Affairs of the Heart


Letters from a Private Investigator VI

Emotional Infidelity

“Do you love her?”

“No, it was just sex.”

We have all heard this kind of dialogue between a man and woman lots of times on the TV and in movies. It is an exchange when one of them has been caught cheating (usually the man).

I would not claim that TV and the movies are real life, but for sure there is a reflection of a culture, sensibilities and human feelings in any form of art (Hollywood and HBO included).

“Do you love her?” reflects an appeal on the person cheated that all could not be lost so long as there is not an emotional connection between her man and the “mistress”. “It was just sex” is an escape of sorts – OK I have done something terribly wrong but I did not break trust in the most important aspect of the relationship, the emotional bond.

Both phrases (“Do you love her? and “It was just sex”) revolve around an assurance that there was no emotional investment in the affair. Both state in their own way that betrayal through the physical is somehow less important than betraying an emotional bond.

Indonesia Private Investigation Agency has dealt with 100s of infidelity and cheating partner cases. This is a very sensitive area and as anyone will appreciate our clients are very emotionally charged and vulnerable. Indeed often we spend much time with our clients in a role similar to that of a counselor. From these hours and hours of talking I could not over emphasise just how heavy an infidelity that has an emotional aspect weighs. Many clients seem to find it far easier to deal with an affair that is only physically based. Of course they are angry and hurt, but if there seems a chance that an affair has an emotional foundation the hurt seems more complex and runs deeper.

What is Emotional Infidelity?

Recently cheating has been reclassified to include not only the physical aspects but also the emotional.

Emotional infidelity can be described as an extramarital affair or extra partnership affair that does not include sexual behaviour. Some experts believe that emotional infidelity can be more damaging than physical infidelity. In emotional infidelity, one member of a couple becomes deeply emotionally invested in a person other than the spouse. The spouse having this type of affair may spend time thinking of that person, anticipating meetings with him/her, and gradually becoming more intimate (platonically) with the person. At the same time, intimacy within the primary relationship suffers, and the nonsexual and even sexual attention paid to a spouse lessens dramatically.

David Moultrup in his book “Husbands, Wives & Lovers: The Emotional System of the Extramarital Affair” defines emotional infidelity as “a relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.”

We only have a limited amount of emotional energy. The more emotional energy devoted outside the primary relationship, results of course in less being invested within the primary relationship.

Emotional infidelity may take on different forms. Maybe intimate conversations with the someone of the opposite sex or someone that one is attracted to.  Emotional infidelity may also take place online via social media, chat rooms, on hand phones through texting, and by time spent with someone in secret and building a “friendship” and eventual emotional connection.

There are at least 12 warning signs to alert you to take action to protect yourself and your relationship from ‘emotional infidelity.’

1. “We’re just friends”

If you think “we’re just friends,” about someone of the opposite sex you may be on dangerous ground.

This reasoning allows someone to make excuses, (or in some cases to tell lies – to yourself and others) about something you know deep down is wrong.  In most cases an intimate friendship with a member of the opposite-sex poses risks.

2. Sharing intimate thoughts and feelings. 

Sharing your thoughts and deepest concerns, hopes and fears, passions and problems is what deepens intimacy and an emotional bond between two people. If things go this far, this could be a betrayal of trust.

3. Discussing your relationship and partner. 

Telling someone of the opposite sex about your marriage or partner sends a very clear message that you’re available for someone else to ‘love and care’ for. This can also be a breach of trust. It is similar to gossip in that it creates a false sense of a shared connection, and an illusion that you as a person, along with your happiness and comfort and needs are totally valued by this new person (when, in truth, this has not yet been put to the test!). 

4. Comparing the ‘friend’ to your partner. 

Another sign to be aware of is a thinking pattern that finds what is ‘good’ about the friend and ‘bad’ and ‘unfulfilling’ about the partner. This can lead to building a kind of ‘for’ (the friend) and ‘against’ (your partner) case.  This is another mental breach of trust. 

5. Always thinking or daydreaming about the person.

If you find yourself unable to wait to see this person and share news, and think in advance about what you’re going to tell them when you meet, and imagine how they may react, you’re in trouble. Feelings of expectation, excitement and anticipation release dopamine in your brain, which in turn can reinforce patterns of negative thoughts against your primary partner.

6. Believing this person understands you like no other.

This kind of feeling usually appears in affairs and romantic encounters during the early months. With time these feelings tend to fade. In the context of an emotional affair believing someone understand you like no other can be dangerous to a marriage. A sense of mutual ‘understanding’ forms a bond that strengthens and deepens emotional intimacy. This in turn releases pleasurable neurochemicals, such as the love and safety hormone oxytocin. This focus also puts you in a ‘getting’ state of mind, approaching your marriage in terms of what you’re getting or not getting, rather than what you’re contributing.

7. Pulling out of regular activities with your partner, family, and work.

When you want to spend more and more time talking, sharing, and being with the person, it’s only natural to begin to resent time you spend at home and work. Consequently you start distancing yourself from your usual connections or make excuses for not joining regular activities with your primary partner. You can become withdrawn, irritable and unhappy.

8. Keeping what you do secret.

Secrecy is a huge warning sign. Secrecy creates a distinct and exciting closeness and unique bond between two people. But the bond can be unhealthy – there may be a false sense of emotional trust with the person, and an unwarranted mistrust and suspicion of the partner, or those who try to interfere with the ‘friendship.’

9. Keeping a growing list of reasons that justify your behaviours. 

This is an addictive pattern of thinking that focuses your attention on how unhappy you are, and blames your primary partner for any unhappiness. This pattern of thinking can create a sense of entitlement and forms a pool of resentment from which you feel justified to mistreat your partner or do what you need to do to increase your happiness.

10. Fantasizing about a love or sexual relationship with the person. 

At some point, one or both persons begin to fantasize about the relationship becoming physical. They even may begin to have discussions about this, adding to the excitement, intensity and intrigue.

11. Giving or receiving personal gifts from the person.

Another warning sign is when you begin to think about this person when you are shopping, wondering what they like or would show your appreciation. Gift choices are often something intimate that you would not normally give ‘just’ a friend. Gifts send clear messages that the two of you are a ‘close we’ set apart from others, and that the relationship is ‘special.’

12. Planning to spend time alone together or letting it happen.

This behaviour often pushes people to cross the line from a platonic to a sexual relationship.


About the Author

IPIA's Director of Investigations is an Indonesian national with a Diploma in PI work (with distinction) from the UK and an Australian Government accredited Certificate in Investigative Services. She has worked on over 400 cases for private and business clients.