How to Know if a Friendship is Becoming an Emotional Affair

In my work as a therapist, I see many couples dealing with infidelity. The question I get asked over and over is, “How did this happen?

The truth is that affairs typically don’t just happen. Platonic friendships and workplace relationships can slowly and unintentionally evolve into emotional affairs.

An emotional affair happens when more intimacy is shared with someone outside of the partnership than with your partner. In return, this outside relationship provides emotional support and companionship.

Emotional affairs can be as devastating as physical affairs. The offended partner feels just as deceived and betrayed. It is not uncommon for you to begin feeling uneasy about your partner’s friendship before he/she may be aware that boundaries are being crossed.

In the book Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, authors Shirley P. Glass PhD and Jean Coppock Staeheli created a quiz to help you recognize if you or your partner’s friendship may be in the danger zone:

  1. Do you confide more to your friend than to your partner about how you day went?
  2. Do you discuss negative feelings or intimate details about your marriage with your friend but not with your partner?
  3. Are you open with your partner about the extent of you involvement with your friend?
  4. Would you feel comfortable if your partner heard your conversations with your friend?
  5. Would you feel comfortable if your partner saw a videotape of your meetings?
  6. Are you aware of sexual tension in the friendship?
  7. Do you and your friend touch differently when you are alone than in front of others?
  8. Are you in love with your friend?

A score of 0-2: This is just a friendship.

A score of 3–6: You may be more than “just friends.”

A score of 7-8: You are definitely involved in an emotional affair.

It is important to be intentional about setting and respecting appropriate boundaries with friendships at your work, place of worship, gym, neighborhood, etc. If this quiz has identified areas of concern in your relationship, a professional counselor could assist you in addressing these with your partner.

Ann Sheerin