The Blurry Line Between a Friend and an Emotional Affair

Two friends holding hands across a table, getting into emotional affair territory.

Many of us have heard the term emotional affair, but when you’re going through life, getting to know people, and forming friendships it’s not something you think about. The majority of people who find themselves in an emotional affair never plan on it. But how do you walk the fine line between having a close friend and putting your relationship in danger? Well, first you need to know exactly what an emotional affair is.

What is an emotional affair?
An emotional affair is when you give and receive a lot of emotional energy outside of your relationship. It’s usually centered around one person, who you grow close to and get some kind of emotional connection from that you’re not getting from your current relationship.

This kind of emotional energy can manifest itself in a lot of ways:

– Feeling closer to your friend than your partner.
– Betraying your partner’s trust by sharing intimate details or secrets with your friend.
–  Concealing or hiding the details of your friendship, such as outings or text messages.

Does gender matter?
Generally, there’s a lot of confusion about the ethics surrounding the gender of your confidant. For example, it’s common for women to have close bonds with other women, and part of that is occasionally discussing the private details of their relationship to get guidance or reassurance. Many women wouldn’t see this as a betrayal, and their partners would likely agree, even if they found it annoying.

Many of us rely on friends to listen to our venting or help us solve our problems. Generally, the rule goes: if there’s a physical attraction from either side or a shared romantic history, it’s probably not appropriate.  

If you feel the need to talk about your relationship issues with someone else, you need to question where that urge comes from. Why can’t you communicate and resolve these issues with your partner? For a relationship to thrive, it needs openness and clear communication. If you’re open with your partner and honest with them about problems you’re having with your relationship, then you won’t need to use someone else for an emotional release.

What’s the difference between a friendship and an affair?
The main difference between a platonic friendship and an emotional affair is that an affair is kept secret. If someone has nothing to hide, then they’ll be open about it. Another key difference is that there’s usually some kind of sexual attraction between one or both people—sometimes this will be made clear, and other times it won’t be.

How do you determine if your friendship is actually an emotional affair?
As we mentioned, there are a lot of grey areas. Every situation is different, but there are definitely signs you can look out for that show your friendship is veering towards an emotional affair.

  • You’re withdrawing from your partner.
  • You spend more time with your friend than your partner.
  • You’ve lost interest in being emotionally or physically intimate with your partner.
  • You conceal details about the time you’re spending with your friend from your partner.
  • You value and seek out alone time with your friend.
  • You share your thoughts, feelings, and problems with your friend instead of your partner.
  • You feel better understood by your friend.
  • You like the attention you get from your friend.
  • You would feel embarrassed if your partner knew your real thoughts and feelings about your friend.

How do you prevent an emotional affair?
If you and your partner are committed to each other and are willing to be honest and open about any problems in your relationship, then your relationship will grow strong. It’s important to keep going on dates, no matter how long you’ve been together. It’s important to have fun together and enjoy each other’s company. And whenever you’re irritated or upset with your partner, talk about it. Don’t let it build up. Communicating openly and respectfully is key, for big issues or little ones.

Throughout your life, you’re going to have a lot of relationships with a lot of different people that mean a lot of different things. It’s natural to grow close to people, to form friendships that become more meaningful than others, or to care deeply about someone and their opinion of you. When you’re in a serious relationship, you don’t stop caring about or being attracted to other people. But there are times when those deep friendships and feelings can threaten your relationship. Be honest with yourself and your partner, address problems and feelings when they arise, and use your best judgement.

Shani Jay

Bestselling Author and Empowerment Coach

Shani is a bestselling author, empowerment coach for women, and self-love advocate. She is the author of Bloom, The Babe Bible, Glow Getter, and Light Up Your Life; and her writing has been featured on many internationally recognized platforms including The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, and Teen Vogue.

​In 2016 Shani founded The Glow Getter Tribe – a self-love & kindness movement which helps young girls & women worldwide feel happy, confident and beautiful starting from the inside, out.

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