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What Is Emotional Infidelity?

Updated on January 13, 2017

Emotional Connection Between Couples

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection." Author Brené Brown

What is Emotional Infidelity?

Emotional infidelity, a.k.a., emotional affair, is when one person in a relationship develops an intense emotional attachment with someone outside of their romantic partnership.

Although similar to it's counterpart, sexual infidelity, emotional infidelity often goes ignored or unnoticed, but is more damaging than people think.

Emotionally Unavailable

When people are involved in an emotional affair, they crave the emotional connection with the third-party they bring into the relationship.

As a result of this connection, their partner feels a loss of emotional availability from them to a certain degree.

An emotional affair also leads to divorce, and break-ups. But even if it doesn't, emotional infidelity causes severe heart ache.

Emotional infidelity hurts just as much as, or more, than a sexual affair
Emotional infidelity hurts just as much as, or more, than a sexual affair | Source

What Does an Emotional Affair do to Your Significant Other?

Although it's not a physical relationship, emotional infidelity leaves the other partner feeling more hurt and alone, because they:

  • Feel betrayed the same way as, or sometimes worse than if their significant other had an affair of a sexual nature.
  • The guilty party doesn't have the excuse "It was just sex," because it goes so much deeper than that.
  • The loss of emotional support, takes a chunk away from the foundation of the committed relationship.

The Effects of Emotional Infidelity Versus Sexual Infidelity - The Movie "Last Night"

The movie "Last Night," starring Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington, is a perfect example of emotional infidelity and sexual infidelity.

The Scenario: A husband and wife are separated for a night, and they both spend it with someone else.

Background Leading up to the Night: The husband has to go on an over-night trip for work, with a new female co-worker. The co-worker openly hits on him and tells him the fact that he's married doesn't concern her. And while her husband is away, the wife runs into an ex-boyfriend.

While they were in their relationship, he wasn't emotionally available. After being separated from her, he's realized his error in judgment.

The husband ends up going out for drinks at the hotel with his co-worker, and his wife goes out for supper with her ex-boyfriend, and some other people.

The outcome: The husband ends up having a meaningless one-night stand with his co-worker. While the wife stays up all night talking to her ex-boyfriend. Although the scene takes place in a bed, there is no sexual contact. However, they totally connect on an emotional level, talk of the past and have a good cry.

Spoiler Alert? Although I have told you how the movie ends, you still have to watch it to get the total effect, especially the ending.

If there's a possibility you're having an emotional affair, or if you think your significant other is, watch this movie with him or her. If you or your partner don't understand the seriousness of emotional infidelity, this movie will educate you.

Sign of Emotional Infidelity: Your mate will interrupt your private time with them, to speak to the other party.
Sign of Emotional Infidelity: Your mate will interrupt your private time with them, to speak to the other party. | Source

Signs of Emotional Infidelity

Often, parties to an emotional affair don't even realize what's happening. So If your significant other is having an emotional affair, or if you think you may be involved in one, these are signs to look for:

  • Emotional affairs generally start out as friendships, and often begin at work.
  • Eventually, the one in a relationship with someone else starts getting more and more emotionally attached to the third party.
  • They're always looking at their phone or emails waiting for contact.
  • Your mate will interrupt your private time with them, to speak to the other party.
  • They become drawn to them, and conversations start to become intimate. Not usually sexual, but intimate and deep.
  • Conversations are often about thoughts and feelings that they don't share with their romantic partner.
  • The committed party starts discussing problems within their marriage or committed relationship with the third party.
  • Conversations become secret, because they know deep down the relationship is becoming inappropriate. So they don't want to admit the number of conversations, or length of them.
  • Obsessively thinking about them.
  • Backing out of family events to spend time in person, on the phone, texting, or internet with them.
  • An emotional triangle develops, and the one involved in the emotional affair attempts to keep the two parties apart. They don't want their partner talking with the third party.

Flirting and Emotional Infidelity

Flirting on its own isn't harmful, but when you attach it to sexual attraction, or emotional infidelity, it can be a cause for concern.

Emotional infidelity and a Sexual Affair are Both Toxic, but

What Would Hurt you More, if Your Significant Other had

See results

How Men and Women React to Emotional Infidelity

According to the poll results above, twice as many people feel that emotional infidelity would hurt them more than a sexual affair. However, this data does not specify if the responses are from men or women, heterosexuals, gays, or lesbians.

A website called Sage Journals meta-analyzed 54 articles to see if men and women are deferentially distressed by emotional versus sexual infidelity titled Meta-Analyses of Sex Differences in Responses to Sexual Versus Emotional Infidelity - Men and Women Are More Similar than Different.

