Have you ever found yourself in a relationship where the other person, while not having a physical affair, had an outside relationship that seemed to poison yours? Or maybe it was you with the outside relationship, and you didn't understand what the big deal was. If you're not having sex with someone else, why should it matter?
For most people, infidelity is the act of being unfaithful in a sexual manner. While this idea used to be primarily reserved for married persons, a majority of people today accept that it applies to anyone in a committed relationship engaging in sexual activity outside of that relationship. Therefore, even though this article will refer to "extramarital" relationships, this problem can occur in any committed relationship.
David Moultrup, the author of the book 'Husbands, Wives & Lovers', defines 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." (source: /wiki/Emotional_affair) Note that this definition makes no mention of an outside, physical relationship.
But when the relationship defined above, between a person and someone other than that person's spouse or lover, is not physical, can it still be infidelity? Yes. This is known as emotional infidelity.
Emotional infidelity is the hypertension of relationships. That is, it is a silent killer with few visible symptoms until it is almost too late. The outside relationship may start out innocently enough, with two people becoming friends. However, when a person starts investing more emotional energy in this outside relationship than in their marriage, it is a problem.
Bear in mind that simple attraction to someone else is not what we are talking about, nor is every friendship outside the marriage a problem. As a matter of fact, for a relationship to remain healthy, you should each have your own friends with whom you spend time away from your spouse. It is only when this gets to the point of inappropriate that it is a problem.
Of course, this gets right to the root of the problem, which is that it can be difficult to recognize, even for the person doing it. Actually, the person having the emotional affair may only be able to see the problem in hindsight. So, how can you watch out for this problem and prevent it from destroying your marriage?
One of the early signs is emotional distancing. When your spouse distances herself from you, starts to avoid spending time with you, or even becomes openly hostile, this should be a huge red flag. This is the beginning of a decline in your relationship whether there is emotional infidelity or not, but when it seems to come on suddenly it usually means there is something going on.
Another sign to be aware of is secretive behavior. If your spouse suddenly starts clearing the caller id, being secretive about what she is doing or where she is going, or any other behaviors like this, there is definitely a problem.
However, in all cases, you have to approach the situation appropriately. Accusing your spouse of having an emotional affair probably won't do anything to fix the situation. In fact, that is more likely to make things worse. Instead, you should start by trying to communicate openly and honestly about your feelings, without pointing any finger or placing any blame.
Tell your spouse that you feel like there is an emotional rift in your relationship. Tell her if this makes you feel sad, insecure, lonely, or however you really feel. Be completely transparent, but focus only on your own feelings. By doing this, you've created a situation where a conversation is more likely than an argument, and you may be able to begin repairing your relationship, regardless of what the cause may have been. Keep in mind that even physical infidelity is usually just a symptom of a failing relationship, and that your problems are not unsolvable if you are willing to talk, and especially if you are willing to really listen.