Parenting Relationships

Tugging at the Heartstrings: Why do People have Emotional Affairs?

Avatar photo
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

When we think of infidelity, we imagine a bunch of sordid sexual encounters. But what about emotional cheating? Sleeping with someone can be passed off as a mistake. But knowing they tuned on your partner’s heartstrings without sex. That’s a tough blow to be dealt. So why is it that people turn to emotional affairs?

Pulling at Those Heartstrings

An emotional affair is complicated. Your partner isn’t actually cheating on you. But they are having an emotional relationship, one which may tug at their heartstrings more than you’d be comfortable knowing. It’s the intimate conversations. Shared jokes. Pillow talk. A closeness that you would normally attribute to a couple in a relationship.

It’s more than just a friendship. We’re not talking about the work husband/wife who you pal around with at the office. But the friend you choose not to mention to your partner. Despite there being no sexual contact. This is because if they were to find out about it they wouldn’t be happy.


Owner of a Lonely Heart

So why is it that people have emotional affairs? One reason is a lack of attention from their regular partner or spouse. Familiarity can breed contempt, and all of a sudden the attention lavished upon the object of your affection has been replaced with family responsibilities, work and kids. This can leave a person feeling neglected, alone and they may look outside of their relationship for the attention.


A new person who is attractive, and with whom you can flirt can be a powerful thing. It’s potent to be desired. Especially when the sexual chemistry in your relationship has fizzled out, or has stopped because of children, childbirth or pregnancy.


It’s Easy

Communication is a thousand times easier with the internet. From clandestine messaging, flirtatious office emails and cheeky chat room banter. It’s easy to find people online, and there’s the added appeal of online anonymity. A relationship can develop quickly when the inhibitions that go hand in hand with face to face contact are removed.

It’s Not Really Cheating

Isn’t it? If your heart skips a beat when you think about seeing them and you talk about them non-stop to friends, it’s definitely more than your garden variety friendship. It may seem like ‘harmless fun’ because no rules have been broken. But if you’re confiding in someone else and saving your conversational wit and company for another, it sure isn’t just a friendship.


For many women, emotional intimacy is a bigger betrayal than if they’d been physically cheated on. The communication and intimacy that is needed to maintain a relationship has been shared with an outsider. It’s no surprise that emotional affairs can have a significant impact on a marriage or partnership. This is when counselling helps to fix the rift.