“I can resist everything except temptation” – Oscar Wilde

Emotional infidelity. The term can sound almost harmless; much less nefarious than actual “cheating.” But it IS cheating – and it’s not just men who are being emotionally unfaithful. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, about 35 percent of wives and 45 percent of husbands report having emotional affairs.

What IS an emotional affair, exactly? How do you know when your friendship with someone has crossed that line? Generally, emotional infidelity is at play when two people find themselves in a relationship that has all the trappings of an intimate, romantic, physical relationship, sans the physical component.

Why are emotional affairs so destructive? It’s a betrayal of intimacy, not of the sexual variety but of a deeper kind – of time spent together and of the special, trusting connection and love forged in that time. Of the feeling of being special to one person. Of the love that grew from that special connection. The energy and attention that used to be focused on one shifts to another and it can be devastating. Trust is broken. The partner finds out he or she isn’t as special to the other as thought.
It’s interesting to note here that women are statistically more affected by their partners’ emotional affairs than men are. If you are a man who has had an emotional affair, be sure to remember this. Men tend to be more upset by sexual infidelity. Many researchers chalk these differences up to the influence of evolution: emotional infidelity threatens the woman because it means the man might leave the home or village whereas sexual infidelity threatens the male because he has no interest in raising another man’s child.

Couples can rebound from emotional infidelity but it takes time and complete transparency on the part of the partner who strayed. It will also require therapeutic help of a trained counselor. It’s believed that people engage in emotional affairs because they are not getting something they need from the partner they have at home. This needs to be discussed and brought out into the open in order for the couple to heal.