Penny For Your Thoughts

Judge Penny Gives "Real" Advice

Cyber Emotional Relationships: Real or Harmless

I recently had a friend to seek my advice about whether or not she was involved in an emotional affair online and if indeed I felt she had crossed the line. She had reconnected with a friend from high school on Facebook.  She didn’t particularly remember him from school, but over time they had begun daily communications online.

She insisted that she was not in physical contact with the person, but that she could feel in her heart that something different was happening to her.  In my opinion, she only asked the question because she wanted to be able to talk about their conversations with me. After listening to her situation, it became clear to me that she was having an emotional affair, albeit on line. 

Although she sought my advice, it was clear that she wasn’t really looking for me to tell her the truth.  Her initial response was that but because there was no physical contact, how in the world could she be having an affair.   I explained that I felt she was having an “emotional affair” which, in actuality, could be equally as damaging to her current relationship with her spouse.
After raising this issue during a recent staff meeting, I realized that there is considerable debate and confusion about what constitutes emotional affairs, particularly those online.  Because these online emotional affairs usually start out innocently enough as a friendship, there may be a feeling that they are somehow not real.  However, they are very real.

The obvious question is what is an emotional online affair? An emotional affair occurs when online or internet communication allows people to develop a level of intimacy that distracts from another relationship.  Relationships are about intimacy, trust, and openness.   The danger is because these communications are online, people may feel that it blurs the definition of cheating.  When cheating, in most cases, isn’t about the physical, but about an emotional and psychological connection with someone.   Everyone wants to be heard and everyone wants to matter.  These online relationships often allow people to share their deepest feelings.
I recognized that my friend was involved in an emotional affair because she was sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with this other person.  Once it moved from casual social contact online to a situation where this person became an increasing focus of her time, I knew there was a problem.  It moved from a casual acquaintance “friend” online to a true relationship.

The key for me was the fact that the relationship had become a “secret” to her partner.  This is the number one sign that an emotional affair has evolved.  Secrets have no place in real relationships.  She started telling her online friend about her problems, her joys, their common interests and her dreams.  All the time she spent online communicating allowed her to develop an emotional bond with this person.
The online friendship grew into a strong bond that was wrapped in secrecy.  The time she should have spent with her partner at home was being taken up by the time and energy she was putting into this online relationship.  It was clear to me that  she was having an emotional affair.

You know that you have crossed the line when the online friend and you have developed an intimacy of your own. Other signs include investing a great deal of time and intimate communication of your thoughts and feelings.  Your emotional energy toward your partner is limited because you are now sharing your deepest  feelings with the online friend. 

You may feel guilt free because there is no physical contact, but you know in your heart that you have become attached to this other person.  If the relationship is a secret from your partner, you spend a large amount of time on the computer with this online person and you have not included your partner in the discussion --- you have crossed the line.

Emotional affairs are about betrayal and are devastating.   Once these emotional affairs become personal, they can open the door to negative repercussions occurring in your life.  It is easy to sit at computer and pour your heart out while the online person seems to understand and connect with you in a powerful way. 

Relationships, however, are open and take a great deal of energy and work.  Nothing good can come from anything that takes way from your partner’s emotional bond. These emotional online affairs are unacceptable. 
If my friend had to ask the question, deep down inside, she already knew the answer.


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The Judge Penny Brown Reynolds Foundation, Inc.