What is the Difference Between Flirting and Having an Emotional Affair: Be in the Know!

What is the Difference Between Flirting and Having an Emotional Affair

It seemed so innocent at first. You were flirting with the hottie at work, which is normal but then things changed. You clicked. Now you go out together, you share your deepest feelings. Sure, you’re not having sex, but you feel more connected than you do with your spouse. An emotional affair or even ‘just flirting’ may not get you an STD, but it’s not harmless either.

What is the difference between flirting and having an emotional affair? People flirt to give to or get attention from someone they find attractive. A full-blown emotional affair is a form of intimacy with someone outside your marriage, the result of which is making your spouse feel neglected. Sharing your secrets, desires, time, and problems with someone other than your wife or husband can easily become a breach of trust. It can even lead to divorce.  


Both flirting and emotional affairs are conducted primarily through words. Flirting uses witty banter to fulfill an urge, whether it’s fun, getting noticed or serious pursuit of sexual interaction. Emotional affairs are almost the opposite. Rather than lighthearted, casual conversation, an emotional affair involves serious and significant communication.

Both flirting and affairs can be forms of infidelity. There are more than a few ways you can break the trust in your marriage. When you leave your partner out of your sexual or emotional life, you are breaking faith with them. Even if they never find out, this is still the case.

The Innocent Flirt

Harmless flirting happens all the time. The primary difference between benign interactions and damaging ones is that you could and would have the harmless interaction in front of your spouse even if you don’t happen to do so. Other signs of a non-threatening flirt are easy to spot.

  • There’s no guilt associated with harmless flirting.
  • No actual sexual promises or serious innuendos are made or percieved.
  • No hiding, there’s no subtext or sly suggestion in an innocent flirt.
  • Everyone is treated equally except your spouse. Harmless flirts give the same attention to all others in their flirting. Any extra touches or sly innuendo is reserved for your primary partner.

How Emotional Affairs Start

An emotional affair can begin with flirting. It can even be used instead of flirting as an attempt to break up a couple. Most emotional relationships involve attraction, whether it’s conscious or not. Flirting is overt and quick, but an emotional affair can be prolonged to build up.

Attraction can increase over time as well. Similar interests and problems shared dissatisfaction, and other common ground can increase the appeal of a potential new partner. It’s natural to want to do better in life. That is the same drive that keeps us, as a species, working on technological advances, and makes us want to do more for our families. When it gets twisted around, it can become an unhealthy problem.

Covetous Behavior

More often than not, emotional affairs happen with people at work. Because of the nature of covetous behavior, we want what we see often. People spend more time at work than at home, so it’s only natural that if a spouse is going to desire someone, physically or emotionally, it’s pretty likely that it will spring from that huge chunk of their time invested in the workplace.

The statistics vary, but they all agree on one thing, more than half of all infidelity begins at work. Moreover, most of it starts because of a deeper connection with someone who is ‘just a friend,’ at first. People are predictable, and we like what we know.

Most people are content to seek what they see is available instead of hunting for more. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea of wanting something you can’t visualize and don’t know is there. That’s why advertising works. We become aware that something is an option, and then we desire it.

Hannibal Lecter explained it so famously to Clarice in the outstanding horror-thriller Silence of the Lambs. We don’t seek out something to want, to covet. Instead, we want what comes to us more easily. Perhaps it’s a bit harsh to compare the urges of cheaters to a movie about a serial killer, but it can undoubtedly be horrifying when you discover it’s going on, so the parallel is valid.

Identifying An Emotional Affair

Anything that takes time to develop can be incredibly challenging to spot at first. If you’re the partner who’s being excluded, it may not seem like a big deal at first. After all, in long term relationships, there will be highs and lows. Sometimes people are just busy or tired, and they pass through a phase of being less connected at home. Emotional and social distance is just the first sign. If you’re the one falling into the emotional affair, it’s easier to identify.

