are common themes that I have identified in my working experience that I thought might be helpful for you to know. Listed below are 8 real reasons emotional affairs happen in a relationship:

Number 1 - Emotional Dissatisfaction With Your Relationship

Past the honeymoon phase, all relationships have within them reasons for a lot of conflict and with conflict comes a lot of dissatisfaction. So, often I hear from my clients that they paired up with somebody they thought was fun, exciting, carefree and adventurous.

A couple of years into the relationship, their partner's carefree attitude starts feeling reckless, irresponsible, or sometimes dangerous. The reverse is also very true in my experience with clients. Clients report having paired up with somebody who was organized, loving and caring.

When the novelty of the relationship starts wearing off, their caring behavior starts feeling claustrophobic and controlling. This is the very nature of relationships and this is something I experience every day with couples. With that in mind, not everybody has the tools or know how to navigate these murky waters.

Some people find themselves feeling very helpless and stuck in their situation and the only way they can get some of their needs met is to have someone by the side. Also, it is important to remember that relationships change.

Dissatisfied couple
Dissatisfied couple | Source

It is important to remember that people in relationships change as well. You marry somebody who is athletic and takes very good care of their body. A few years later, with all the pressures of work, marriage and maybe kids, they stop being as good-looking as they once did and you feel cheated out of something that is important to you.

Maybe when you started your relationship with your partner, they were very patient and understanding. But a couple of years into the relationship, you have a child together or they get promoted into a more stressful job, and now they are all snappy, irritated and don't seem to be able to be patient with you the way they once were.

You again end up feeling fooled or tricked. Often, people feel like they are in a relationship with somebody other than the one they started their relationship with.

So, what do you do? Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it is very difficult to enact the changes they want in their relationship and therefore, they go and try to get their needs met with somebody else outside the relationship without really addressing the problems that are in their current relationship.

Number 2 - Poor Communication Skills With Your Partner

One of the biggest challenges I noticed with clients who have faced emotional infidelity or emotional affairs is poor communication skills. Here is a scenario that happens often in my couple's counseling sessions:

One of the partners says, "I have so-and-so grievance. I have expressed my grievance to my partner a million and one times." I turn to the other partner and try and confirm with them that their partner had actually expressed their grievance to them.

Nine out of ten, the other partners says, "Today is the first time I have ever heard that from him/her." So, here is the bare truth. It is one thing to believe you have shared your concerns with your partner, it is a totally different thing to actually accurately and effectively communicate your concerns to your partner.

Couple having romantic commucication
Couple having romantic commucication | Source

Often, these two things do not coincide. In other words, you think you said something very clearly, you think you have expressed your grievance very clearly. The fact of the matter is, it is true that you have communicated clearly with your partner, only if your partner has actually understood what you are saying, not if you feel like you have given it your best shot.

The sad truth is most couples believe that they have actually shared their concerns with their partner and that their partner is deliberately ignoring their concerns. What I noticed in practice often is that, that is not accurate and that the communication has fallen short from accurately expressing what the grievance is to the other partner.

So, what do a lot of people do if they feel disappointed and let down by their partner? Well, you guessed it. For some people, the answer is to find somebody else that they believe is not going to let them down or disappoint them the way their partner did and that is how emotional affairs start.

Number 3 - Craving Physical Affirmation

This is a key fact that anyone in their right mind would be careless to ignore. As adults, meeting our physical needs in our intimate relationships is part and parcel to having a successful relationship. In other words, you cannot have a good intimate relationship with a partner without having a good physical relationship with them.

To be clear, I am not just talking about sex. Although, sex is part of it. Being hugged, touched, stroked, holding hands, getting a rub or even just sitting next to each other and paying attention to each other are all part and components of getting your physical needs met.

For some people, the feeling of rejection, lonely and isolated that comes from not getting their physical needs met is so hurtful and is so deep that they simply cannot live without getting these physical needs met in some.

Couple physically intimate
Couple physically intimate | Source

If these needs are not being met in their intimate relationship, they will step outside to get them met. An emotional affair can simply start by somebody sitting and looking at you while you are talking to them, paying attention, and actively showing you that they are interested in what you have to say.

This is still some level of physical intimacy even if there is no physical touch involved. Eye contact alone can be part of physical intimacy but that depends on how you define physical intimacy.

If a man, who says he loves you, won’t tell you the details of a private conversation between him and another woman, you can be sure he is not protecting your heart. He is protecting himself and the women he has feelings for. Wise women simply see things as they are, not as their low self-esteem allows.

— Shannon L. Alder

Number 4 - Poor Emotional Impulse Control

Let me be clear about something here. Connecting to another human being is an incredibly gratifying thing. For your brain, it can be comparable to getting a hit of heroin. You probably don't need me to tell you this, but some of us are better than others at fighting the temptation of having a cigarette, a hit of weed or even a bag of Oreos.

The same is true with feeling listened to and appreciated by others. Some of us are naturally better than others about controlling the impulse of getting more of these hits that you receive in your brain when you feel listened to and appreciated.

