WebMD BlogsRelationships

When Your ‘Friendship’ is Really an Emotional Affair

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistNovember 24, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

It’s essential to have friends — even when you are married. Relying on your spouse for all of your emotional needs is asking too much of any one person. Platonic relationships can provide the extra support and connection you need. However, you can get too close to someone else — even without sex.

Unfortunately, there is no clear dividing line between platonic friendships and emotional affairs. Rather, people tend to slide down the proverbial slippery slope until they wonder how they ended up feeling closer to their friend than their spouse. The extramarital relationship helps them to feel good about themselves, which is good. However, it’s a problem when that relationship becomes the relationship where they feel good and the marriage is simply where they live out their daily routine.

Even with knowing this, it’s important to understand more specifically what separates emotional affairs from healthy, platonic relationships. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs of whether a friendship is really an affair. In an emotional affair, you:

  • Rely on your “friend” for emotional support more than your spouse. You share very personal information and feel intense caring for the person. And, of course, you are in an emotional affair if you are in love with him or her.
  • Hide the extent of your friendship. Perhaps your spouse knows about your friend, but you are inclined to spare him or her unnecessary concern by limiting information about it.
  • Feel sexual tension — even if you don’t act on it. For instance, you might notice that you and your friend touch differently when others are not around. I remember reading once about what keeps the audience of romantic sitcoms engaged — URST: unresolved sexual tension. This tension can be equally tantalizing for people in the real world — and extremely destructive to marriages.

While all three of these factors are clear indications that a friendship is essentially an affair, a relationship can be destructive to a marriage even without the full trinity. For example, a platonic friendship undermines a marriage when it commands more of a person’s attention and energy than their marriage.

Platonic relationships are most threatening when a marriage is weakened. For instance, a marriage is at risk if either partner is not satisfied with some aspect of the relationship that he or she feels is important. Of course, a marriage is also at risk if either spouse is not fully committed to it.

Marriages are one of the most important relationships that people have. As such, it’s well worth spouses’ time and energy to invest fully in keeping their marriage strong and healthy. With this as their focus, they are likely to actually be happy in their marriage. And, in the end, this effort is the best way to prevent an affair.

WebMD Blog
© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

More from the Relationships Blog

  • giving advice

    Think Twice Before You Give Advice

    If only we were as good at solving our own problems as we are at solving other people’s. But like so many great ideas, our solutions for others often become less perfect the more we learn about the problem ...

  • photo of couple arguing in bed

    How to Keep Your Emotions From Overwhelming You

    If you’re someone who gets emotionally overwhelmed, relationship conflict can be difficult to manage. When you get upset with your partner, you don’t handle it well. You are too upset to think clearly. So you ...

View all posts on Relationships

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More