What’s an Emotional Affair: Signs, Stages, Levels

stages of emotional affairs

You know the story: you meet this guy (or a girl), spend some time in one company, and then, realize there is some sort of connection between you two.

You feel an instant spark intuitively: each time you meet — you’re laughing, overwhelmed by a desire to be closer to each other, then accidental touches come into play, and before you know it, you already think about this person fifteen hours a day.

There is only one problem: you’re already in a relationship. And what seemed to be a perfect beginning for a romantic story, is suddenly 1-step from being stigmatized as “an emotional affair.” 

What about Platonic Love?

An emotional crush is much different from a platonic relationship. The second one can be referred to as a long-term friendship that evolved into a kind of sisterhood/brotherhood. It’s about a friend you refuse to imagine your life without, because you’ve been friends for like…life.

What about platonic love in a relationship?

This kind of love is clear and platonic, and you certainly would want your partner to be a part of it. Moreover, your spouse/partner may become a friend of the same value to that person as time passes.

In case of an emotional affair, you feel a heat between you and that person, letting sexual/romantic fantasies penetrate your mind. It usually goes like this:

First fantasy: What? No!

Second fantasy: All right, stop it.

Third fantasy: What’s wrong with me. 

Fourth fantasy:  Ok, but for one minute.

Fifth fantasy: Omg, it’s beautiful.

Those thoughts can be intimidating, confusing, and finally, exciting. But they’re your secrets. That kind you want to lock into a wooden box and send floating into the sea.

Surely not the ones you want to involve your partner into. 

Why do I Have an Emotional Affair if I’m in a Relationship?

Deep down you know the answer to this question. Falling in love with another person (and that what an emotional affair really is) while being in a relationship means the connection between you and your current partner has weakened. There are a bunch of reasons for that. Satiation, disappointments, lack of intimacy — are the most common ones. 

Levels of Emotional Affairs

Almost all emotional affairs start with friendship. Let's look at the stages and levels of emotional affairs:

#1 Stages of an emotional affair: A friend

 A Friend as the Stage of an Emotional Affair

It may not even be your “type”, meaning it’s not someone you would usually have a crush on, or even be attracted too. He’s tall, and you’ve always gone out with short guys. He has light hair, and nothing on Earth could ever force you to go on a date with a blond!

Well, up until now.

#2 Stages of an emotional affair: A someone who understands your jokes

Nothing can bring two people close as much, as a common sense of humor. 

She/he understands your jokes

You may find it awkward when you tell some gross jokes and other people somehow find them mean.

Suddenly, with this person, it’s like a piece of bread finding its butter. Like listening to your own thoughts being declared aloud.

An emotional affair is always about mental connection. 

#3 Stages of an emotional affair:  A someone with whom you have so much in common

Occasionally you two open up over the glass of wine, or while walking in the park in the late afternoon.

It turns out the person you’re interested in, has some insights that so deeply correlate with your own. He believes in astrology (but before didn’t understand what’s the whole buzz about).  He watches the same TV shows, finds a particular movie boring (so do you), knows the same foreign language, and loves the same car brand as you do!

You have a lot in common.

At some point, you just think that this person doesn’t need your explanation about the stuff: he can tell what you think from your face. It’s like you don’t need to speak anymore. And you start wondering, how is it possible to meet a person who can understand you so deeply. Is it really possible?

And that’s where the first dark thought dawns at you: why don’t you have so much connection with your current partner? Or, where (and how) did your connection get lost?…

#4 Stages of an emotional affair:  A someone who you suddenly want to spend more time with 

Naturally, you want to spend more time with a person who understands you and with who you feel comforted and … happy. 

Of course, why shouldn’t you feel happy about being around a person you like, no strings attached, just skimming cream off the top of what two people can give each other. No need to build relationships, drown in everyday life with its boring problems, household chores, working on honesty and commitment, etc. 

you spend all your free time together

You love just hanging around, laughing, feeling something in your chest shimmering, goosebumps attacking your hands, having fun, and receiving unbelievable insights. 

For girls, it might be double-pleasant to dress up (as if at the early stage of dating), subconsciously imitating romantic relationships, and even loving the fact that it’s not going to turn into something serious. 

#5 Stages of an emotional affair: A someone you keep denying your bond with

Eventually, people start talking, whispering, glancing mysteriously as if saying with just their eyes “Come on! We know you two are into each other.”

your connection is undeniable

You start denying everything as being caught off-guarded. You smile but deny everything that makes others only believe there is something going on, even more.

