This is the fourth article in our seven part Causes of Divorce series. Links to the other articles are at the bottom of the page.
Is Texting Someone You Find Attractive Cheating?
If you take a look around at the couples you know, it might seem like cheating is rampant. Unfortunately, the statistics support this observation. One survey for the Institute for Family Studies showed that 20% of men and 13% of women report cheating on their husband or wife. 1
Maybe you’ve even had (or been) an unfaithful spouse yourself before. If so, then you probably know that emotional infidelity can be every bit as painful as sexual infidelity.
Nowadays, it seems like we’re all glued to our phones. Frequent texting on the part of one spouse (even with a close friend of the opposite sex) isn’t necessarily a relationship red flag, but how can you tell where a close friendship ends and an emotional affair begins?
Let’s explore the connection between emotional affairs and texting whether your marriage is solid or you’re doomed for divorce.
Signs of Emotional Cheating
So, you’ve been feeling some emotional distance between you and your spouse, but you’re not sure if it’s because another person has become the new object of emotional intimacy.
Above all else, you’ll want to trust your instincts, because you know your marriage and your spouse better than we ever could. However, here are some hints that you may want to look for as you process your feelings and decide whether your current relationship is here to stay.
1. You or your partner has been hiding their phone.
Even if there hasn’t been any physical intimacy outside of the marriage, secrecy is a pretty reliable sign that what you thought was a platonic relationship may actually be something more. There is no innocent reason why a married person would instantly stash their phone as soon as their spouse enters the room.
If this is a pattern that you’ve noticed your husband or wife engaging in, your suspicions are probably warranted. If this is something you’ve noticed yourself doing, then it’s probably time to examine how you feel about the friend you’ve been texting.
Does the emotional bond you feel toward them rise above the level of platonic friendship after all? If not, then what exactly do you feel you have to hide from your spouse?
One thing to keep in mind is that this is probably only something to worry about if it’s been happening consistently for an extended period of time. Otherwise, maybe your partner is just planning some sort of surprise for you, or perhaps you and your friend have just been talking about a sensitive topic that you fear would hurt your wife or husband’s feelings.
Hiding your phone doesn’t make a dear friend an emotional affair partner unless your main concern is that your partner will see that you’re talking to them.
2. You or your spouse can’t stop talking about their new friend.
It’s normal to be excited when a new friendship really just clicks, and it’s normal to want to share your excitement with your partner. However, if this new friend has become the main topic of conversation, what does that remind you of?
Chances are, you were approximately that chatty about your spouse when the two of you first met.
As a married couple, you and your partner are supposed to be each other’s primary relationship. If one of you seems positively obsessed with someone else, then that’s probably where they’re directing most of their emotional energy, and this “friend” might actually be their partner in an emotional affair.
A possibly inappropriate level of emotional attachment doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your spouse are headed for divorce, but it’s an excellent reason to examine the level of intimacy within your marriage.
A married man and woman probably won’t always feel head-over-heels for each other, but intimate conversation should be a staple in any committed relationship. We all crave emotional connection, so if you and your spouse aren’t getting it from each other, it’s very likely that one of you is engaged in an emotional affair.
3. You or your spouse has changed their work schedule.
Coupled with other signs of emotional cheating, a change in work schedule might occur because you or your partner wants to make more time for that questionable friend. This might indicate that the emotional affair has turned into a full-on extramarital affair, but it doesn’t have to.
Whether or not the relationship has progressed to physical adultery, changing your work schedule with someone else in mind demonstrates a new level of commitment that we don’t normally make for our platonic friends.
This sign is particularly dicey, however, because there are so many other, innocent reasons why you or your partner would change their schedule. As a result, you really have to examine the surrounding circumstances. For instance, if your spouse is “working” a lot more than usual but there doesn’t seem to be any extra money coming in, then you probably have a cheating partner on your hands.
At that point, it might not even matter to you whether it’s physical infidelity or a purely emotional affair.
4. You believe that this new friend understands you better than your spouse.
Of course, this fourth sign of an emotional affair only applies if it’s you who might be having one. After all, you can’t read your spouse’s mind, and this probably isn’t the sort of information they would volunteer unless they were in the process of asking for a divorce.
The same logic applies to your own feelings, though -- if this is a thought you’ve been having, then your relationship with your spouse might be nearing its end.
Feeling this way doesn’t just speak to the intimacy you’ve developed with your new friend. It also exposes a dearth of intimacy with your spouse, which is the real relationship red flag. Maybe this is even the real distinction between friendship and emotional infidelity -- a friend is just a friend until they begin to replace your spouse.
What should you do if you find out that your partner is having an emotional affair over texting?
How you should react when you come face to face with your partner’s emotional infidelity depends on your needs and values. For example, some people might consider an emotional affair to be the greatest betrayal possible, while others might consider a physical affair to be much more serious.