The following is a breakdown of the analysis. To read the complete article, there is a link in the resource and further reading section.

What does meta-analysis mean?

Meta-analysis is a term related to statistics and refers to contrasting and combing the results from different studies to try to identify patterns, sources of disagreement among the results, or interesting relationships that come to light from the results.

Meta-Analysis Results

The studies and articles reviewed in the meta-analysis were derived and tested from an:

  • Evolutionary psychology (EP) perspective
  • Social-cognitive perspective
  • Double-shot perspective

Evolutionary Psychology Perspective

Argues that men are more upset if their partner has a sexual affair than an emotional affair. Based on the idea that if a woman was involved in a sexual affair they are not guaranteed that the offspring they’re raising are their children genetically.

This perspective also argues that women are more likely to get upset over emotionally infidelity, than sexual.

Social-Cognitive Perspective

Social-Cognitive is the storage, retrieval and processing of information in the brain relating to the same species.

In regard to emotional and sexual infidelity, this perspective argues that differences between the sexes doesn’t exist. Males and females tended to be more upset by emotional infidelity than sexual, when they were forced to choose which one was more distressing. But the sexes indicated that a sexual affair was more distressing than an emotional affair when they were asked to rate their distress levels separately.

Double-Shot Perspective

Argues that when a man hears that his wife or girlfriend had a sexual affair, they automatically assume that she is in love with the other man. Going on the theory that women don’t have sex with a man unless they’re emotionally involved.

Contrarily, with this theory when a woman hears that her man is in love with another woman, she assumes that emotional infidelity is in place, so he must also be having sex with the other woman.

In both situations, it is assumed that if one type of infidelity exists, the other one does too. So there is a double betrayal, or “double-shot.”

Lesbian and Gay Study Samples

Were often consistent with the double-shot theory because they were inclined to respond based on stereotypes related to the sex of their partner, assimilating heterosexuals.

Emotional Infidelity and the Internet

Due to the nature of emotional infidelity, the internet is a breeding ground.

Does Emotional Infidelity Lead to a Sexual Affair?

In an article written by Dr. Gail Saltz on, she said:

"About half of such emotional involvements do eventually turn into full-blown affairs, sex and all."

About half of emotional relationships evolve into sexual affairs.
About half of emotional relationships evolve into sexual affairs. | Source

How to Stop Yourself From Getting Emotionally Involved? has a two-minute video called How to Prevent Emotional Infidelity. In the video they suggest the following to avoid an emotional affair, and signs that you or your partner are getting too involved:

Emotional Infidelity versus Platonic Friendship

Know the difference between the two. According to the video there are three elements that differentiates the two:

  1. Sexual tension
  2. Secrecy
  3. Sharing information that you don't share with your significant other.

Suggestions to Avoid an Emotional Affair

  • If it's a co-worker, limit conversations and don't hang out after work
  • Don't communicate outside of work.
  • If you already do, ask yourself what your spouse would do if they read your emails, or heard your conversations. If you know they wouldn't approve, you may already be too involved.
  • Don't be friends with people you have a crush on.

Signs to Look for at Home:

  • Your significant other spends too much time on the internet with a specific person, or they change screens when you come into the room.
  • They've stopped emotionally confiding in you.

If you Suspect Your Significant Other is Getting to Close for Comfort

  • Blatantly ask them.
  • Remind them to keep a professional relationship, but don't be overly jealous.
  • Try to reconnect.

Know the Reasons Why People Cheat

  • Loneliness
  • Desire attention
  • Sexual frustration
  • Desire for romance

How to Recover From Emotional Infidelity

Dr. Shirley P Glass, an American psychologist and infidelity expert has the following advice on how to recover from emotional infidelity.

  • Talk about the emotional affair after it's over
  • The unfaithful party needs to be ready to tell all, and answer any questions their spouse or significant other has. So that the affair will become a part of the couple's shared history.
  • 'Build a cocoon around yourselves as a couple'.

Your Input

If you have a story to share or information to add, please feel free to do so in the comment section. If you're looking for more information on "what is emotional infidelity," please read the articles below, written by my fellow Hubbers.


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    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you wonderful1, you have made a very good point! Someone is just as guilty if they play along when they know it is wrong. I'm also glad you realized that he was emotionally cheating on his now girlfriend. Good idea to tell him to stop contacting you, it will make your life a lot less complicated.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Hi ahorseback. Thank you for your observations. I too am an observer of human nature, because people are so interesting and diverse.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you Dearmommy. I totally agree that it is in the hands of the person to choose how they are going to act and what they act upon. Thanks so much for voting up and sharing :).

