What You Need to Know About Emotional Affairs

Upset couple with marital problems in bed

Emotional infidelity can be as catastrophic to a relationship as a physical affair. Defining it, however, can be confusing. Sexual contact is clear, specific and, for the most part, black and white.  There is little or no room for interpretation or divergent views.  A kiss is a kiss, and so on.  

When it comes to emotional betrayal, however, the definitions can become extremely ambiguous and opinions can vary widely. It’s most important to remember that it is each person’s individual beliefs and feelings that determine what defines an emotional betrayal in a relationship. What is an emotional betrayal to someone may not be to someone else.

Many couples get into trouble because they don’t take time to learn specifics about their partner’s values and beliefs about emotional betrayal until something occurs that is problematic. These issues become much more difficult to navigate when they are emotionally charged and relating to a specific incident that has occurred. It’s much easier to be proactive in discussing beliefs and values around emotional betrayal hypothetically.

It’s best to address this subject as early on in the relationship as possible, even well before deeper feelings of the possibility of higher levels of commitment are being considered. It is much easier to have discussions about thoughts and feelings regarding these issues before a deep emotional connection develops.  Start the discussion with general and philosophical topics and examples. This can help identify and reveal potentially big disparities early on, before each person is invested very deeply emotionally.  As a relationship deepens, the probability of problems and more serious conflicts increases the longer communication about these kinds of issues is delayed.

When first communicating about your own thoughts and feelings related to these issues, it can be helpful to begin with discussion of things that you have less certainty about rather than absolutes or things that you have totally certainty around.  Absolutes imply inflexibility and rigidity, and create a higher likelihood of conflict or difficulty reaching compromise if disagreements exist.

Discussion of things that you’re less certain about can create a more comfortable and less threatening atmosphere. If your opinion is undecided, there is less implied threat if a difference of opinion exists. This can give each person a better idea of the other’s beliefs, issues and style of communication and navigating disagreements.

Don’t let emotional betrayal sabotage your relationship. It might feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable, but the time to begin talking about these issues with your partner is now, not after something occurs that is troubling.