It starts out innocently enough. You share a connection with someone — be it a work spouse, best friend, or online pal — and you spark a friendship, carefully towing the line of just friends and something more. But sometimes, the lines get blurred and it becomes easier to cross then. Although it’s entirely possible to cultivate friendships and relationships outside of your romantic one, it’s also entirely possible to slip into an emotional affair. But how do you tell? Are there specific signs that you’re having an emotional affair? There certainly are.
You may not think that having an emotional affair is as risky or damaging as having a physical affair, but it absolutely can be. I spoke with couple's counselor Greg Fuller, who said an emotional affair can sometimes be more painful than a physical one. “In today’s society, people in committed relationships are presented with a world of opportunity to cheat on their spouses and partners, be it emotionally or physically,” Fuller says. “Sometimes, emotional affairs can be even more damaging to a relationship than affairs of a physical nature.” As a couples counselor, Fuller has seen all spectrums of relationships, and says that often times partners can be surprised they’ve been having an emotional affair without even realizing it. To prevent yourself from falling into an emotional affair, look for the warning signs Fuller talks about below, before your friendship goes too far.
1. You're Dressing To Impress Them
"One of the first warning signs is wanting to look good for the other person," says Fuller. That's right, it's not just a Selena Gomez song. It's a real thing that happens when people suddenly want to impress other people. “When you’re trying to be visibly attractive to anyone aside from your partner, it’s a problem.” The argument can certainly be made that you shouldn’t be dressing to impress anyone but yourself, and yet, Fuller says that extra care and focus on one’s own appearance can be an early warning.
2. You Want To Keep Your Conversations Private
If you find yourself deleting text messages and emails, that's a red flag. "You shouldn't feel the need to hide any conversations you're having outside of your relationship," Fuller says. "If you do, it's time to start looking at the bigger picture. Why do you feel this way? Why do you want to hide this particular conversation from your partner? Do you have an open line communication between you and your partner? These are all important questions to ask yourself if you find that you're having conversations you'd rather keep private with someone else."
3. You Create Opportunity For Alone Time
"Creating scenarios or excuses in which you get to spend time alone with this other person is not only unfair to your partner, but detrimental to your relationship, and most likely, your sanity," Fuller says. Whether you're coming up with ways to run into this person, hang out with them one on one, or putting quality time with them above quality time with your partner, Fuller says it's unhealthy not only for your relationship, but for you, too. "Rather than figuring out how to spend more time with this person, you should be distancing yourself from them."
4. Your Thoughts Are Dominated By Them
"If he or she is the first person you think about when you wake up, this should be a clear sign that you're in dangerous territory," says Fuller. "It can be hard to push excitement and possibility out of your mind, but in this case, it's necessary." Daydreaming about a person that's not your partner? That's a recipe for disaster.
5. You Compare Them To Your Partner
When things get tough, it can be too easy to compare your partner to someone who you only know on a surface level. "Comparing your relationship or partner to someone on the outside is a sign of a bigger problem," Fuller says. "If you find yourself looking for flaws in your relationship, or if your relationship is flawed and you're idealizing someone other than your partner, you need to take a look at why you're doing it." Comparing someone you're in a relationship with to someone you're not in a relationship with is like comparing apples to oranges. They're completely different fruits, and can't be compared at all.
6. You Want To Share Things With Them First
You got a promotion. Your article is being published. Your sister's getting married. Who's the first person you want to share excitement with? "If you're turning to someone other than your significant other to share things with, whether they're good or bad, you need to evaluate your relationship with this person," Fuller says. "In a healthy relationship, you want to share the good and the bad with your partner first, not a third party."
7. You Ignore Others For Them
"If you're avoiding your friends, or worse yet, your spouse, in order to spend time with this person, chances are high that you're deep in an emotional affair with this person," says Fuller. "Ignoring or putting off the people that know you best can be a sign that you're spending too much time with this person, and that you're avoiding solid friendships and relationships in order to partake in one that could put you in danger." Do your friends know about your relationship with this person? Does your spouse? Fuller says that if you're keeping it a secret, you need to let it out in the open before things go too far.
8. You Confide In Them
Telling this person secrets about your spouse? Not a good move. "If you feel as though you need to confide in someone outside of your relationship, especially if it's about your relationship, then you need to consider seeing a therapist. Sharing information about your relationship to outsiders will only hinder the probability of moving forward with your partner in a healthy manner," Fuller says.
9. You Fantasize About Them
The number one surefire sign you're having an emotional affair? Your fantasies. Sure, a sexual fantasy here or there never hurt anybody, but some fantasies go deeper. "If your fantasies are recurring, or if you fantasize about creating a life with this person, you've crossed a line," says Fuller. When you get emotionally involved with someone, there's a tendency to put this person on a pedestal and view them as virtually flawless. "It's easy to fantasize about someone you don't share a life with, and it's not easy to admit you've been doing it."
If you find yourself in any of these situations, and unable to nip your tendencies in the bud Fuller recommends seeking out a therapist, and even approaching your partner to discuss couples therapy. "For many couples, it's helpful to have someone facilitate the conversation," Fuller says.
It can be scary to admit that you're having doubts, or you're feeling some level of unhappiness, but rather than burying those feelings and self-medicating with another person, talk to your partner. Seek out help. Be honest with yourself, your partner, and anyone else involved, and you and your relationship will be better for it.