For someone in a committed relationship, an emotional affair is a worrisome symptom of something deeper.
An emotional affair often represents a lack of emotional contentment at home.
But emotional intimacy with a person outside of the relationship can erode and eventually destroy the marriage or partnership.
Realistically, ending an emotional affair offers the only way to avoid the turmoil and negativity that will inevitably overtake your marriage and potentially end it.
Just because an emotional affair does not have an active sexual component does not mean that it will never turn into full-blown sexual infidelity.
It often does, and that’s why it’s essential to understand why these emotional connections are so destructive.
Understanding Emotional Affairs
Emotional affairs span the gray area between platonic adult friendships and romantic physical relationships.
Disclosing secrets, seeking comfort, talking about life, joking around, and spending considerable time together — either in person or online — define emotional affairs.
Essentially, the sharing of thoughts and activities that you should be sharing with your spouse has shifted to another person.
These relationships are usually intense because they:
- Offer relief from marital dissatisfaction
- Fulfill emotional needs that a spouse is either unaware of or disinterested in
- Develop due to two people “clicking” together whether they intended to or not
- Can be deeply pleasing
- Give people a social interaction that they look forward to
- Provide an escape from loneliness caused by an emotionally distant spouse or one who is often away from home
Why Emotional Affairs Are So Hard to End
The friends-with-emotional-benefits relationship that you find yourself in may have started like a normal friendship.
People who work with each other or volunteer at the same organizations naturally chat, do favors for each other, and sometimes socialize after work.
The growing friendship gradually becomes more intense in much the same way that single people meet and initiate romances.
You both appreciate aspects of each other’s personalities and grow to feel excitement every time you make contact. These are pleasant feelings that most people would not happily remove from their lives.
As a result, ending an emotional affair is hard because:
- You may not want to acknowledge the problem.
- You feel that you have not really been unfaithful to your spouse.
- You want to continue feeling happiness with the other person.
- You don’t want to halt interaction and hurt your affair partner’s feelings.
- You don’t know how to manage your emotions by yourself.
- You’re not sure if your marriage can ever be fully functional.
- You don’t know how to rekindle a connection with your spouse.
The challenge of how to end an emotional affair with a coworker can be especially tricky. You may see the person every day. Leaving your job could be necessary, but that introduces a new set of problems related to earning a living.
Stopping the inappropriate reliance on someone outside your marriage will be worth it because the alternative could be a broken marriage.
For the sake of your emotional health and life stability, you shouldn’t view the emotional affair as something that will satisfy you over the long term. It is a symptom of relationship dissatisfaction, but it cannot be a cure.
How to End an Emotional Affair: 11 Key Steps
1. Acknowledge the Problem
Social interactions and friendships with adults other than your spouse are normal and even healthy. However, you may have been deluding yourself about what your behavior actually is.
If guilty feelings are creeping in every time you avoid your spouse in favor of contact with an affair partner, then your conscience is broadcasting the truth.
Slowly, you may realize that you are drifting away from your spouse and relying on someone else in an inappropriate way for a person in a committed relationship.
Your spouse may have begun to question your behavior or even confronted you about what is going on. Most people deny accusations at first, but being busted in an emotional affair could force you to be honest with yourself.
The time has come to acknowledge that you’re ignoring your marriage partner and not behaving like a loyal spouse.
2. Ponder Why You Are in an Emotional Affair
In the beginning, your behavior may not have been intentional. However, as contact escalated, you chose to continue. Figuring out your motivations is essential to correcting your actions.
A multitude of issues could drive you into an emotional affair.
- Your spouse may be insensitive to your thoughts and feelings.
- You may have settled into a marital routine that bores you.
- Your spouse may work long hours and simply not be available to do things with you.
- You could be self-sabotaging what should be a reasonably happy marriage because deep down, you don’t think that you deserve to be happy.
Dig deep as you ask yourself “why?” questions about what you have been doing.
3. Consider Possible Consequences If You Continue Emotional Affair
A helpful way of convincing yourself to solve a problem is to consider the possible outcome. What will happen if you continue to have contact with the person and let your marriage fade away?
A divorce, with all of its attendant financial and emotional complications, could result. Your children might lose stability in their lives. If you’re having an emotional affair with someone who is also married, your actions could end that marriage.
