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You have a great friend at the office. You enjoy working with him and sometimes you even grab lunch together. He’s funny, considerate and easy to talk to. So easy to talk to, in fact, that you find yourself sharing things with him that you don’t share with your husband.

You’re in dangerous territory.

Emotional infidelity can be a stepping stone to a full-blown affair. And even if it doesn’t turn into one, it can still damage your marriage.

When Does a Friendship Cross the Line into an Emotional Affair?
It’s fine, of course, to have friends outside your marriage, but it’s important to know the difference between a friendship and an emotional affair.

One of the first signs you might be engaging in emotional infidelity is that you’re talking with your friend about things you don’t discuss with your husband. The following questions can also help you determine whether you might be crossing the line. Ask yourself:

  1. Would you talk with your friend about the same things if your husband were present?
  2. If your husband doesn’t know your friend, would you feel comfortable introducing them? If not, why not?
  3. Can you honestly say that you don’t have any feelings other than friendship for this person?
  4. Are the two of you communicating secretly, either on the phone or in person? Why?

Worried that you might be drifting into an emotional affair? You can take a quiz on the website of Dr. Shirley Glass, an expert on the topic, to see if your friendship has become an emotional affair : Just Friends or Emotional Affair Quiz.

The Cost of Emotional Infidelity
One common reason that people commit emotional infidelity is because they feel an emotional disconnection from their spouse. Addressing that sense of loneliness or estrangement is hard work. It can seem easier to avoid issues between you and your husband and distract yourself with attention from someone outside your marriage — all the while rationalizing that it “doesn’t count” because it’s not physical.

But it does count. An emotional affair can be a slippery slope to a physical affair. But even if the relationship never becomes physical, it still harms your marriage because of the secrecy and betrayal that is often involved.

People who find out about their spouse’s emotional affair may feel just as devastated as those who find out their partner is having a physical affair. In fact, some would even argue that emotional betrayal is worse than physical infidelity. Sometimes it can hurt more to find out your spouse is physically present, but deeply emotionally connected to someone else.

Putting the Brakes on an Emotional Affair
Lots of aspects of our lives today make us vulnerable to emotional affairs. Working long hours can lead to more closeness with your “work husband” than your real husband. And Facebook puts old flames at our fingertips.

If you are having an emotional affair, consider it a signal that you need to put your marriage front and center again. Ask yourself what’s driving you to look outside of your relationship to get your needs met, and see if you can address that problem directly. If it’s that you don’t feel good about yourself, get some counseling and work on yourself. If you’ve become resentful of your husband and feel distant from him, work on your marriage.

You can find more advice on the factors that lead to infidelity in my book Strong Women, Strong Love. Don’t wait to address this critical issue in your marriage.