  • Trying to separate your new emotional partner from your spouse is a problem. If you feel like you need to hide your interactions with the new person, whether they’re steamy or not, that’s a sign something deeper is going on in your head than simple friendship. Of course, those with especially jealous partners can feel the same way.
  • Dressing to impress or seeking to be noticed is another good clue. You may feel more hurt than you should if the new interest doesn’t mention your new haircut. Alternately, you might subconsciously be taking extra steps to look nice and dress up in the hope that they’ll approve.
  • Are you looking for alone time with someone other than your spouse? If you go out of your way to make time for you and another person to be together away from others, then you’re probably emotionally invested.
  • You compare them to your husband or wife all the time. Even if you don’t say it out loud, when you find yourself looking at someone based on how they stack up beside your spouse, it’s a bad sign.
  • How are your fantasies? Do you daydream about the new person in your life sexually? If you find yourself thinking of them more often than your spouse, and even planning an imaginary future with them, then you have a real issue.

Can You End Up in an Emotional Affair By Accident

Unfortunately, you can slowly develop an emotional affair even if you don’t intend it that way. Making a connection with people doesn’t necessarily happen as it does in movies. You can become totally enamored of someone and hardly notice it’s happening.

Instead of a moment of bells and sparks, a solid groundwork that you’ve built up over time might be the source. Surprisingly, you can fall for someone emotionally without even realizing that’s what’s happening.

Even when it’s not your fault (per se), it’s still your problem to handle. If you’re lucky an happen to catch on before things go too far, you can stop before any real damage is done. Regrettably, that’s not often the case. Most people aren’t consciously thinking about their day to day actions and how it impacts the bigger picture of life.

I didn’t mean it ‘like that’ isn’t going to fly in this case. You have to take steps to change your thinking and your interactions right away.

Looking For Trouble

People who are having emotional affairs put all their energy into someone outside the relationship. It’s even possible to have a platonic emotional affair where sexual love is never an issue. More alarming is when you find yourself seeking problems.

Let’s say you’re happily married, reaching the ‘middle age,’ of your relationship when you’ve been together for a couple of decades or more. Suddenly Susan from accounting is going through a tough time, and she confides in you one day at work. You love the attention even though you feel bad for her, and you find you become more invested in her wellbeing every day.

The next thing you know you start daydreaming about how you can ride in like a white knight and save her. Of course, your wife will have a problem with this, but Susan would never complain if you wanted to save someone else. In fact, she doesn’t have any of the same annoying habits your wife has.

After a while, it seems almost like you and Susan were meant to be. You like her better than your wife, and you keep noticing more little things about your wife that you’re not sure you want anymore. You’ve been looking for trouble. Sometimes there are already problems, other times people make things up as they go along. It gives you an excuse to pull away.

Instead of fixing things with your wife, now you’re focused on Susan. In reality, you should have stopped at talking to her the first time she reached out to you or shortly thereafter. You are not Susan’s therapist, and she doesn’t need a married knight to rescue her.

Mend What Has Broken

Fixing things will never be as easy as breaking them. If you or your spouse catch you cheating emotionally, there are likely to be severe repercussions to your marriage. It can be just as bad as when you cheat sexually. Sadly, it can be grounds for a divorce if you don’t act quickly and decisively to remedy the problem. So, how can you make things right if you love your wife (or husband)?

