It’s no secret that relationships are a lot of work—and I do mean that in the very best way possible! Relationships require oodles of effort and TLC as well as a decent balance of give and take to really make one flourish. It’s all worth it when all of that extra work results in a happy and healthy relationship on both sides!
There are relationships, however, that lack in some of these areas, which can result in some unfortunate outcomes such as cheating or an affair. One common misconception about cheating is that it’s all physical, which isn’t necessarily true. Enter the emotional affair.
So, what exactly is an emotional affair, and could one be affecting your relationship? We spoke to a few collegiettes to find the meaning behind an emotional affair as well as four signs you can look for that may indicate your significant other is pursuing one, or is maybe just vulnerable to one. Either way, it's important to be aware of the signs!
1. The two of you aren’t as close as you once were
Remember those days when you and your SO happily spent almost every waking moment together? While it is common for relationships to find their groove and settle into a routine that involves less time together, there is a difference between having needed space and actually feeling distant, especially emotionally.
Alex Christensen, a senior at the University of Iowa, believes that this idea serves as an explanation behind the reason for an emotional affair.
“I think the idea of an emotional affair comes from the idea that you and your significant other aren't as close as you once were,” says Alex. “A big sign of this is spending time apart that you would normally be together.” While space is a factor for most healthy relationships, there can be situations where it feels as if the two of you are spending more than enough time apart.
The distance doesn’t just have to be physical, however. While you may have noticed that date nights have become way less frequent and your time spent together has dwindled, you’ll also want to look out for whether you and your SO have lost any closeness emotionally.
“It doesn't even necessarily have to be with someone they could be interested in, it could just be a friend,” Alex continues. “You start to feel distant even though you're still together.”
If you’ve noticed your SO hasn’t sought out any emotional support or attention from you in quite some time, it could be because they’ve been receiving it from someone else, or have considered reaching out to others for that emotional fulfillment.
2. You’ve noticed some strange and secretive technological behavior
You brush it off at first, but as time goes on, it becomes a bit more obvious. Their social media and smartphone usage has definitely increased—and not in a good way.
Maybe your partner has been on their phone a lot more than they usually are—especially when you’re together—and has become way more secretive about who they’ve been texting. Maybe you’ve noticed some Snapchats pop up from a name you may not recognize, or an increase in Facebook and Twitter usage after they swore they would never use sites like those.
“I know people who will use Twitter and Facebook DMs to stay in contact with people who they don’t want their boyfriend or girlfriend to know that they’re talking to,” says Alyssa*, a junior at Carthage College. “With passwords and all that, it’s easy enough to keep those messages hidden. A lot easier and sneakier than communicating through text.”
Social media is a common mode of communication and sometimes the only one when it comes down to those pursuing emotional affairs. The ding of a DM, Snapchat or text from someone new can be exciting and replicate those butterflies that the two of you shared when you entered the “talking stage," and can be easy enough to conceal if they so wish.
If your partner has been craving more attention and has offered no explanation for their increased smartphone usage, then there could be an unfortunate reason behind it. While increased social media usage and secretive cell phone behavior are not exclusive to an emotional affair, it does raise a few red flags. If your SO is unwilling to justify their recent behaviors to you, then they may have turned to social media to pursue the likes of an emotional affair.
3. Their attitude toward you has changed
Sure, it’s normal to be in a bad mood occasionally, but now it’s starting to feel like your SO’s attitude has changed toward you completely. While pursuing an emotional relationship with someone else, your SO can begin fantasizing about all the things this new person is or does that you’re not or don’t do, and begin to criticize you for it.
While this doesn’t sound fair in the slightest, your SO may be lashing out at you for the most random things such as your appearance or the shows you watch because they have grown to enjoy the things about the other person and have created this ideal image that you no longer fit. This emotional affair they’ve developed has made a new mold, so if you start to notice that you just aren’t measuring up to your SO’s expectations lately, there may be a deeper reason behind it.
Of course, it isn't always so easy to tell why your SO is lashing out. Your SO could very well be lashing out at you for different reasons, such as stress with work or their family, even if those things don't necessarily have anything to do with you. You'll want to rule out any other sources of emotional stress before considering an emotional affair as the sole reason for their change in attitude toward you.
4. You can just feel it
They say that you should always trust your gut feeling, and while it can be easy at times to convince yourself of something that’s not true, it’s important to approach any gut feelings when it comes to the health and wellness of your relationship with your SO.
“I think it's hard to determine signs of this [an emotional affair], rather it's more of a feeling,” says Alex. “You can just feel when you aren't as close to someone you love.”
This feeling is definitely a scary one, but if something just does not seem right within your relationship, you’ll probably want to communicate your feelings the best way you can to your SO. Feelings are unique to every person, but two huge indicators are if you feel detachment emotionally along with intimately. While these feelings can suggest an emotional affair, they could also just mean that the compatibility between the two of you as partners just isn't there. This is a good time to take a step back and reevaluate before making any decisions moving forward.
Emotional affairs are as complex as our emotions themselves, but they are definitely not something to take lightly. Emotional affairs don’t really involve any physical contact, but an emotional relationship is just as important as a physical one, so you’ll want to look out for signs that your SO is having their emotional needs met from someone else—especially if their treatment of you has took a turn for the worse because of it. While these signs are not exclusive to an emotional affair, they are very telling, so if you suspect your SO is engaging in one, then you'll want to ensure that you appropriately address the subject with your partner ASAP.
*Name has been changed.