Emotional infidelity, or an affair of the heart, usually starts out innocently enough. It feels like a good friendship. You just click. They get you. You enjoy your time together – that’s not cheating, right?
But it soon becomes obvious that there’s something more going on. Maybe you find yourself sending late night texts. Perhaps you dress up a little when you know you’re going to see them. You start confiding deep, intimate thoughts to each other. There’s a spark, and you know this is more than friendship – even if you don’t want to admit it yet.
It’s easy to convince yourself that because there’s no sex involved, it’s not cheating. But an affair of the heart is still infidelity, and the secrets and lies still have the power to break your current relationship. An emotional affair feels thrilling, intoxicating and addictive. It’s hard to let go of.
If you’ve been emotionally unfaithful, the first thing to do is stop guilt tripping yourself. You can’t go back and undo it. What you can do is work on recovering from it so you can rebuild your present relationship. Try our 10 tips for emotional infidelity recovery.
1. Be honest with your partner
It’s tempting to sweep it under the carpet rather than hurt your partner, but don’t. Honesty is vital in a relationship, and even though the truth will hurt, it’s better to build the rest of your relationship on the truth, not a lie. Take responsibility for your actions and don’t blame your partner. Just tell them as honestly and gently as you can.
2. Be sure you’re committed to your relationship
Be honest with yourself about the future of your relationship. You and your partner can recover from emotional infidelity, but it takes 100% commitment. Make sure you’re willing to put your heart into rebuilding your relationship and finding a way to heal together.
3. Let yourself grieve
An emotional affair feels intoxicating and addictive, and takes up a lot of your thoughts. If you’re feeling guilty, you’ll resist letting yourself grieve, because you think you don’t deserve to. But the fact is, the other person was a big part of your life, and it’s ok to let yourself be sad for the loss of that connection.
4. See the difference between infatuation and love
Emotional infidelity might feel like love, but in most cases it’s really just infatuation. That rush of endorphins, the excitement of hurried late night texts or deep heart to heart conversations … it feels a lot like love. Take a step back and realize that real love is built on long term commitment and a shared life, not a short but heady connection.
5. Work on rebuilding trust
Your partner will need time to trust you again, and that’s perfectly natural. Show your commitment to mending your relationship by working on rebuilding trust with them. Ask what they need and how you can show them you can be trusted, and then give them as much time as they need to trust you again.
6. Analyze the reasons
To recover and prevent another incident, you’ll need to analyze why you were emotionally unfaithful. What was it about them that attracted you? What did you feel was missing in your life or your relationship that made it easy to fall into an emotional affair? Learn to recognize and take care of your emotional needs so you don’t look towards someone else to do it.
7. Reconnect with your partner
Reconnect with your partner so you can remember what you love about them and why your relationship is worth saving. Talk to them about ways to reconnect, and let them set the pace. A romantic night out or in, a short vacation, or even a simple coffee date or home cooked meal will help you feel closer again.
8. Get your feelings out
It’s normal to feel a range of emotions from guilt to grief to anger when you’re dealing with the fallout of an emotional affair. Work your feelings out physically with dance or exercise, write them out in a journal, or consider seeing a therapist to help you sort through them.
9. Find a healthier focus
Emotional infidelity gives you a focus, albeit an unhealthy one. Try to find a healthier focus for your emotions and energy, such as volunteering with a community organization, learning a new hobby, or advancing your career. The end of an emotional affair leaves a gap in your life – take the chance to fill it with something nurturing.
10. Practice self care
Admitting to and ending emotional infidelity takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. You’ll feel like you’re on a rollercoaster of emotions at times, and might notice effects on your stress levels, sleep patterns and appetite. Take good care of yourself with healthy food, fresh air, exercise, good sleep, and spend time looking after yourself.
The end of an emotional affair usually comes with a heavy dose of guilt and regret. That doesn’t mean you should punish yourself – be gentle with yourself and recognize that you need healing too. Only then can you move forward and put the affair behind you.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.