  1. Own It: The very first thing you have to do is recognize what is happening and admit that this is your fault. Whether it was intentional or not, you are an adult who has been neglecting their spouse in favor of someone new. You’ve done wrong. Admitting it is where you start.
  2. Cut Ties: Whatever Susan might think of you, it’s time to go cold turkey. At most a brief and firm goodbye is all you need. Our fictional Susan isn’t your wife. She’s a coworker who you should have kept a professional distance from. She may act out or try to retaliate because you aren’t her shoulder to cry on and her ego boost anymore, but that is not your issue. Change jobs if necessary, but don’t take her calls or texts. Don’t agree to meet her anywhere regardless of what she threatens, demands or tries to convince you is going on.
  3. Give Your Spouse Full Access: After you’ve hurt someone, you need to start showing them, you can be trusted again. Open up all your texts, emails, and phone passwords to the one you love. Let them look or not as they please. This can be painful and embarrassing, but full disclosure will help heal the breach.
  4. Be Prepared: Your spouse may cry or stop talking to you. Alternately, they could get furious. However, if the love you have is real, then you can work through this. Don’t expect instant results. When you hurt someone, it can take weeks, months, or even years before they trust you again. Forgiveness might be slow, but it can happen in time.
  5. Get Help: If you need to see a relationship counselor or a therapist, don’t hesitate. Professionals are quite literally trained to assist you in this situation. They can make useful suggestions and help provide you with the psychological tools to strengthen your marriage. If your relationship is worth it, then get help.
  6. Be Patient: This sort of problem can take years to resolve. You have to put in the time. It’s not reasonable for you to try and set a time limit on how someone else feels or copes with your betrayal.
  7. Stay Vigilant: Perhaps most vital of all, you need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Always maintain a safe distance from anyone who might hook you into this situation again. Keep your mind on work when you’re at your job and always lookout for the warning signs that tell you you’re headed for trouble.

Where there is a will there is a way. Many times your not sure if you truly have a serious problem. Sometimes investigating on your own may be useful. Guides and books are out there that help educate you on trying to keep your relationship going. One practical guide that I recommend discusses how to heal. If you are interested, it is available right Here.

Should You Divorce

An emotional affair can end your marriage, but it doesn’t have to. Divorce is absolutely the right answer in some situations, but making a mistake you regret doesn’t need to spell the end of years together if you and your partner are both willing to put in the time and effort it takes to make things right again.

If your spouse leaves you no other option, then a divorce may be the only way to handle your problems. However, you should never just throw away what you’ve built together if it’s salvageable. This is not a decision you can or should make in the spur of the moment.

When your partner demands a divorce at the moment they’re angry, take a step back and breathe. The anger is a sign that they love you, but they are trying to push you away to protect themselves. Express this when you can, when they are receptive.

Urge them to consider less extreme means to resolve the problem. Be sure you own up to your mistakes and don’t get defensive. The worst thing you can do is lose your temper when you’re in the wrong. It will make things worse.

Trial Separation

Should it become necessary, a trial separation might be a step toward reconciliation. Spending some time apart working on yourself can lead to a stronger bond in the long run, but that is not a casual choice. Like divorce, separation is not something you should choose in a moment. Spend real time talking things over.

Your spouse may need time to go through the stages of grief. Betrayal isn’t the same as death, but it is very similar to losing a loved one. Be supportive and help them work through their part of the issue the best way you can. Get books, ask professionals, do your homework. Last resorts should be precisely that. If you have a spark of hope for fixing it, there’s still another solution.

In the end, if you love your spouse, anything is worth it. Fixing a broken relationship shouldn’t be easy. When it is, the problem wasn’t that big. Breaking something you’ve put years into isn’t supposed to feel good. It should make you stop and think.

Final Thoughts

Sex isn’t the only thing that should be exclusive in a monogamy based relationship. Sharing your deepest feelings and attending to your spouses’ emotional needs are part of having a healthy relationship. When you leave another person feeling emotionally out in the cold, it’s a problem, but when you take your emotions elsewhere and have that half of your life with someone else, it’s cheating.

From making googly eyes to flirting overtly or conducting a full emotional affair, you can hurt your spouse without sleeping around. If you want your married life to be long, happy, and healthy, then it’s vital to be careful about how you behave when you’re not at home. Watch out for the signs of damage and trouble that can lead to a divorce. If you catch yourself bonding with someone and excluding your husband or wife, it’s time to step back and reassess.

Sometimes flirting is part of an emotional affair. In the end, it’s about intention and deception.


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