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10 Things You Need to Know Before You Have an Emotional Affair

22/04/2014 16:59 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 10:59 BST

1. Emotional affairs occur when you form a deep emotional attachment with someone outside of your primary relationship. They often begin gradually and rather innocently (Glass, 2003; Humphrey, 1983; Wiggins & Lederer, 1984).

2. Emotional affairs do not necessarily include sex and can even occur over the Internet between two people who have never met face to face, but the effects can be just as devastating to relationships as sexual affairs- sometimes even more so. (Potter-Efron et al, 2008).

3. If one partner is getting their emotional needs met outside the marriage, they don't need to bother connecting with their primary partner. This creates emotional distance and inevitably, suspicions grow. Betrayal is in the eye of the beholder. If your partner feels threatened by your 'non-sexual' relationship, then it is a problem

4. Marriages are organic. They require continual nurturing in order to grow and strengthen. Keeping secrets and lying to your partner is like pouring poison on the roots of your marriage.

5. Emotional affairs are more threatening to the primary relationship than affairs that are purely sexual (Glass, 2003; Shackelford & Buss, 1997). They often last longer and the frisson of having found a potential 'soulmate' who "really understands you" escalates fantasies about living happily ever after.

6. Emotional involvement with another partner is most likely to occur in the context of unmet personal and relationship needs. Because of this, the individual feels less remorse about jeopardising his, or her, primary relationship. Without the motivation from both partners to repair the marriage, an emotional affair is more likely to lead to divorce. (Allen & Rhoades, 2008).

7. If the emotional affair has been triggered by problems in the marriage and you want your relationship to survive, then you need the help of a couples therapist. However, if you want counseling to succeed, the emotional affair has to end first. It is not possible to stay friends with that person.

8. Therapists recognise five distinct phases of the cognitive and emotional aspects of problematic affairs: (1) the start, (2) suspicion and negation, (3) explosion and impulsive reactions, (4) making choices and deadlock, and (5) working through. Clients may enter therapy at any point and different therapeutic interventions are proposed for each phase (Luyens & Vansteenwegen, 2001).

9. If the emotional affair has been triggered by personal problems, feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-esteem, or if you have been repeating the pattern of a parent who cheated, then you need to try and work those problems out privately with a therapist. For the sake of your partner, you will also need to engage in simultaneous couple counselling.

10. Rebuilding trust is the greatest obstacle to saving a marriage. Disclosure of an affair may be the basis for an abrupt end to a marriage. More than half of men and women who engage in infidelity separate or divorce from their spouse (Allen & Atkins, 2012). Unless counselling is successful, an emotional affair may become something that is used to punish, or to shut a partner out emotionally. However research shows that emotional or sexual affairs can be used as a catalyst for change and couples who manage to resolve their old issues can end up strengthening their marriage (Brown, 2007).