Emotional Hell When A Spouse Has An Emotional Affair?

emotional affair

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

When someone finds out their spouse is cheating or cheated, it’s awful. I’ve personally been there—not in my marriage but in another relationship. It’s like you just got punched in the stomach, and you keep feeling like you are repeatedly getting punched in the stomach for days, even weeks. It’s shocking (even for those who suspected it), it’s infuriating, it makes you feel like you will never trust anyone again, it makes you feel stupid, and it makes you really, really sad that the life you knew is over, no matter what happens next. But let’s compare physical cheating to an emotional affair.


Let’s say a spouse has a one-night stand and comes to you and begs forgiveness, claims it meant nothing, and wants to work things out. At least there is a chance to try to understand and examine why the person did it, what’s wrong with your relationship, what’s wrong with the person to make such a poor choice, etc. Now, listen to this reader’s story about his wife’s emotional affair:


I turned to look at her and she ever so slightly moved her phone screen away. I asked who she was texting. “My train buddy” was the response. Immediately, I asked man or woman. She responded, “Man,” of course.


A month passed before I got the sudden urge to look into this. I discovered you can find out who the person was texting and how many times in that billing cycle, not yet done…26 days in, one number appeared 1300 times!!!

She claimed it was an emotional affair and he paid attention to her. Attention I never gave her. She accepted all the fault, even though there’s always blame on both sides.

I opted to stay and we fought through some tough times, but we have a better marriage than ever, no doubt. It is what it should have been from the start.

The problem?

1. I feel like a sucker for not seeing it at the time.

2. I don’t believe the details. She was caught in so many lies. I suspect it was more than emotional. What does bother me is that she still won’t tell me the truth, either because of shame or not wanting to hurt me, or fear I I’ll call it quits. I won’t. I just hate being lied to. I’m over the affair, I’m not OK with not knowing the truth and I know I’m not going to get it.

I am 100% certain that she’s had no contact with him since the discovery. But, recovering from an affair is a tough thing. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.



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Here is what (for me) would be so difficult about my spouse having an emotional affair. In any romantic relationship, I’m not going to say that sex isn’t important, but the emotional connection, trust, likability, loyalty and friendship are a million times more significant.


So, if my spouse fell in love with someone else and didn’t get physical, it would almost hurt worse than if they had sex with someone and it didn’t mean anything, or if they fell in love and got physical. Why? Because they loved the person so much that they didn’t even need the sex. So, what would that say about the relationship he and I have? It would be a huge blow.


Even worse, in an emotional affair, the two people can only fantasize about the great sex in which they aren’t having, which in all honesty is much better in their minds than the real thing. The sex and the person become idealized. Flawless. Perfect. And if they never have sex with the person, and the two get back together, the cheater might  always wonder if they  did the right thing deciding to forego what would have been the best sex of their lives. Would you want to have sex with someone knowing this? I sure wouldn’t.


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Still, this guy took his wife back. So, here is the other side of this. It probably killed him to stay in the relationship, but he had his reasons. Maybe they have kids and he stayed for them. Maybe he felt he and his wife could do the work to repair the relationship. (When I say “do the work” I mean go to therapy, work on their communication skills, and delve into what caused her to look elsewhere for a deep emotional connection.)


I’m sure their life isn’t easy together. I know that if I were him, I would always be suspicious that she would strike up a relationship with someone else or reconnect with the train guy. But, maybe through “the work” and because of what happened, their relationship is stronger and better than ever. Maybe he had the self-awareness to take part of the blame for her going elsewhere for attention. (Not that I am condoning an emotional affair, but I’m sure he wasn’t the perfect spouse. No one is.)


The thing is, physical cheating is very hard on a marriage, but if there is an emotional affair (with or without sex) it’s even harder to overcome, in my opinion. But, that doesn’t mean couples can’t learn to live with emotional cheating and even become closer as a result.



The difference between couples who stay together after cheating and those who don’t lies in how they both handle it.

Here is what’s needed for the relationship to mend:


1. BOTH partners need to want to work it out and for the right reasons.
2. Both need to be committed to getting help and making changes to help make the relationship better.
3. The cheater needs to SHOW, not tell his or her partner that he won’t do it again.
4. The cheatee needs to forgive and not throw it back in his or her face every time things get rough.
5. Both partners need to be patient because it takes time to learn to trust and respect each other again.
6. Both partners have to come up with sort of a contract of what they are going to commit to to make the relationship work and rebuild the trust.


Here’s the thing. I would have a really really hard time reconciling with someone who cheated on me, physically or emotionally. But that’s me. Every couple has their own story, their own, unique situation and their own reasons for why the cheating occurred. And whether it’s physical cheating or an emotional affair, they get to decide, either individually or as a couple, how they want to move forward. No one should judge them for their decision.

Like this article? Check out, “Were you Cheated On? Advice For The Cheatee”


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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

5 Responses to “Emotional Hell When A Spouse Has An Emotional Affair?”

  1. Rhodora

    Having an affair is wrong when you both agreed on an exclusive relationship or marriage. Unless it is an open relationship or marriage. I would rather end the relationship or marriage if i promised to be loyal, than have an affair with someone else. It is a huge betrayal, and it is heart breaking when the other partner finds out.

