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Emotional Affairs: Men vs Women

Women are more hurt by emotional affairs

The largest study(a) of its kind on infidelity determined that heterosexual women are more hurt by emotional affairs than by sexual affairs, while heterosexual men are more jealous with sexual affairs than with emotional affairs. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that women are not bothered when their partners sleep around, but emotional affairs are even tougher on them. When it is only sex, some women may be able to move past it; but when the affair is emotionally and relationally based, it hurts them more.

Men may not understand emotional affairs

I find men generally have a harder time recognizing emotional affairs or their impact until it is too late. Men usually can accept sexual affairs as “being wrong” but may see emotional affairs as just “being friends”. They think it is just hanging out, with no intention to go any further. Whether it is online chatting or getting friendly with a co-worker, men drift towards those that stroke their ego.

Emotional affairs can destroy your marriage

Regardless of your gender, emotional affairs are hurtful to the other partner. The pain caused by emotional affair is similar to that of sexual affairs, partners get traumatized and have flashbacks afterwards just the same. If you treasure your partner and your marriage, you need to consider the impact of emotional affair.

Are you having an emotional affair?

Ask yourself these 10 questions:

  • Do I enjoy spending a lot of time with this person?
  • Am I telling him/her things that should be reserved for my partner?
  • Am I sharing my frustration regarding my partner to this person?
  • Am I hiding the details of my involvement with this person?
  • Would my partner be uncomfortable with this person?
  • Am I attracted to this person (not necessarily sexually)?
  • Am I flirting with the line with this person?
  • Am I fantasizing about an encounter with this person?
  • Am I dressing up for this person?
  • Am I fighting even more with my partner?

If you answer “yes” to more than 3 questions, you are likely having an emotional affair. If your marriage is important to you, you need to save it while you can.

How to save your marriage if you are having an emotional affair?

  1. End the affair immediately
    There is no easy way to say it: If you don’t want to lose your marriage, you need to end the affair now. Don’t delay. Don’t deny. Don’t hesitate. You cannot have both relationships. Chinese proverb says: If you stand on two boats, you will fall into the water and lose both. You need to choose one. You may need to talk to your spouse so that you two can get back on track. If you have a hard time ending the affair, you may need the help of a professional counsellor.
  2. Talk to someone about this to keep you accountable
    Consider getting help if it is hard to end something that is seemingly meeting your need (e.g. feeling desirable, having your ego stroke). Perhaps reaching out to an accountability person – someone who is not your partner or the person you have the emotional affair with. It can be a good friend who will look you in the eye and tell you that you are off track.
  3. Find out what is missing in your relationship and work hard at fixing it
    Most affairs (sexual or emotional) are not usually about the third person, but more about what is missing in the marriage. Maybe your partner is not giving you the attention you need and deserve; and when someone else does, you become awestruck and eventually find yourself crossing boundaries.  You may want to seek help from a marriage and family therapist to work on this missing piece. If this is the case, contact us and we will be happy to talk to you.

© Herman Chow

D.Min, RP, RMFT, Certified EFT Therapist

(a)David A. Frederick, Melissa R. Fales. Upset Over Sexual versus Emotional Infidelity Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual AdultsArchives of Sexual Behavior, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10508-014-0409-9: In a poll with about 64,000 Americans from all across different backgrounds (e.g. gender, sexual orientation, income level, etc.), heterosexual men have a harder time accepting sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity while heterosexual women were the opposite. However, the same cannot be said among bisexuals, gays, and lesbians. They rated roughly the same between sexual and emotional affairs.