How do emotional affairs end?
When you've invested yourself in a relationship where you feel seen and valued as you are, how do you fight the temptation to hold onto it?
Why would you?
If you're reading this, your marriage is the reason.
For all its shortcomings, your marriage is not worth giving up — at least not now.
But you have no illusions.
Ending an emotional affair is one thing.
Recovering from it is another.
What can you do to repair the damage and ensure you don't make the same mistake?
Why Do Emotional Affairs Hurt So Much?
You wouldn't be having an emotional affair with this person if you didn't feel a deep connection with them — the kind of emotional closeness you once felt with your spouse.
And from your spouse's perspective, that's precisely why emotional affairs hurt more.
It's one thing if you cheat on them thanks to a combination of hormones and alcohol. It's a whole other thing if you cheat with an emotional affair, as the following reasons show:
- You feel closer to your emotional affair partner and prefer being with them;
- You and your affair partner share secrets you don't share with your spouse;
- You probably talk to your affair partner about your spouse (and not favorably);
- You may be in love with your affair partner — and not with your spouse;
- Your affair makes it obvious your marriage isn't as healthy as they'd hoped.
From the spouse's standpoint, your emotional affair is proof you've already moved on.
How Long Do Emotional Affairs Usually Last?
How long do emotional affairs last? Much depends on how they begin and where they lead. Physical affairs last an average of 6 to 12 months.
According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, about 35% of wives and 45% of husbands confess to having emotional affairs. And while men may be more likely to have them, women are more likely to form a long-lasting emotional connection.
If both parties to the affair are content to keep the relationship going as it is, it can last for years. Ending An Emotional Affair: 9 Steps You Must Take
An emotional affair doesn't have to get physical to cause real and lasting damage. The following nine steps can help you end it and find better ways to address your marriage's pain points.
1. Be honest about what you're feeling (and doing).
Acknowledge what's going on between you and your emotional affair partner. Look back to how it started and why you hit it off so quickly.
Lay it all out, including what you felt before becoming friends with this person (lonely, angry, grieving, frustrated, etc.). Explore what you feel when you're in this person's company — or whenever you see them.
- What actions might that lead to?
- What have you already imagined?
- And what has this relationship already taken away from your spouse?
2. Acknowledge the reasons behind your emotional affair.
Maybe you've lost whatever connection you once had with your partner, and you don't know how to rekindle it. Perhaps you just don't get along very well, and you don't know if the marriage is even worth saving. Look at all the possible reasons:
- You're bored and lonely in your marriage;
- You feel invisible to your spouse, while this affair partner sees you;
- You're sabotaging your marriage because you don't think you deserve to be happy;
- Your spouse doesn't bother connecting with you, etc.
Be honest about why it was so easy to start this emotional affair. What do you have with this person you don't have with your spouse — besides a strong emotional bond and simmering sexual tension? What would you lose if you cut ties with them?
3. Consider the consequences (of not ending it).
Consider the real-world consequences of continuing an emotional affair that has reached (or passed) the Need for Secrecy Stage.
Say the sexual tension leads to an actual physical affair, which is much harder to confess to your spouse. You try to keep it secret, but the truth eventually comes out. Your marriage implodes. And your children and other relatives resent you for breaking up the family.
Even if the affair doesn't go beyond emotional attachment, your spouse will feel betrayed by your secret relationship. He or she may demand either a divorce or an explanation (or both).
They may not even believe you when you say, “Nothing happened.” Why should they?
4. Plan the steps you need to take.
Prepare your break-up conversation. Plan what to say to your emotional affair partner when you let them know you can't be in contact anymore.
Let them know why the relationship has to end:
- You want to go into marriage counseling with your spouse, or
- You plan on telling your partner exactly what's been going on, or
- Your spouse already knows, and you want to try to repair the relationship.
Decide whether to privately tell your spouse about the affair or suggest marriage counseling and reveal the affair during your counseling sessions.
Finally, decide how you're going to make yourself unavailable to the emotional affair partner to avoid the temptation to see them again.
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5. Put your plan into action.
Discuss your plan with a private counselor and let them know when you'll be putting it into action. Be honest about your fears and expectations. Allow them to help you put it in perspective.
After you implement each step of your plan, touch base with this counselor. Review how it went and discuss what you'll do to prevent the affair's renewal.
Start marriage counseling with your spouse and be honest about everything that's going on between you two. When the time is right, talk about the emotional affair and why it started — without blaming your spouse for your actions.
6. Prepare yourself for the affair partner's attempts to reach you.
You might hear a variety of appeals, including, “We didn't do anything wrong!” This excuse is often why emotional affairs are hard to end. You're not the only one feeling the pull.
That said, you can make the process easier by planning ahead. Make your decision clear and then end all communication: no texts, no phone calls, no webchats, and definitely no meeting in person.
With emotions already heightened, you're much more likely to do something you'd regret.
If the emotional benefits are mutual, and this person isn't ready to let you go, they will argue in favor of keeping in touch. As badly as you may want to hold onto it, this relationship has to end if you're going to save your marriage.
7. Accept the grieving process.
Allow yourself to grieve the loss of this friend whose company you enjoyed so much. It hurts to lose someone you've bonded with. Be honest with yourself about what you feel for them. But don't let that overrule your decision to end the affair.
Give yourself time to heal and use this time to examine your emotional issues.
You can't simply go back to what your life was before the emotional affair. You needed something, and the affair supplied it. You need to identify those needs and find a better way to meet them.
Otherwise, you're more than likely to start another one.
8. Repair (or end) your marriage.
If you can save your marriage, do what you can — with the help of marriage counseling — to make it better than before.
Give your spouse a genuine apology and be transparent about the details of your affair. Answer their questions without going on the defensive or blaming them for not being the spouse you wanted them to be.
If there's no way to make the marriage into something that benefits you both, be honest about that, and end it. Some things are more important than promises.
How Do You Get Closure from an Emotional Affair?
When you're getting over an emotional affair, half-measures aren't enough. You're not just “taking a step back.” You will not be speaking to this person again. If you work with them, find a different job.
After making a clean break, the following steps can help you get closure and make your marriage as affair-proof as possible:
- Stop fantasizing about what could have been (with your affair partner).
- Apologize to your spouse and renew your commitment to them.
- Be transparent with your spouse about all your relationships to rebuild trust.
- Make time every day to connect with your spouse and rebuild the connection.
- Prioritize weekly dates with your spouse to rekindle the romance.
Ending emotional affairs isn't easy.
Now that you know the steps you need to take to end an emotional affair, what will you do today to make the break as clean and complete as possible?
Or what will you do to repair your marriage and make it better than ever?
You know you want more than a relationship that has to remain secret.
Marriage counseling can help you not only rebuild the connection you had with your spouse but even make it stronger than before.
And you won't have to keep it secret from anyone.