You might think an online affair is far more innocent than a physical affair, but truthfully, it can be just as devastating. You might not be able to tell if your online flirtations count as an affair, but an online affair usually involves the same kinds of emotions that traditional affairs do, such as secrecy, fantasy, and excitement, in addition to the rationalization of what you're doing and denial of its effects.
What Is an Emotional Affair?
An emotional affair occurs when the emotional intimacy between two people becomes excessive and infringes on the intimacy between spouses or partners.
Consider the following signs of an online affair to figure out if you may be involved in more than just chatting online.
Spending a Lot of Time Online
If you're spending hours a week chatting with and exchanging personal information with someone online, you may be having an online affair—especially if the chat and information exchanged is of an intimate nature. It's one thing if you see them as just a friend, but if you feel any sort of attraction—physically or emotionally—it could signal something more. "Time spent on the computer may increase many times over," says Abigail Brenner, M.D.
Keeping Your Online Friend a Secret
Have you shared the fact you have an online friend with your spouse? Do you keep it to yourself because you know your spouse would react negatively? Maybe you don’t tell because the idea of having a friend your spouse doesn’t know about is exciting to you, or because you know it would cause your spouse to worry. Either way, keeping it a secret purposefully is a red flag.
Discussing Relationship Issues
Is your online friend someone you feel comfortable sharing marital problems with? Do you talk to them about difficulties in your marriage? When you find yourself confiding in your online friend more than you do your spouse, it could signal a deeper emotional investment in this person than you may have realized.
When you share personal details and problems, does your online friend always respond in the way you need? Do you find yourself wishing your spouse cared as much as your online friend does? Making comparisons and wishing your spouse was more like your friend could be the first step towards deeper emotional commitment.
Resenting Your Spouse
Are you finding you feel more anger than usual toward your spouse? Becoming less tolerant of a spouse, feeling anger and resentment, and withdrawing emotionally—particularly if emotions are transferred onto another person—can signal an affair. "The intimacy gap is widening emotionally and physically," Brenner says. "Having an emotional affair takes a lot of time and energy, in addition to the effort it takes to cover all your bases so you won’t be discovered. And then again, [you] may not need [them] because [your] needs are being met by someone else."
Loss of Interest in Sex
Having sexual thoughts or fantasies about your online friend is definitely a red flag, but if you haven't had any yet and still worry you're having an online affair, evaluate your marital sex life. If you and your spouse had an active sex life and suddenly you've lost interest, take note.