Your affair partner may only be interested in the current status quo and not want to expand the relationship should you become single.
In many cases, the emotional affair does not represent a relationship that can be positive or sustainable in the long term. After examining the likely end game for your behavior, use those negative consequences as motivation for ending an emotional affair.
4. Make a Plan for Keeping Yourself Honest
Despite rational reasons that make ending the affair the best choice, your emotional needs may tempt you to continue.
You may need to admit to your spouse what is going on. Although uncomfortable, informing your spouse could force you to stop turning to someone else.
Telling a spouse about an emotional affair may not be the right choice in all cases. A spouse who has no idea may be so hurt by the news that your marriage never recovers.
If you fear that outcome, then you will need to be firm with yourself. After ending the relationship, you’ll need to delete the person’s phone number and sever other forms of contact too.
5. Directly End the Relationship
You must speak to your emotional affair partner and say that it is over. No more meetings, calls, or texts can occur.
State clearly that the relationship has become inappropriate and that you want to focus on your marriage.
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6. Be Ready to Refuse Requests for More Contact
Sometimes the other person will try to revive the relationship. Even weeks or months might pass before he or she offers an invitation to talk or meet, but you need to prepare yourself to refuse contact.
Do not reply to any calls, emails, or messages. If you see each other in real life, keep conversations short, and say “No” to all suggestions that you get together.
Extreme action like blocking a number or moving to a new neighborhood might be necessary.
7. Accept That You Will Feel Loss
You really liked this person and his or her absence from your life stings. You may even feel heartbroken. Like any breakup, the pain will fade as your life moves in a new direction.
Be willing to give yourself time to heal.
8. Take Some Time for Yourself
Self reflection can help you make peace with your feelings of guilt and remember why you committed yourself to your significant other in the first place.
You could take a solo vacation to visit a relative or just spend more time at home. However you go about it, remember to place value on giving yourself time to resolve your inner turmoil.
9. Examine and Address Your Emotional Issues
Conversations with a therapist can help you understand your motivations and feelings. You may have emotional damage from childhood or previous relationships that leave you unable to trust those closest to you.
Also, consider that you may have placed unrealistic expectations on your spouse. Hollywood and romantic fairy tales have convinced people that a spouse should meet every emotional need.
In reality, adults must take care of their personal daily ups and downs and not rely on their spouses to be everything they need every moment of the day.
10. Repair Any Damage With Your Spouse
Making your marriage satisfying again requires concerted effort. For some, a renewed focus on quality time together may suffice.
Other couples may need marriage counseling to resolve old arguments and resentments that have driven them apart.
Counseling also paves the way for improved communication and sensitivity to each other’s feelings and needs.
11. Beware of Falling Into Old Habits
This advice applies both to lapsing into negative habits with your spouse and leaving yourself open to emotional fulfillment from another person.
Watch out for signs that you feel dissatisfied or unhappy in your marriage, and try to open up to your spouse about your issues. Also, try to cultivate the habit of self-reflection and awareness of your own contribution to any dissatisfaction you may feel.
Work on developing your emotional maturity so that you bring your best self to your marriage.
Why Are Emotional Affairs So Hard to Get Over?
Even as you follow these steps and hopefully experience progress within your committed relationship, the pain of loss will linger because:
- The feelings you had during the emotional affair were genuine.
- You really liked the person.
- The attraction was exciting.
- You miss the fun distraction from your problems.
Your sadness may leave you thinking, “Do emotional affairs ever stop?” Almost always the answer will be yes. As time goes by, you’ll feel stronger inside and recognize the risks created by the affair.
Remember, despite what pleasure the emotional affair gave you, it also created nagging guilt for you and pain for your spouse. It potentially threatened to unravel your family life. No one needs those problems.
How Do Emotional Affairs End?
An emotional affair, if left to continue, could just produce greater emotional damage. You might wish to ignore your behavior and hope for the best, but truly restoring your committed relationship requires setting yourself on a new course.
You should face reality and call off the relationship. This conscious action will be difficult but worth the turmoil in the long run.
Coasting along within an emotional affair will only weaken your marriage and leave your emotional needs unaddressed.