Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attending couples counseling as Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attending couples counseling as Mr. and Mrs. Smith; courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Smith, 2005, 20th Century Fox

The probability of the answer being yes is likely higher than you would imagine.  Here’s a Pop Quiz:

  1. Are you in a long-term relationship?
  2. Do you have children?
  3. Is your job or career stressful?
  4. Are you connecting with your partner less frequently?
  5. Are you currently navigating financial worries or health concerns?
  6. Do you regularly use social media?

Emotional affairs are not inevitable, but certain circumstances are more conducive to having them than others.

If you answered yes to three or more of the above questions, then you, like many other well-intentioned partners, have a significant chance of straying emotionally.

Emotional affairs can be even more devastating to a relationship than physical affairs because there is a substantial connection… one that after lost is often mourned by the partner.  Emotional affairs mean your partner is physically in the relationship with you, but is giving his or her charm, concern, curiosity and tenderness to someone else.

The betrayal can be devastating and unfortunately the partner who is cheating often gives him or herself credit for not having sexual intercourse.  This is why emotional affairs can wreck marriages; often the burden of proving that there is something inappropriate happening falls on the faithful partner.  With the regular use of social media and selfies, commenting on a photograph may seem harmless, but is it?

It’s important to have serious conversations about boundaries with other people, and please avoid focusing solely on the physical boundaries.  Is it okay to have lunch and flirt with a co-worker daily? Is it okay to talk about problems in your relationship or marriage with someone to whom you are physically OR emotionally attracted? Is it acceptable to have intimate or close relationships of which your partner is unaware?

Begin the conversation early.

If you’re engaged in an emotional affair or suspect that your partner is, it’s important to end it before relationship repair can begin. On the other hand, if you’re no longer invested in your relationship or marriage, and the emotional affair is a cry to exit, perhaps you can consider a more straight-forward approach. Enter counseling with the goal of seeking clarity about whether or not you should move forward as opposed limiting your approach to salvaging the relationship by any means necessary.

Get professional help early.

You may benefit from reaching out to a counselor before confronting your partner.  In spite of the devastation, emotional affairs do not necessarily signal a broken relationship or the end of your marriage.  With appropriate guidance, exploration, and boundary-settings, you many find an emotional affair the unlikely glue that keeps you together. You can emerge from any relationship difficulty stronger than ever, but it requires each partner buying in to at least a few ideas: humility; honesty; hard work; patience; and time.

If you find yourself in this situation, you still have options, and you can still win in this relationship or another one. Remain hopeful and shift from a passive mode into an active one where you move toward effective solutions with professional help.