    I have a friend who was on the verge of cheating on her partner, her reasons were that, he doesn’t tell her she is beautiful anymore, he never compliments her, does not buy her gifts, he doesn’t even know her proper shoe size. Then she met a man at the airport who told her she was gorgeous, then she forgets about her 12 years marriage and three children. And wanted to actually go on a date with the man. She said, he understands her the way her husband does not, he makes her smile and brings some sparks in her life. He finds her attractive, her husband doesn’t .

    I advised her, do not go on any date with this man, it might start out like an innocent conversation, the gradually it begins to get personal and then you begin to think of this person in a way you should not. You made a vow to stay faithful in your marriage, instead i rather you talk to your husband about how you feel. He may not be doing it on purpose. If you do this, it doesn’t end in one date, before you know it, you become physically or romantically attached to this person while you are bound to another. Affairs causes more damage in ways one doesn’t realize.

    If you don’t find fulfillment in your relationship, discuss it with your partner, unless it is an open relationship then you will not be betraying your partner. People who have affairs claim it just happened. i do not agree with that, affairs do not just happen. An affair is a choice , there is a threshold line in monogamous relationships and you choose to cross it. It is a bad idea to have an affair in an exclusive relationship because there is betrayal of the primary relationship, there is lying, covering your tracks and there is also worry (Will she/he find out?)What will people think when i am caught? when you have an affair, you are choosing to be out of integrity with yourself. If you think its a good thing, why do it in secrecy? If your relationship is awful, you either work to change it or leave it, you don’t have to hurt the other person by having an affair.

  2. Esther

    Emotional affairs are difficult to explain to family when you are going through a divorce. Most people don’t understand why you chose not to stay if he hasn’t slept with anyone. 5 yrs later….. I really don’t care to explain.

    • Jessica

      I understand completely. I just found out about my husband’s emotional affair and a lot of people cant understand why i want to get a divorce instead of working things out. But I try to explain it is cheating just the same. Sex should but doesn’t always come with feelings or emotion but talking to someone for months telling them your problems and confiding in someone creates a deeper connection than sex alone can do. They don’t understand how devastated and betrayed I feel. They don’t understand that if I stay with him I could never be myself again. I would become someone I hate, a jealous, unhappy person who is constantly thinking if he’s telling me the truth and wondering if he’s calling her or someone new on the way to work on lunch and after work and while I was in the other room sleeping like he did before. I don’t want to become a monster when he’s the one who created this mess when he chose to open the door to another woman and confide in her instead of trying to working out our problems together. He says he’s sorry and they were just friends but if I didn’t catch him he would still be talking to her. He didn’t stop on his own of his own free will. He always knew how I felt about him talking to someone else even it wasn’t physical I told him how I felt about this way before we got married and he still chose to do it knowing what my response would be if I ever caught him doing something like this but I’m the one who is expected to change and forgive him. I’ve read many stories online where a couple chooses to work things out and 2years later they say they still can’t completely trust their spouse and are still devastated. If you can stay with someone after such betrayal to work it out than good for you but for some of us it simply just cant be done for our own sanity.

  3. Julie

    First, let me say excellent points made in the comments above. I totally understand. My husband met this married woman on the beach who wanted him to give her surfing lessons. Now, mind you…just diwn the street there is a place that offers professional lessons. She could have afforded it. She’s from out of town (has a vacation house here) and there are public online posts of her that show she is more than proficient at surfing.

    I found out by seeing suspect stuff on Facebook. Of course he said that they were “just friends”. He explained by saying he had a chip on his shoulder over our relationship. In his opinion there wasn’t enough sex (that is where he should have initiated a conversation with me).

    Soooo, I am thinking to myself, he’s out kindling a “totally platonic, just friends” relationship with a woman because he’s not getting the sex he wants? That makes no sense. What in the world would be the point? Your wife’s not having enough sex with you, so you start texting and meeting a woman behind her back that supposedly isn’t having sex with you either? Do I look that dumb? I explained that to him and he just muttered a bunch of nonsense. To make things worse, if it was innocent why did he immediately delete all their texts? I had just purchased him a phone before he met her. It is on my cell plan so legally the phone is mine. I took it an ran it through a program and was able to retrieve a text that had not been overwritten. It said “I’ll be up at the beach Sun Mon and Tues, Id love to see you out there!” I told him that if it were straight up about surfing, she would have phrased it differently. Like “I can meet on Sun etc for a lesson” Her saying “I’d love to see you out there made it personal and a little to familiar for someone to be addressing a married man when his wife isn’t around.
    I’m coming to terms after about 3 years that I need to leave if I have any self respect at all. I’ve trued to give it a chance but I don’t think I can.

    • Jackie Pilossoph

      Your husband is subconsciously punishing you because he feels guilty for emotionally cheating. In my opinion, what he has done is meanspirited and selfish. You may not be the perfect wife (but honestly, no one is) but you didn’t deserve this and looking at this from the outside in, he is at fault here. Big time. The worst part about an emotional affair is that the person can claim “I’m doing nothing wrong since we’re not having sex.” It’s infuriating!! I”m sorry you are going through this.


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