Actualizado el 17 May, 2024 | Publicado el 17 May, 2024

infidelidad emocional

Emotional infidelity is a concept that has gained strength in recent years and describes a sort of infidelity where the driving force is not sex or physical attraction, but intimacy, emotional closeness, understanding, and complicity…

It refers to relationships that start as friendships and over time develop “into something more.”

In this article, I tell you in more detail what emotional infidelity is so that you can understand clearly when it surpasses the friendzone and supposed friends become “something more than friends.”

You will also discover how to detect it in time and how to overcome this type of infidelity.


Emotional infidelity: Who can it happen to?


One of the leading experts internationally in emotional infidelity was Shirley Glass and her famous book “Not Just Friends”.

Dr. Glass starts her book with a very compelling statement: “Good people, who are in good relationships, are being unfaithful.” And she follows it up later by saying “no couple is immune to infidelity.”

Shocking, isn’t it?

Beliefs surrounding unfaithful individuals tend to label them as “bad” since they violate the agreements reached in a relationship.

And yet, Shirley Glass comes along and tells us that no, good people are also unfaithful.

Furthermore, in emotional infidelity, we find people who are not seeking new emotions.

Emotional infidelity is related to individuals who, unintentionally, create deep and passionate connections before realizing that they have crossed the line that separates platonic friendship from romantic love.

On the other hand, we tend to believe that infidelity only appears in relationships that are not working, without love, or totally deteriorated, and clinical experience contradicts these conclusions.


In what environments is emotional infidelity more likely to occur?

Environments where we interact with the same people continuously, day after day, week after week, are those where emotional infidelity is more likely to arise.

As the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds affection.”


1. The workplace environment

If you’re thinking about the workplace, you’re right. People who work in the same place, who see each other every day, who may share a moment at the coffee machine every day…

They start talking about trivial topics.

Perhaps over time, they share things about their personal lives: what they did over the weekend, where they will go on vacation, the paella they cooked on Sunday…

And as there is more trust, they share more intimate things like “Yesterday I had an argument with my partner,” “Lately we are very distant,” “I feel lonely at home,” “I have this problem and my partner doesn’t understand me”…

And here you have the perfect breeding ground for emotional infidelity to start brewing.

2. Groups of friends

Think about those groups of couples or families who spend a lot of leisure time together.

Perhaps because they have children of the same age or because they share a hobby.

Surely you know around you, a couple who has separated because one of them has started a relationship with a person, who was also in a relationship and who was part of this group of friends with whom they interacted regularly.

It’s another context that favors these types of relationships in which the fact that both people know each other’s partners perfectly comes into play, and therefore they can talk about them with firsthand knowledge.

And this knowledge can also foster their complicity, their closeness, and in some cases, something more…


3. Internet with its chats

This is the new communication channel that also favors emotional infidelity. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram chat, Tinder…

It’s curious because chat is a channel where, many times from the start, physical attraction is clearly out of place.

On the one hand, because there are people who share many confidences with others they have never seen. And on the other hand, because when you need someone to listen to you and understand you, physical appearance is not important.

In fact, I have confirmed this in therapy when they tell me things like “Physically I wasn’t attracted to them at all but they understood me perfectly, and over time I don’t even understand what happened.”

Unburdening yourself with someone who is always there to listen to you, to try to understand you, and to give you unconditional support feels amazingly comforting.

Specially when it is someone you don’t share your day-to-day life with and therefore never have friction or conflicts with.

This person can easily become the perfect friendly ear and the starting point of a relationship that can end up going much further than initially imagined.

Ex-partners and former loves can also pose a risk


Imagine you’re going through a somewhat difficult time with your partner.

Maybe you don’t have major conflicts, but you’re more distant, for example, because a baby has just arrived, or because your partner works long hours and is rarely at home.

And in these conditions suddenly you find an old love on social media, or you coincidentally meet at some social gathering. And maybe it turns out that this person is also going through a similar moment in their own relationship.

Here you also have the ideal breeding ground for emotional infidelity, old embers can revive if you find yourselves in the perfect moment.


Can emotional infidelity be prevented?


Some people believe that the best way to prevent emotional infidelity is through love and dedication to one’s own partner. However, no one has proven that this is the effective strategy.

To prevent emotional infidelity, the key is to be aware of the boundaries you set in relationships with people other than your partner.

And beyond love and dedication, nurture the friendship with your partner.

The goal is to become “best friends.” Find in the relationship respect for your differences, a sympathetic ear, attention, understanding, and everything else that is necessary for you in a friendship.


