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An "emotional affair" is an affair, which excludes physical intimacy but includes emotional intimacy and can begin as innocently as a friendship. It may also be called an affair of the heart. Where one partner is in a committed monogamous relationship, an emotional affair is a type of chaste nonmonogamy without consummation. When the affair breaches an agreement in the monogamous relationship of one of the partners to the affair, the term infidelity may be more apt.


David Moultrup has broadly defined an extramarital affair as

a relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.

This viewpoint does not require sexual play or sexual intercourse in order to define the presence of nor the impact of an affair on a committed relationship. Moultrup is the author of 'Husbands, Wives & Lovers' [1] and has contributed to 'The Handbook of the Clinical Treatment of Infidelity'.[2]

An emotional affair has the capacity to injure a committed relationship sometimes more than if it were a one night stand or about casual sex.

Incidence and prevalenceEdit

Research by Glass & Wright found that men's extramarital relationships were more sexual and women's more emotional. For both genders, sexual and emotional extramarital involvement occurred in those with the greatest marital dissatisfaction.[3]

Chaste and emotionally intimate affairs tend to be more common than sexually intimate affairs. Shirley Glass in her study, reported in 'Not Just Friends' [4] 44% of husbands and 57% of wives indicated that in their affair they had a strong emotional involvement to the other person without intercourse.

In University of Chicago surveys conducted by NORC [5] between 1990 and 2002, 27% of people who reported being happy in marriage admitted to having an extramarital affair. What infidelity means depends on who you ask and the statistics are, of course, misleading. Sexual feelings in an emotional affair are necessarily denied in order to maintain the illusion that it is just a special friendship. Affair surveys are unlikely to explore what is denied. Many people in affair surveys are not honest with themselves nor with the interviewer.[6][7]

Related topicsEdit

On the romantic friendship page there are a number of 'special friendships' in popular culture. Each is an example of one form of human bonding or another. Each may be synonymous with platonic love or spiritual friendship. Some may exist alongside or in support of a spiritual marriage, a sexless marriage or a marriage of convenience.

What is emotional cheating? Edit

This type of affair is often characterized by:

  • Inappropriate emotional intimacy. The partner being unfaithful may spend inappropriate or excessive time with someone of the opposite or same gender (time not shared with the faithful partner). He or she may confide more in their new “friend” than in their partner and may share more intimate emotional feelings and secrets with their new partner than with their existing spouse. Any time that an individual invests more emotionally into a relationship with someone besides their partner the existing partnership may suffer.
  • Deception and secrecy. Those involved may not tell their partners about the amount of time they spend with each other. An individual involved in this type of affair may, for example, tell his or her spouse that they are doing other activities when they are really meeting with someone else. Or the unfaithful spouse may exclude any mention of the other person while discussing the day’s activities to conceal the rendezvous. Even if no physical intimacy occurs, the deception clearly shows that those involved believe they are doing something wrong that undermines the existing relationship. In other words, if there was really no harm in meeting with a friend, both parties would feel comfortable telling their partners the truth about where they are meeting and what they are discussing.
  • Increased fighting. When a person becomes emotionally involved with a third party, they may view the new person as all good and their committed partner as all bad. This person may blame their interest in the third party on their committed partner, which will lead to increased fighting and strain on the relationship.
  • An emotional triangle. One that may only be known to the unfaithful, who then struggles to keep the other two from knowing of the impact of one upon the other. Denial will likely characterize the unfaithful person's response to an invitation by their spouse to reflect on the competing demands of the relationship with the other person.
  • Sexual and emotional chemistry. Sexual and emotional chemistry can present itself based on a physical attraction one might feel for another person. In addition, it can also be related to an increase in dopamine, a hormone that produces feelings of pleasure, and norepinephrine, which is similar to adrenaline and causes an increase in excitement. This may or may not lead to physical intimacy, however, if nurtured it may present itself. The time between the first meeting and a first kiss can often be very lengthy, but the time between the first kiss and sexual intercourse may be very short. In most of these affairs, however, an unspoken attraction exists. A partner may spend extra time getting ready before seeing this "friend" or may buy new clothing or change their appearance in order to seem attractive to them. They may obsess anticipating phone calls, emails or text messages.[8]
  • Denial. Denial of the presence of sexual behavior, sexuality or even of an atom of limerence. "Limerence is an involuntary cognitive and emotional state in which a person feels an intense romantic desire for another person. It is characterized by intrusive thinking and pronounced sensitivity to external events that reflect the disposition of the limerent object towards the individual." This denial can be exhibited by the cheating partner and/or the partner being cheated on, especially if the partner cheated on is male. If the cheating partner accepts that the element of sexual attraction exists, however, and physical contact starts, it can cause the current relationship to start collapsing.
  • Betrayal. There is an implicit betrayal of values, believed to have been shared, about the sanctity of a relationship based on love, of the idea of a soulmate and of being faithful to fundamental agreements underlying intimacy, that are perceived by the spouse not involved in the affair to be a core of their committed relationship and world view.

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. Moultrup, D Husbands, Wives & Lovers: The Emotional System of the Extramarital Affair New York: Guilford Press 1990
  2. Piercy FP., Hertlein KM., Wetchler JL. Editors 'The Handbook of the Clinical Treatment of Infidelity' Haworth
  3. Glass & Wright 'Sex differences in type of extramarital involvement and marital dissatisfaction Journal Sex Roles Publisher Springer Netherlands ISSN 0360-0025 (Print) 1573-2762 (Online) Issue Volume 12, Numbers 9-10 / May, 1985
  4. Shirley Glass S 'Not Just Friends - protect your relationship from infidelity and heal the trauma of betrayal'
  5. NORC home page
  6. Blow, Adrian J, Hartnett, Kelley "INFIDELITY IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS II: A SUBSTANTIVE REVIEW" Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, April 2005, retrieved from [1]
  7. Blow, Adrian J, Hartnett, Kelley "INFIDELITY IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS I: A METHODOLOGICAL REVIEW Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, April 2005, retrieved from [2]
  8. [Christopher] Tips for Handling an Emotional Affair. Magnum Investigations.
  • Pittman, F. (1989). Private Lies. New York: W. W. Norton Co.
  • (1986). Outcomes of sexually open marriages. Journal of Sex Research 22: 311–319.
  • Vaughan, P. (1989). The Monogamy Myth. New York: New Market Press.
  • Mathews, J. (2008) "Dating a Married Man: Memoirs from the Other Women"
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