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thanks for your comments truthfornow. I have seen it a lot in the workplace too. Emotional affairs are so much deeper than physical ones.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      You're right Dream On. People have to watch and beware of new relationships with members of the opposite sex, no matter how innocent they appear to be at first.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you Tammy Swallow, and I totally agree with you.

    • wonderful1 profile image

      Sheila Varga Szabo 

      7 years ago from Southern California

      Good subject and nice way of explaining the severity. There's a book by therapist Sheri Meyer called "Chatting or Cheating" that explains the boundaries of flirting or having an emotional affair (she has called it "emotional sex").

      Incidentally, I'm in a situation (for years now) where a guy I had a brief but intimate fling with reconciled with his long-term GF, but he occasionally sent me messages asking how I was doing. I tried to stay diplomatic each time. The last time I heard from him (around Christmas time), he revealed he now realizes he was in love with me and the fact that he misses me dearly tells him he probably will regret his decision for the rest of his life. I assume it's another attempt to string me along (after all, he is in charge of his own decisions), but I realized long ago he's emotionally cheating on his NOW girlfriend. I told him to stop contacting me. On the opposite end, if you know someone is wrong by contacting you when they're in a relationship, you are just as guilty if you play along. Just thought I'd add that to this conversation.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi -Koralee , I have always been a fairly keen observer of human nature , so this hub is very interesting to me . I believe almost everyone is guilty of this . I know that I have been too though so it seems something that's within each of us much like good and bad . Which do we chose to let win . Its funny , I think obviously that men do this on a much more shallow

    • dearmommy profile image


      7 years ago

      Fantastic hub.... and I agree with most comments above that, to some extent, I think nearly everyone is probably guilty of this at one point in their lives. I think the difference in the end results for relationships is those who choose to act on it, vs. those who feel the guilt, know it is wrong, and don't let it progress/stop it all together. I am planning to see that movie now also, so thanks for the recommendation!!! Voted up, and shared by me!!

    • truthfornow profile image

      Marie Hurt 

      7 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      This situation happens a lot in the workplace. Often, people spend more time at work than home. You can get involved in an emotional affair without even realizing it ~ you start sharing more things with your co-worker and closing off to your partner. Just something to be aware of that it could happen to anyone with no intention to harm another person. Good information here.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      7 years ago

      There are so many interesting situations that can happpen in real life that if not careful could easily lead to something more.A good relationship works off of trust and friendship that goes deep on so many levels.A movie to watch and discusss further.

    • tammyswallow profile image


      7 years ago from North Carolina

      This is a great hub and a very important distinction. I think emotional affairs are much more destructive than physical affairs. A person can become so vested in an emotional affair that they really start to resent their original partner. Excellent hub!

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Hi LouisRyan13903. I agree we all can be, people just need to be aware of it so they can make sure they don't fall into the emotional infidelity trap.

    • LoisRyan13903 profile image

      Lois Ryan 

      7 years ago from Upstate NY originally from Long Island

      Excellent Hub. I guess we are a little guilty of this. This is something that wwe have to be careful of. Even if you are just friends with someone, it can always lead up to something that should not happen.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you B. Leekley for your support! You're right that an understanding should be put in place with couples prior to other "friendships" being created.

      When I have a girlfriend, I always make sure that it is well known where my loyalties lie, and that is with her. Meaning I never want any confusion that if problems arise between them, that I am the go to person for him. It makes things too complicated, and messy.

      While I agree that enjoying the company of a neighbor's spouse is not necessarily improper I think there is no reason for it, a close friendship anyway.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. What is walking the line and what is crossing it and what is staying clear of it is not always obvious. Not all friends in a marriage need be mutual or 50-50 mutual, and enjoying the company of your neighbor's spouse is not necessarily coveting or flirting.

      I recently saw the movie COUNTRY STRONG. The story included both physical and emotional affairs.

      I suppose it's usually best for spouses to have an understanding from the start that if a "just friends" relationship is causing any uneasiness, the one in it will tone it down and back off. If instead the friends keep getting emotionally closer and seeking more opportunities to be together, even if only in public, there may be problems in the marriage(s) of which that is but a symptom.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      One of the most common issues with many couples. You have said it all here and sounds like there is no end to such moments.

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for your nice little letter and good luck in Germany and stay well and be happy.

      lake erie time 2:18pm ontario canada

      Colin. Little Miss Tiffy and Mister Gabriel

      Slushy, messy mix of rain and snow today by the lake

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Good morning, epigramman. I agree the Internet is full of emotional infidelity. I have heard it said that Facebook causes divorces, but I have never researched that idea as of yet.

      You did a very good job being respectful and sensitive in your hub this morning. It is a really well-written poem.

      Thank you very much for your warm wishes, and Tiffy and Gabriel a treat for me. I love cats :).

