emotional affair vs. friendship

An emotional affair vs. a friendship; what’s the difference? The question is not about whether a husband can have a female friend or a wife can have a male friend. The better question is, should they? How close should they be as friends? 

Let’s examine the research and see what it says. If you are reading this because you think you have touched the line between friends and fling, or that your spouse is developing emotions for someone else, then be sure you stick around until the end. I will give you access to a free guide to understanding affairs. 

What Is Emotional Cheating?

Emotional cheating is when you look to someone other than your spouse to fulfill you in areas that only your spouse should satisfy. In other words, emotional affairs occur when a person needs the other person in their life to provide them with something that their spouse should be giving them. How does this apply to opposite-sex friendships? 

Interestingly, research indicates that men rely more on their wives for emotional support and well-being. According to research, women are more likely to have a support system outside of their marriage. In contrast, men are most likely to turn only to their wives in times of hardship for that emotional need. I think that begs the question for all of us to consider. 

Am I a good friend to my spouse? Am I giving them the physical and emotional support they need so they will not feel the need to look elsewhere? Take a moment to reflect on that. 

On top of that, women are more likely to go to other women about emotional issues, whereas men are less likely to talk to their male friends about the same problem. They tend to seek the guidance and friendship of women. 

So what does all of this mean? One can surmise from the research the following for both genders, but especially men. If someone does not receive the physical and emotional support they need from their spouse, the temptation is to turn to someone else, especially a man seeking a woman to be a friend for them. 

It starts with finding a friend at work and connecting on shared interests. When sharing those facts turns into sharing feelings, you’re on a slippery slope to entering into an affair. It happens to women too. While women may have more protective measures because they have more female friends to turn to, there is still equal temptation and susceptibility to emotional affairs when friendship turns into emotional support lacking from a husband. 

Despite that, research is also clear that both husbands and wives need friends outside of the marriage. Those friendships can lead to a happier and healthier life and marriage. So what are we to do? 

Protect Your Marriage

Talk with your spouse about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for opposite-sex friends. Then, there are some instances where you talk about it, and you come to an agreement that makes sense. 

One example is that in high school, I had two good friends. One was a girl named Katie. And one was a guy friend named Austin. And they had been best friends since they were pretty much babies and are still best friends to this day, even though both of them are married. So what is the point of that story? 

That was a conversation that I’m sure came up with their future spouses when they got engaged. There was an understanding of the relationship. And they set boundaries around that long-term friendship that still made their marriage work well. They talked with their spouses and said, “What does it look like for me to continue this friendship but not get on the slippery slope of an affair? I want to make sure that I’m protecting the marriage.” 

The key here is loyalty and commitment to your spouse first. And if your spouse ever begins to feel like your friendship with this other person is inappropriate or uncomfortable, then your loyalty is first to your spouse and the marriage. 

Rob (my husband) and I have very open communication about this. I have several male friends, but we have specific rules as a couple. Number one, I always tell him whenever I’m going to see them. If I’m going to lunch or coffee, or even if they text me. I always tell Rob we talked and what we talked about, even if it’s not in complete detail. I tell him everything. 

Could I lie? I could because Rob wasn’t there. But I care more about my commitment to my marriage and family than I do about lying. If I ever feel the need not to tell Rob something, then I know it is the first thing I need to say to him. I always tell Rob if I ever feel attracted to another man because it takes power away. And he does the same thing for me. 

Be A Good Friend

Are you talking about non-stressful things, listening to each other, and being a good friend? Are you being a good lover, going on date nights, and having sex often? These are the things you can and should be doing, that friends should not be doing. 

Imagine what it would be like if Rob and I only talked about stressful things in our marriage. If we stopped going out to have fun and going on date nights or stopped showing interest in each other’s hobbies, our marriage would slowly become stale and boring. We would begin drifting apart; we would lose interest because we weren’t trying to be good friends. These small things add up over time, and you can’t afford to stop doing them. 

Encourage Your Spouse To Have Friends

Encourage your spouse to have friends appropriately, and set boundaries to stop affairs. Like I said earlier, Rob and I know our boundaries and are therefore comfortable with each other having opposite-sex friends. We always meet in public places, and we don’t hide any interactions. That’s how you keep affairs from happening. Can they still occur? Yes. But the real key is knowing when you are developing feelings or going overboard and stopping the friendship. 

The bottom line has to be that your marriage means more to you than the friendship and that you will do whatever it takes, including ending the friendship, to commit to your marriage. But you may be thinking, “My spouse is the one unwilling to end the friendship!” If so, then you need to get help for your marriage. 

We Can Help

As promised, here is that free guide to understanding affairs. Click the link here to download it now. It could be that your spouse is right on that line of having an affair, and you need to do something about it.

If you want to learn the stages of an emotional affair, be sure you listen to a previous episode of Relationship Radio with Dr. Joe Beam, which you can find here. 

If you’re not sure where to start in turning your situation around, whatever that may be, get in contact with one of our Client Representatives here. They can help guide you towards the resources that will be the best next steps for your marriage.