Are you having an Emotional Affair?

I had a call this week from a journalist hoping to unpack this thing called an ‘Emotional Affair’. It is an intricate ordeal to identify and therefore more difficult to confidently diagnose in your relationship.

Before I ‘go there’, I think it is important to mention and educate first about ‘Emotional Intimacy’. When our partner is seeking emotional intimacy elsewhere, we tend to feel it on an intuitive level first. What makes it difficult to pin-point is that ‘emotional intimacy’ is as elusive as an ‘emotional affair’ and equally intangible. Intangible but as far as I am concerned, much more threatening (an emotional affair) to a relationship that a physical affair. Physical intimacy can be bought. It is ironically less harmful to a relationship if there is only extramarital sex to deal with. Losing our partner’s heart to another person leaves a bleak future for the relationship. Emotional intimacy takes time to develop. Before we feel that we can let our guard down to be completely vulnerable, we need to truly trust the other.

Emotional intimacy requires a huge investment of oneself, time and energy. If we are making time to invest emotionally with someone who is not our partner (in our insanely busy lives) there is a problem. Life is after all priority driven. Whatever you place your attention and energy into, will grow.

Emotional intimacy involves mutual self-revelation; sharing every aspect of your Self with another person. It includes the following experiences:

  • Feeling the freedom to be yourself with another person i.e to expose your opinions, feelings,  faults, fears and dreams with another
  • Feeling emotionally safe and emotionally supported/accepted for who you are
  • Appreciated and/or admired for who you are
  • Wanting to be loving, thoughtful, considerate, patient, tender, tolerant, kind, gentle toward another person
  • Sharing the secrets of your heart, mind and soul
  • Allowing another person to discover what moves, inspires and drives you

Not all relationships are worthy of such intimacy. Our primary relationship is the inner sanctum of our emotional lives. It is the first source of emotional support and our primary opportunity to develop and experience a deep level of intimacy.  We might experience emotional intimacy with a few people (friends/family). It is the depth that varies and separates the degree of intimacy. In a romantic relationship we assume it is safe to reveal ourselves completely and this is part of the deep connection that bonds us to our partner.  For most of us, our primary relationship is the one chance we have in this lifetime to truly know a person, and in turn, to be deeply known by another human being.

When we share the same depth of emotional intimacy/vulnerability with another person that we would normally reserve for our current partner, that is an emotional affair.


Emotional intimacy is one of four aspects of intimacy i.e. physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The levels and depth we share with another person is what defines how ‘close’ we are to them. Our life partner has the privilege of enjoying the highest level and greatest depth of intimacy with us. If emotionally, that is not the not the case for you, you are probably having an emotional affair.