Emotional Infidelity, The Silent Marriage Killer | Affairs | Blog | Better Marriages | Educating Couples - Building Relationships

Emotional Infidelity, The Silent Marriage Killer

by Kenyon Knapp, PhD and Mayi Dixon, MS


Kenyon Knapp and Mayi Dixon will present a workshop on this topic at the Better Marriages Conference July 11-14, 2013 in Raleigh, NC


Most would agree that marriage is difficult.  Most would also agree that infidelity seems  rampant in today’s society.  Infidelity may take on different forms such as sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity.  The distinction is made among the types of infidelity because the two types may take on different actions, but the results are the same.  Infidelity creates an atmosphere of pain, distrust, and possible trauma.

Many couples are under the misconception that infidelity only occurs when a man and a woman have sex together.  Yet, there are other forms of infidelity such as emotional infidelity.  This type of infidelity is important to address because it can possibly be more damaging than the act of sexual infidelity.

It is important to address emotional infidelity so that couples, as well as individuals, maintain a clear understanding about what is considered emotional infidelity, and also the type of damage that may result from infidelity in general.  Emotional infidelity may take on different forms, but in general it is the act of forming an emotional connection with someone outside of one’s formal relationship.  This can take place by engaging in intimate conversations with the opposite sex or someone that one is attracted to.  Emotional infidelity may also take place online via social media, chat rooms, on cellular phones through sexting and texting, and by time spent with someone in secret and building a “friendship” and eventual emotional connection.

Many couples may think that talking to someone and spending time with a new friend of the opposite sex is not harmful.  After all it is just conversation, but this misconception can lead to adultery.  The emotional connection that individuals make creates strong ties- sharing feelings about being unhappy in a marriage, sharing sexual fantasies, or even just sharing general likes and desires, and gives the other person leverage into one’s personal life.  This leverage can be used to manipulate a relationships that can eventually lead to a sexual relationship.  For example, the wife who is feeling unappreciated by her husband begins to talk to another man at work, which leads to an innocent lunch and more conversation, which leads to exchanging cell phone numbers, which leads to complete access to one another for late night phone calls and text messages.  This type of situation can easily allow an open door for flirting and acceptance of sexual advances.

Spiritual Ramifications of Emotional Infidelity

Research shows that men are more upset by sexual infidelity and women by emotional infidelity.  These sometimes seem like neat little categories of sin which people can discuss in theoretical intellectualized ways, yet we see the consequences of these indiscretions in our counseling offices each week. The offending man may argue that there was no relationship in the affair, so it’s not as bad, while the offending woman may say that it’s ‘just a friendship’ which crossed a few boundaries.  In either case though, we know from James1:14:15 that “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Emotional Infidelity often leads to the death of trust, intimacy, future dreams, security for children, and the marital relationship.

Infidelity, whether it be sexual or emotional, often begins with a person who has unmet needs.  This is in no way to justify or condone infidelity, but rather to understand some dynamics which predispose people to giving in to the temptation.  We as counselors who work with marital issues could benefit from a ‘needs assessment’ with each of our clients- having them thoughtfully and candidly state their needs and the degree to which they are met.  Hopefully this needs assessment would come before there has been the devastation of infidelity, yet we often deal with the aftermath.  However, as Christians we must also challenge fellow Christians and ourselves to “deny” ourselves (Matthew 16:24) and focus ourselves on pleasing the Lord rather than meeting our needs first.   Once again, we see here what seems like a dichotomous idea, yet we know that Jesus denied himself countless times and ultimately to the point of being on the cross, but he also withdrew from the crowds in Matthew 14 in his grief after the beheading of John the Baptist.

These seemingly polarized ideas of meeting our needs and denying ourselves, calling infidelity sin and yet seeking to understand the legitimate need it was seeking to meet, are the challenges we face as Christian counselors.  We must acknowledge legitimate needs and confront the illegitimate ways that we seek to meet those needs, while being biblically consistent in calling infidelity sin, and yet humbly realize that we have much sin in common with the offending spouse.  As we work with those who have committed one form or another of infidelity, we must always remember Luke 7:47 when Jesus told Simon, “who has been forgiven little loves little.” Do we want to love our clients, family and friends deeply? How much have you been forgiven?

It is important to remember that infidelity has great consequences both spiritually and intimately with those who are hurt as a result.  One way to protect marriage is to identify how emotional infidelity may appear.

Warning Signs

How can one determine if he/she is at risk of committing emotional infidelity?  Here are a few signs:

  •     Establishing a relationship with someone of the opposite sex that is private from ones spouse.
  •     Excessive texting, calling, or online communication such as social media, chat rooms, or instant messengers.
  •     Lunch or dinner dates that are secret in nature (without the spouse’s knowledge).
  •     Talking on the phone in private, leaving the room, or closing down computer screens when one’s spouse enters.
  •     Disclosing personal information about a marriage, especially if one is unhappy, to strangers of the opposite sex.

Protect your marriage. Protect your spouse from the heartache of cyber infidelity. Learn more at the workshop at the Better Marriages Conference, July 11-14, 2013 in Raleigh, NC.