One day you came home and your partner is peacefully snoring on a couch. You just stay there for a while, and then a quick thought bumps into your head, sending shivers down your back: “I don’t love this person anymore.”

Examples of Emotional Affair

Based on real events

Sarah and Peter were married for 8 years. Their romantic relationship died fast, leaving not even a slight aftertaste.

Emotional Affair

Sarah was a dancer and practiced 5 days per week, and Peter was a lawyer, spending 5 days out of 7 in court. 

Later in the evenings, he would pick Sarah and bring her home, where he would sit in his cabinet, smoking, thinking, playing the radio, taking a pause very rarely, for having dinner or taking a shower. 

At first, she didn’t pay much attention, but it slightly irritated her — the fact that he wouldn’t leave his business-related stuff to have a nice time over a romantic dinner with her. 

Sarah entertained herself by meeting with girls, eating some delicious food, spending weekends near the lake, of course without her husband who was always busy. 

There were times when she wasn’t really sure why she married him. He was arrogant, cruel, with total disregard for other people’s feelings. Sometimes she thought he treated her well not because of love, but because he got some kind of benefit from this relationship. But she wasn’t sure. 

Did she stop loving her husband?

Her feelings grew dim. She didn’t understand the point of everything she involved herself in. Some day she would just sit in her room, crying, or listening to the frightening hollow yowling in her chest. 

Each time she picks up this topic over dinner, attempting to let away her concerns, her husband wouldn’t give it a … thought. He would just tell her that she couldn’t appreciate all the pretty things they have: a nice house in downtown, cars, good clothes, exotic food. He didn’t honestly understand what could possibly bother her with all that stuff mentioned!

Has a wife stopped loving her husband

So Sarah began to hang out with one company from her dancing classes. At first, it was like occasional drinking nights or gathering at her friend’s apartment to play Imaginarium. There was a guy, Villy, who was always the life of the party. He played guitar, made his own music, and has a beautiful voice. 

But what Sarah liked most about him was his sense of humor and the emotions that rose in her near him.

Eventually, the two became close friends. Sarah never hid him from her husband. Because she was sure: it’s purely platonic. Besides, Vily had a girlfriend too. 

But it didn’t cross out the fact that the heat between them too was there: at first very dim, but then gradually growing into something tender, beautiful, and passionate.

All that time while they were friends, Sarah frowned at a thought of feeling something more. When it happened, she wasn’t prepared.

Two more nights spending together in one company, long conversations over the glasses of wine, smoking pot on the balcony, two songs created together, two walks in the rain, laughing to tears, and before she knew, she was deep into the guy. 

She felt this in the air, and certainly, the thought of leaving her husband, getting a divorce started hunting her harder and harder, up to the point where she couldn’t understand what she really wanted. 

Sarah went to great lengths trying to refresh those emotions that once made her glued to her husband. She was fascinated by his strength and something in him truly magnified her. But at that moment it all lost sense: it seemed she turned into him because once he offered her a helping hand when she needed it, comforted her. And that’s it. 

More than anything else Sarah feared hurting her husband. She knew she had to tell the truth, but he was afraid of breaking his heart.

Finally, she decided she couldn’t lie anymore. 

Are they together now?

There won’t be the end of this story here :), but you may ask me how it ends if you want by dropping a line here.

How do I know if my partner has an emotional affair?

Let’s talk about the reverse scenario. How to know if your partner’s having an emotional affair or maybe, already cheating on you?

If you’ve ever fallen in love with someone outside the marriage/relationship — then you might spot the signs right away. But! It’s not always the case. 

All people act differently when they’re in love. However, there are always some surefire signs to watch for that can easily break the innuendo wall between you two.

Even if your partner doesn’t sleep with the crush, there are always ways to tell he’s into someone else.

Signs of Emotional Affairs

First of all, even if they don’t sleep together, — playing images in their heads, innocent flirting, — all these will drain energy from your current relationship. 

Secondly, this stuff just doesn’t happen out of blue. If your relationship is committed and you’re both satisfied, those things never happened. 

Signs that your partner is having an emotional affair with someone else

Think of it this way: if the bond between you two is strong, it’s stretched and sharp, thus, cut everyone coming close to it. If it’s weakening — everyone can enter without much hustle. Other people become interested in playing with it too.

Signs of an Emotional Affair: you start spending less time together

Spending less time together can happen when two people are married for a long time. If you two are not ready to work on bringing more colors in, than eventually one of you may find some other relationships more satisfying.