Certainly, if you know that you value honesty above all else and don’t believe you’ll ever be able to trust your partner again after discovering their emotional cheating, then ending the relationship is the only real option. You shouldn’t stay in a relationship unless you have faith that it can be a happy one.
That being said, there is some data regarding how people do react when affairs come to light. According to a survey conducted by Health Testing Centers, when men admitted to cheating, they ended the relationship themselves 13.9% of the time, and their partners ended the relationship 22.2% of the time. 2 Meanwhile, when women admitted to cheating, they ended the relationship 21.1% of the time, and their partners ended the relationship 10.9% of the time. 3
Assuming that most of the survey participants were in heterosexual relationships, these numbers suggest that women are more likely than men to end a relationship when infidelity comes to light.
It should be noted that most of the survey participants admitted to physical cheating rather than a purely emotional affair, but it’s possible that this discrepancy occurs no matter the details of the intimate relationship in question.
What’s the difference between an emotional affair and friendship?
If there’s any good thing you can say about a sexual affair, it’s that it’s pretty easy to spot one. That just isn’t true when it comes to emotional affairs. There really is a very fine line between an innocent friendship and a threat to your marriage.
The question it all comes down to is this: is one spouse’s new “friend” beginning to replace the other spouse? This can take many forms -- the potential cheater might be spending more time with their supposed friend than with their spouse, or they might be talking about more intimate topics with their friend than with their spouse.
Whatever the exact change is, you know that a friendship has crossed the line when it has become more, better, or deeper than the marriage.
Remember, though: just because you know it’s an emotional affair doesn’t mean your marriage has to end. If you and your spouse are committed to work through this, then you shouldn’t let any third party stand in the way.
Why do emotional affairs happen?
There is no single cause of all emotional affairs, but there has been plenty of research that might shed some light on this question. Most of the time, there is underlying dissatisfaction that prompts married people to seek emotional support outside of their partnership.
According to research conducted by psychologist and infidelity expert Shirley Glass, 48% of men cited emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason they cheated, while only 34% of women who had affairs said they were either happy or very happy in their marriage. 4
That isn’t very specific, but psychologist Mark Borg has some deeper insight. According to him, “The epidemic of emotional affairs coincides with a tendency that we have noticed for people in long-term relationships to defend themselves psychologically. That is, ironically protect themselves from anxiety-provoking aspects of love.” 5
So, if you want to prevent an emotional affair in your relationship, the best thing you can do is be vulnerable with your spouse, and maybe even give up a little bit of control.
How long do emotional affairs last?
The answer to this question also varies, of course, and there isn’t much data available regarding this exact question. However, we do know that the hormonally excited, “in love” stage of a new relationship “typically lasts six to 18 months, and occasionally as long as three years,” according to Denise Bartell, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. 6
We also know that affairs in general do not make a very good basis for a long-lasting marriage. Only 5 to 7% of affairs ultimately lead to marriage, and 75% of those resulting marriages ultimately end in divorce. 7 This makes sense intuitively, but relationship expert Stephanie Stewart put it best:
Shame and guilt greatly overshadow a relationship that started as an affair, so it’s very difficult to be wholehearted. The longevity of the relationship is impacted by their emotional intelligence/management and reasons for being in an affair. Are they truly connected and in love, or are they each filling a void? 8
Do emotional affairs turn into love?
They certainly can, but that doesn’t mean that they always will. All of the same factors that determine whether any two people with chemistry fall in love apply here as well. Do they have shared interests? Are their values and lifestyles compatible? Do they want to fall in love? There is one major additional factor here, though: is it more important to the married participant to work things out with their spouse?
Even if the emotional affair does ultimately break up a marriage, that doesn’t mean it’s a love that will last forever. Sometimes an emotional affair begins because the guilty party’s spouse was not meeting all of their needs. When their spouse is out of the picture, they might realize that their new relationship doesn’t meet all of their needs, either.
New relationship energy can be exciting, but the only way to tell if a relationship can stand the test of time is to wait and see.
Do emotional affairs turn physical?
They definitely can, but they often don’t. How do we know this is true? Well, in a massive, ongoing online survey (with well over 90,000 participants), 91% of women and 77.5% of men admitted to having an emotional affair. 9
Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality estimated that roughly 30% to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage. 10 This discrepancy also suggests that many people do not consider emotional affairs to constitute infidelity, even if they might simultaneously think that engaging in an emotional affair is wrong.
In the next article of this series, we discuss when to walk away from a sexless marriage.
Read the Entire Causes of Divorce Series
- Causes of Divorce
- How to know when your marriage might be over
- When to walk away after infidelity
- When to walk away from a sexless marriage
- Signs of Divorce
- Divorce after 20 years
10) Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Susceptibility to infidelity in the first year of marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 193-221.