4 effective ways to prevent emotional infidelity


  • Accept that being attracted to someone else is possible and normal. But this doesn’t mean that you have made a mistake in choosing your partner or that you have to break the agreements you have in your relationship regarding third parties.
  • Don’t fantasize about a possible relationship with this third person. According to Shirley Glass, affairs start in your head, so don’t feed your fantasies.
  • Don’t flirt, don’t try to seduce this person because these moves are signals that say “I’m available” and therefore are invitations that are better to avoid.
  • Avoid risky situations, for example, being alone with this person or seeking out places or times to meet where no one sees you or where you can avoid intrusions.

How to Recognize Emotional Infidelity? What are the Signs to Detect It?

Some people believe that the absence of sex in a relationship does not allow us to talk about infidelity. But the concept of “emotional exclusivity” also exists, even though it is a concept we don’t usually discuss.

That is, you can feel that your partner has been disloyal or betrayed you, even if they have not had sexual relations with another person. Look at the examples I give you below, and you’ll see what I mean.


You start talking more about your feelings, concerns, and intimate matters with this third person than with your partner.

You tell this person things that you may have never told anyone before, your secrets.

You talk about the problems in your relationship with your partner with this third person knowing that your partner probably wouldn’t like it.
If your partner were to read what you write to each other and what you share, you would be in trouble or they wouldn’t take it well.
You have a communication channel (email account, WhatsApp account with a fake name…) to prevent anyone from seeing what you exchange.

More and more often, in your mind, you compare your partner to this third person and your partner comes out losing.

The 3 key characteristics of emotional infidelity


  • Emotional intimacy
  • Secrecy
  • And over time, the sexual chemistry that may develop

Do you recognize any of these elements in the relationship your partner has with that other person? Or do you recognize any of these aspects in this relationship you are having that you’re not sure if it crosses boundaries?

If the answer is yes, it’s important that you activate all your alarms to decide how you want to handle this situation.

Can Emotional Infidelity Be Overcome?


If you’re looking for a brief answer, I’ll tell you that yes, emotional infidelity can be overcome. Does it apply in all cases? Of course not. It will depend on many factors, including two fundamental ones:

  • That the unfaithful person wants to end the parallel relationship and commit to the partner.
  • That the aggrieved person decides to try to forgive and continue to invest in the relationship.

Without these two ingredients, it’s impossible.

But even with both, overcoming infidelity is not easy and in fact, it often takes a long time and causes a crisis when discovered or revealed, which is not always easy to navigate.

Do you want to know if it will be possible in your case or not? Don’t miss my article How to Overcome Infidelity: The 7 Key Questions.

What Is Worse? Sexual or Emotional Infidelity?

In this case, I don’t have a clear answer to give you. It depends very much on what you might be more painful:

– Imagining your partner having sex or desiring and seducing a third person.

– Imagining your partner confiding in a third person, getting closer and closer on an emotional level. And eventually perhaps falling in love and ending up desiring and having sex with this person.

Not just friends
In therapy, I’ve heard people who had been unfaithful by having sex with other people repeatedly claim that what had happened “didn’t mean anything.” There are individuals who can engage in sexual relationships without any kind of bond, romantic feelings, or emotions beyond desire. In such cases, it’s common for them to believe that their affair doesn’t have to affect their relationship.

On the other hand, in cases where the infidelity is emotional, cutting ties can be more challenging since there’s a relationship that isn’t always easy to give up.

Which of the two types of infidelity do you think is more serious? You can share your opinion or experiences below, at the end of the article in the comments.

What to Do When Faced with Emotional Infidelity?

If You’re the One Involved in Emotional Infidelity

  • Pay close attention to the warning signs I explain in the article.
  • Decide what you want to do with your current relationship before your actions decide for you.
  • If you want to continue your relationship, end your affair immediately.
  • If you’re unsure about your relationship, seek help to clarify things before you end up hurting the people you care about, starting with yourself.

If You’ve Discovered or Suspect Your Partner Is Being Unfaithful

  • Share your concerns with your partner. Try not to make accusations or attack but rather express what you’re observing and feeling as clearly as possible.
  • Invite your partner to read this article so you can have a clear discussion about the boundaries of what’s allowed or not in your relationship.
  • If your partner listens to you and takes action to nurture your relationship, that’s great. You’re making progress in resolving things.
  • If your partner doesn’t understand your concerns or if you’re unsure about your relationship, seek help.
por Andrea Navarro Levy

por Andrea Navarro Levy

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