If you have poor impulse control, receiving random compliments or kind gestures from other people can seem irresistible to you and all you want to do is get more of those. The reason this is a problem is because when you are in an intimate relationship, part of the unspoken agreement is that your intimate partner is the exclusive provider of these types of intimate hits.

Feeling an urge or an itch to get these emotional hits from somebody else other than your intimate partner constitutes emotional infidelity, emotional cheating, or it can be the start of an emotional affair.

Couples in happy mood
Couples in happy mood | Source

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Number 5 - Poorly Defined Emotional Boundary

Boundaries are a crucial skill to master to have a good life in general whether in your intimate relationship, at work, with your family or in any aspect of your life. For example, what you can say to a classmate is not what you can say to a professor. That is a boundary. The kind of joke you can pull off with your best friend, you cannot pull off with your boss. That is a boundary.

By the same token, the emotional intimacy you share with your intimate partner cannot shared with somebody else. That, too, is a boundary. So, there is a challenge when you have a loose sense of boundaries. A poorly defined boundary in a friendship can be all that is needed to turn that friendship into an emotional affair or cause emotional infidelity.

If you cannot separate between what is appropriate to share with your intimate partner and somebody else, then you are blurring the lines between the different types of relationships in your life, which makes it so much easier to find yourself entangled in an emotional affair or emotional cheating.

Female and male adult flirting
Female and male adult flirting | Source

Number 6 - Re-enacting Childhood Traumas

As adults, every single one of us in one way, shape, or form is trying to recreate their childhood. They are trying to recreate an unconscious wound from childhood in the hopes that now that they are adults they can mend it. This is a very unconscious process.

That means that, if when you were growing up, you were affected by your father, mother or caretakers having an emotional affair or being part of emotional infidelity, then there is high likelihood if you do not become aware of that through counseling or other means, that you will recreate the same type of scenario of what happened to you as a child in your adult life.

This process is typically and entirely unconscious. Nobody ever really decides to cheat on their partner simply to reenact a childhood wound. The fact that it's not conscious, however, does not mean that it's not deliberate.

Please don't take that as absolving yourself from responsibility. In our adulthood, we deliberately seek out the type that will inevitably lead us to feel the same feelings that we had in our childhood. It is not all doom and gloom though.

With proper therapy and counseling, uncovering these unconscious motivations can give you the push you need so that you do not reenact the same traumas you had in your childhood in your adult life.

Emotionally connected couple on vacation
Emotionally connected couple on vacation | Source

When people cheat in any arena, they diminish themselves—they threaten their own self-esteem and their relationships with others by undermining the trust they have in their ability to succeed and in their ability to be true.

— Cheryl Hughes

Number 7 - Fear of Emotional Abandonment

This is closely related to the point before. You might easily find yourself in the middle of emotional infidelity or an emotional affair if you are afraid of being abandoned.

Unconsciously, if you have had a lot of experiences especially growing up or the people you emotionally depended on have abandoned you, you would be on edge if you perceived the possibility of abandonment happening in your current relationship.

To manage this unconscious anxiety, some people try to quell it by having more than one emotional attachment at a time. They reason to themselves that this way, they have somebody or a relationship to fall back on should the one they are in fall apart.

Woman having feeling of emotional abandonment
Woman having feeling of emotional abandonment | Source

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Number 8 - Reacting To Death or A Deep Loss

Another common reason for having emotional affairs or emotional infidelity is the experience of death of a loved one or otherwise a deep and tragic loss. The death of loved ones, like a parent, sibling or cousin, can contribute to somebody resorting to emotional affairs in one of two ways.

The first is that it awakens your death anxiety. When you are afraid to die, our knee jerk reaction is to live and live hard. For some people, that sends them to frenzy in trying to experience all the things they are not experiencing right now in their relationship. If the relationship has stopped being exciting to them, they try to find excitement in another relationship.

If their sex life has been on the fritz, they try and seek some crazy sexual escapade somewhere else. The other contribution death has that is making people resorting to emotional affairs is that, often time, your partner cannot really connect or understand your pain.

Woman in mourning mood
Woman in mourning mood | Source

This inevitably leaves you feeling alone and not understood in your relationship and so it is easier to feel tenderness and connection to somebody who would actually lend a hearing ear and who can be more understanding of the pain you are experiencing.

The same is true if you have experienced a significant loss. If you, for example, receive a serious life-threatening diagnosis, then you have experienced a sense of loss of health. If you lose your job abruptly, then you lose a sense of security, and so on and so forth.

This is the conclusion of the article. What I can assure you of is that this is a very good starting point to answer the question of why people have emotional affairs, commit emotional infidelity or emotional cheating. Please do leave comment below if you enjoyed the article. Thank you for reading.

12 Signs A Man Is Emotionally Connected To You

This will also serve another purpose for them. By dividing your emotional energy among two or more people, you are less and less attached to each individual and therefore, it would hurt you less if you lose that person. It really sounds clever on paper, doesn't it?

The sad truth though is that people who go that route typically find themselves without all the relationships that they have actually started, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because now they feel abandoned by a number of people that they emotionally depended on, which is exactly where they started.

© 2020 Lauren Richards


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