      Actually, right now I am in Neunkirchen Germany and am not sure about the weather in Alberta. The last I heard it was cold one day and then warm the next. In Germany we have a lots of snow, but it doesn't stay long. The temperature hovers between +2 - +5 degrees Celcius, which isn't very cold, where we come from, but the wind is quite chilly. As well there is little sun anytime, during the winter here, or so I have been told. However, Springtime is supposed to be quite warm and forecasts are predicting +10 to +13 next week, so I guess I have to wait and see. Hope you guys get awesome weather too.

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      Good morning Koralee from your fellow Canadian at lake erie time ontario canada 8:17am

      I can't say I've ever been involved in an emotional affair with anyone but I would imagine this kind of 'infidelity' happens all of the time online and it can lead to dire consequences especially with it being so easy to deceive people behind the 'mask' of a computer terminal.

      Thank you for this most interesting viewpoint on a subject like you say often appears in movies but unfortunately happens quite often in real life.

      Thank you sincerely for your visit this morning and I am very very sorry for your daughter and her beloved son. Words escape me at this moment.

      A lot of poetry is confessional (particularly in first person pronoun) but most of my writing is non-fiction and is just based on story telling.

      When I approach a delicate subject like this I try to treat it in a sensitive and respectful manner and try to 'get into the head' of the protagonist whether it's a man or a woman.

      Sending my warmest wishes and good energy to you from Colin and his cats, Tiffy and Gabriel, and asking you how your winter has been so far.

      Here in Ontario it's been a little bit of everything - mild, cold, rain, snow and probably another month and a half of it .....

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      7 years ago from Western Australia

      Very interesting point of view on the emotional infidelity, make you thinking where are you heading and what exactly you plan to do with your life...the ocean of emotional affairs is endless and there is no one black and white solution to all its endings and possibilities....B

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thanks you mayke-polley. This is great advice. I agree that it's especially true to give kind words, talk about problems rather than letting them blow up, and never assume.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      when you are committed to someone, you best do all you can to stay that way. why did you get married in the first place only to let the sparks die? its hard work, and one must learn so many things, eg how to deal with fights, (arguments) how to put your loved ones needs first.

      honor your partner, and he will honor you. two wrongs don't make a right,never had never will.

      i have learned tho you get four foxes if i can call it that

      H E A R

      harsh words




      once you see one or more of those coming up in your relationship, tackle it immediately, don't leave it till the cycle gets to all 4 being a 10 out of 10. because those foxes eat holes in your pretty little white garden gate and then a spouse wants to search for someone who will

      give kind words and not only harsh ones

      will give time to someone who actually talks about problems instead of blowing up once a month

      ..assumption is so very wrong, this is where the devil will just get to whisper in your ear,, what is he doing what is she doing.. get the facts, when you assume ask!

      and then, retreat. don't ever push your partner away no matter what, silent treatment is wrong, and if you give this to someone it's a form of abuse. get to a point where you can discuss your matters, even if you have to wait 2 hours then talk. don't ignore your partner because he might be struggling with rejection and when you retreat he might feel rejected,, and you don't want that for anyone you love, specially don't leave those doors open for someone else to walk in

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you lovedoctor926 for your great insight into emotional infidelity.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I wanted to add that it's possible and normal to feel attracted to someone else even if you're in a committed relationship. As a matter of fact, it's scientifically proven that you can be compatible with more than one person without necessarily having to act on those instincts. thank you for sharing this valuable information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      A very good hub.

      Emotional infidelity is hard to spot sometimes because many people play if off that they're only friends. Many people also confuse chemistry or connection for something more. I don't know, I would feel betrayed by both of them.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you billybuc. I agree, I would be much more hurt, by the emotional infidelity than the physical because it goes much deeper.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I suspect this happens much more than we realize. I voted that the emotional affair would hurt me more because to me, there must be some planning and intent to it. Many one-night stands just happen as physical urges take over. Neither is alright, but I would be hurt more by the emotional affair. :) Good job!

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Hi tobusiness. I agree that to some degree we're all guilty of emotional infidelity. You're funny!

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thanks catgypsy! Emotional infidelity is a great way to put meaning to what it is.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      7 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Wow..this is a tough one! and so very interesting, I guess to a greater or lesser degree, if we are honest, we are all guilty of a little emotional infidelity. For me; it's Denzel Washington, so I guess my marriage is relatively safe.:)).

      Great write.

    • catgypsy profile image


      7 years ago from the South

      Very interesting hub. I never knew what to call this kind of "relationship" and emotional infidelity is perfect. It happens quite often, I think, and can be more damaging to a marriage than a physical affair. Great hub!


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