Is Your Friendship Becoming an Emotional Affair?

A bearded man makes a silly face as his friend feeds him ice cream.Many couples have at their core a deep and abiding friendship. According to psychologist and researcher Dr. John Gottman, having a strong friendship is one of the most important traits that makes a marriage fulfilling and lasting. Quality relationships outside the marriage are also key for a rich and fulfilling life. But when those relationships cross boundaries and become inappropriate, a marriage can quickly be turned upside down and torn inside out. Couples can benefit from constructing clear boundaries to protect their marriage.

Setting Boundaries with Friends

In my own life I have the joy of celebrating 28 years of marriage. I can say my husband is my best friend. Early on in our marriage we began the practice of exercising healthy boundaries with our friendships, specifically those friendships with people of the opposite gender. We made a list of clear lines of demarcation in other relationships, as we never want to compromise our marriage.

Contrary to what many believe, not all affairs are due to a troubled marriage or a lack of love between spouses. A loving marriage and good friendships can coexist if you are careful and cognizant of not crossing emotional and physical boundaries. Physical boundaries are fairly obvious; however, what many people don’t understand is that emotional affairs generally happen gradually. From there they may transition into physical affairs, creating havoc and turmoil when they are exposed.

The challenging aspect is that many emotional affairs don’t set out to be so. Infidelity often starts out simply in workplace relationships, platonic friendships, or community acquaintances. Generally, they happen without premeditation. It is when people start to cross boundaries of emotional intimacy, sharing information which should only be discussed with their spouse, that trouble begins.

When emotional boundaries are crossed, it gradually leads to more and more intimate communication being shared. Stronger feelings may grow, and before the person knows it, they’ve developed an attraction for their friend. If left unchecked, this will most likely lead to sexual infidelity and most assuredly violate the security of the marriage.

How can you tell if you or your spouse are in the danger zone with your other friendships?

15 Signs Your Friendship Has Crossed the Line

  1. When talking to your friend, you feel more comfortable confiding in them than you do your spouse.
  2. When talking to your friend, you share negative thoughts or feelings that you have toward your spouse.
  3. When talking to your friend, you share intimate details about your life, more so than with your spouse.
  4. You do not share the extent of your friendship with your spouse.
  5. Your spouse does not know about your relationship with your friend.
  6. You would feel uncomfortable if your spouse were to listen in on the conversations you have with your friend.
  7. You find yourself thinking about your friend more than you know you should be.
  8. You look forward to being with your friend more so than with your spouse.
  9. You meet your friend alone for coffee or meals without your spouse knowing about it.
  10. You regularly engage with your friend on social media without your spouse’s knowledge.
  11. You feel a sexual tension or attraction when you are with your friend.
  12. You and your friend are discussing the sexual tension you are both feeling in the friendship.
  13. When you and your friend are alone, you interact differently than when other people are around.
  14. You find yourself regularly looking forward to meeting with your friend.
  15. You are in love with your friend.

If you disagreed with all these statements, then most likely you are not having an emotional affair. If you agreed with most of these questions, then you may be involved in an emotional affair.

Ending an Emotional Affair

If you are having an emotional affair, you may be jeopardizing your marriage. It may be a good idea to put an end to that friendship. If this is a work colleague or someone you must see on a regular basis, you may want to consider putting up some strong boundaries starting now. If you desire to preserve your marriage, you may want to seek out the support of a therapist to help you process your feelings and hold you accountable.

Contrary to what many believe, not all affairs are due to a troubled marriage or a lack of love between spouses. In my practice I often find couples get caught up in careers, raising children, or caring for elderly parents. All these commitments can cause people to lose sight of their marriage or spouse. Healing the marriage is often just a matter of not taking our spouse for granted and making sure we stay emotionally connected to our partner.


Glass, S. P. (2004). Not ‘just friends’: Rebuilding trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity. New York, NY: Free Press.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Bisignano, PhD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • G

    August 23rd, 2018 at 2:23 PM

    My gf feel in love with co-worker slowly didnt tell me wouldn’t admit it and basically gave up on us. When we broke up she said nothing to do with him but then 1 month later they were together. Watch out for this

  • abbey

    September 5th, 2018 at 5:15 PM

    What a sad, disheartening article built on a decidedly homophobic and non-LGBTQ-inclusive premise. These “boundaries” (which become rules and regulations, in practice) do not allow for the various wonderful platonic intimacies that can make friendships so enriching. I dream of having a partner who freely has friendships of all types and degrees of closeness–with people of all genders–and I wish the same for the author and all the readers of this article.

  • Red

    October 1st, 2020 at 10:26 AM

    I’m really tired of reading about how infidelity and emotional affairs negatively impacts the primary relationship/marriage from a POV that the “other person” is an inanimate object. We are real, live human beings. I am married woman and I fell in love with a married man. We were acquaintances for a year when we finally acknowledged we had feelings for one another. None of the garbage listed on this website applies – we were NOT complaining to one another about our respective spouses, but we knew we had found something special in one another, and that if we had just met earlier, we would have been together. WIth most anything in life – a home, a career, a lifestyle, a hometown – it is OK for us to say “you know, I’m a different person from whom I was when I first embarked upon this, and I have now grown and changed 10, 15, 20 years later and I need a change”. But not a marriage. Unless it’s abusive, we are expected to stay in that marriage, no matter how sad and unfulfilling it may have become. I’m not talking about “the grass is always greener”. I’m talking about growing out of love with someone, while still loving and respecting them, and working together to raise the kids, but having grown apart. The analogy that a marriage is like an old car that just needs some parts replaced (AKA therapy) to work properly again apparently is OK so long as you agree to keep the car. But if you feel it’s time (for both of you) to move on, then there is a problem. There is so much stigma associated with leaving a marriage that’s not “broken” that it’s expected that we live the remainder of our lives feeling empty and lifeless (especially once we know that there is someone out there who can make us feel happy again) just so we’re not accused of abandoning our families. I recommend listening to Glennon Doyle and Esther Perel for a more modern take on relationships. Marraiges as we know them were “invented” back when the life expectancy was far shorter. Living with the same person and expecting to be happy for 60+ years is not realistic. And if we’re unable to do so, we feel like a failure and that we’re “broken” and need to be “fixed” by therapy and medication. It’s sick and sad and unneccessary. And I’m not talking about having a string of affairs – I’m talking about finding another love later in life and not being able to fulfill that because of societal norms that dictate that it’s “wrong” and “a failure” on our part to go on with a relationship that no longer makes us happy.

  • Blue

    October 10th, 2021 at 10:29 AM

    Wow – sounds like a lot of rationalization and justification for being unfaithful. The mental gymnastics a person has to jump through to make their selfishness “okay” is impressive. Your poor spouse.

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