Signs of an Emotional Affair: your partner implying an idea of breaking up for a while 

If your partner has feelings for someone else, he/she might point on the necessity to take a pause. “I need to clear my mind”, “we should take a pause and rethink”, and stuff like that may indicate your partner has a crush on someone else and just doesn’t have enough strength to confide in.

Signs of an Emotional Affair:  you feel like you have nothing to talk about 

New friends, new hobbies, new activities, — if all these are going on without your participation, it will certainly change your partner, while won’t even understand how it happened, until one day you two won’t have topics for conversation. 

It usually happens like this: you wake up, head to the kitchen to have breakfast together with your other half, she/he pours coffee, you sit, and start… talking about your schedule, kids, household chores, and other mundane things. It’s like talking to your teacher: you report what you’ve done, she said you’re fine, and you can finally go play with your friends.

Signs of an Emotional Affair: your partner starts avoiding you

Yes, you cannot be mistaken: your other half starts to spend more time in a separate room, refusing to watch a movie together, etc.

Your partner has suddenly gone silent each time you’re around. You’re together only officially: in reality, you’re two independent people living together.

Signs of an Emotional Affair: your partner changes the subject each time you try to speak about your relationship

Maybe you’ve already initiated the conversation about “where are we going”. But your partner preferred to change the subject, getting slightly nervous. You can say your partner’s hiding something: talking too much about other stuff, changing the password on the cell phone, sneaking into the corridor to talk to someone, and other suspicious moves.

How to make sure my partner has an affair?

From my practice, only 38% of people accept they have an emotional affair while being confronted. The other 62% won’t agree with the given assumptions. 

What to do? 

I usually suggest trying some alternative methods. One of them is using a monitoring app. And here is why.

A monitoring app is a simple way to quickly reveal if your partner is cheating on you, or not. In some cases, if an emotional affair takes place, people may be denying it even to themselves. A monitoring app can show what is the nature of the messages your partner sends to other people, whether they’re flirty or not; it will give you a clue of where your partner is during the day.

I don’t say you will need it for a long time. Usually, it takes around a couple of months to catch something suspicious. I recommend going for such methods if you feel like something is up, but cannot find out what exactly, while your partner keeps claiming everything is all right.

How does it work

A monitoring app is installed on your partner’s phone in stealth mode and delivers information to your personal account. You can view everything through your user’s dashboard: SMS, chats, Instagram/Facebook activities (news feed, comments, stories, messages), Tinder, track GPS-location, etc.

Some top-notch solutions allow you to install the app without them knowing. Read more about uMobix

Elizabeth Harrington

(Divorce therapist, a Family/Couple psychologist, works with infidelity)

Every day I’m receiving so many letters from you. Thank you for your respect and all the kind words!


Here are some of the most popular questions I got recently.

Do emotional affairs turn into love?

Yes. Basically, love is not a feeling: it’s a state that you both jump into after several years of relationship, given you worked on them and managed to overpass the main difficulties. Love is a deep bond between two people, that started as an emotional connection once. An affair is exactly what it is: an emotional connection.

Can couples recover from emotional affairs?

Yes, but different couples need different methods and a different amount of time. Sometimes there’s point in breaking up for a while.

Do an emotional affair ever stop?

Yes, surely they do. The best medicine is time. You should be separated from a person for a particular period in order for your feelings to calm down. You will know you’re not into that person anymore when you have a crush on someone else. Or you may fix relationships with your current partner, and fall in love with each other again.

What is Micro-cheating?

Micro-cheating is a form of behavior when a person flirts with others and doesn’t consider it a big deal. The line between faithfulness and infidelity here is thin and depends on one’s values and priorities.

Why do emotional affairs hurt so much?

Because it hurts knowing that your partner’s heart is stolen by someone else. Because it’s the connection between two people what matters and what, in the long-term, forms strong unions. Not sex.
If your partner occasionally slept with someone else, it usually only means there is no sexual satisfaction in your relationship. It could happen for other reasons too: being drunk, being seduced, etc. These all can be understood (at least, theoretically), for it touches only the physical aspects of your relationship. Falling in love with someone, though, means betrayal. 

Why men have emotional affairs?

Primarily because of the lack of intimacy. When the new attraction seems so good, men cannot find a way to deal with it and just go for it. Sometimes, when the current relationship is rocky, getting emotionally involved with someone else is a way to finish the current relationships.

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